Religion And The Military

MSgt Mick Fulton

From: "Fulton Michael G MSgt ACC/CRM"
To: "Positive Atheism Magazine"
Subject: Article 10/24/00
Date: Wednesday, November 29, 2000 9:45 AM

Just read your article on the American Atheists website from 10/24. I would like to commend you on this. As an atheist on active duty in the military, I would like to address the issue of simply having any type of religious activity on a military installation. This is simply government sponsored religion at taxpayers expense; i.e., yours, mine, etc... I seriously doubt if anybody would allow me the time or space to express my anti-religion views on a military installation. If we don't keep speaking out against these intrusions into our private lives, soon we'll all be under direction by the religious.

MSgt Mick Fulton
NCOIC, Manpower & Personnel


From: "Positive Atheism Magazine"
To: "Fulton Michael G MSgt ACC/CRM"
Subject: Re: Article 10/24/00
Date: Wednesday, November 29, 2000 12:31 PM

To me, freedom is always in the context of freedom from some restriction.

I think that making whatever accommodations necessary to ensure that any religious soldier or officer may worship and congregate with like-minded Americans (and others) is crucial to religious freedom. In the same sense, the only way to ensure religious freedom is government neutrality when it comes to religious expression, which is nothing more than an extension of one's freedom (from any restrictions) to express any idea. The most outspoken separationist Presidents in my lifetime have been the two most outspokenly religious: John F. Kennedy and Jimmy Carter.

To accommodate the religious needs of all military personnel, we will need to put out some money for such things as facilities and security -- much in the same way that prison authorities in Colorado were forced by a federal judge to purchase a gong to accommodate kidnapper Robert James Howard's request to be allowed to perform Satanic ritual. Although prisoners lose many freedoms, any Liberty that is granted to prisoners (specifically: freedom of worship and reasonable accommodation; freedom from Twelve Step coercion) must all the more be guaranteed to the general public -- and ought more than that to be freely given to our soldiers. In other words, if we only reluctantly give these rights to prisoners (but give them nonetheless) we ought to be more than accommodating when it comes to the military -- more so, perhaps, than to the general public, but certainly more so than in prison.

To do this right, we would need to have administrators to ensure equal access regardless of a particular group's popularity or lack thereof. And just as an atheist would make the fairest religion editor at the newspaper (James A. Haught comes to mind, here), I think tolerant atheists and liberal theists would serve the goal of neutrality much better than to hire Christian preachers as chaplains (preachers who clearly have an agenda and whose job it is to be biased against certain religions) and then allow them to call the shots when it comes to equal access to the widely varied and often controversial religious needs of our military personnel.

Such is the case today, and rather than throw the baby out with the bath water (thus opening it up to uncontrolled situations such as the oxymoronic "organized spontaneous prayer" at high-school football games in Texas), I think instigating a policy of strict neutrality -- and enforcing that neutrality at all levels -- would combine well with a policy of open accommodation for all religious beliefs and protection from intrusive religious practices.

The problem that exists, though, is that the Christian religion is favored almost exclusively over other religions; Christianity is favored even over no religion at all. This is particularly true of cadets training to be officers. My extended family is overwhelmingly atheistic (or, at minimum, agnostic). But the career officers in our family are all extremely religious. I asked my Mom about this and she told me that religion is pushed heavily in military school. Perhaps you might care to update my Mother's information for us, as hers is probably three decades old. I suspect that not much has changed, though.

The problem that goes along with this is that minority religions, such as Wicca, have a tough go at securing the same rights that the Christians enjoy.

Thus, I see a need to re-tool this entire situation to make it more neutral -- that is, absolutely neutral.

The military would be an ideal test of a hands-off policy on religion -- and I predict that it would pass with flying colors.

Cliff Walker
"Positive Atheism" Magazine
Five years of service to
     people with no reason to believe