An army group of non-theists has applied for the right to hold meetings on-base at Fort Bragg in the same way that religious groups are allowed, with the aim being to have formal recognition that there is a sizable denomination of nonbelievers in the predominantly Christian U.S. Army, and also to help fellow soldiers better understand what the atheists, humanists and other non-religious denominations among them actually think and about religion and faith.
From Statesman Journal:
“We exist, we’re here, we’re normal,” said Sgt. Justin Griffith, chief organizer of Military Atheists and Secular Humanists, or MASH. “We’re also in foxholes. That’s a big one, right there.”
For now, the group meets regularly in homes and bars outside of Fort Bragg, one of the biggest military bases in the country. But it is going through the long bureaucratic process to win official recognition from the Army as a distinct “faith” group.
Similar groups of non-theists at about 20 U.S. military bases around the world are watching the outcome at Fort Bragg in hopes it will lead to their recognition, too, said Jason Torpy, president of the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers.
Meetings of military personnel who are non-theists — an umbrella term for the many varieties of nonbelievers — have been held at MacDill Air Force Base in Florida and aboard the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln. But groups of any kind are prohibited from meeting on Army bases without official recognition.
Should the group be successful it will mean that MASH literature would be made available alongside religious texts and that the group would be able to raise funds on-base.
As the above article goes on to note, this push isn’t based on incidents of express discrimination against non-theists in the army, for instance members being denied promotions because of their lack of belief. Rather, it would be geared toward unit cohesion and breaking the taboo on non-theism.
According to the article, the Pentagon’s Military Leadership Diversity Commission estimates around 20-25 percent of military personnel would say they are not religious. A much smaller percentage define themselves as atheist or humanist, but clearly there is a significant proportion for whom the stereotype of devout soldiers doesn’t fit.
For those individuals it will be important to have some kind of non-faith based support and therein the feeling that there is a group to which they can go when they have issues that would perhaps be discussed in religious terms by those who do have a religious faith.
It is also hoped that in providing equal resources for non-theists in this small way, the military might avoid tensions seen in wider civilian life where faith issues and growing secularism is concerned.