According to the most recent available data from the Department of Defense, there are indeed atheists in foxholes but no chaplains who can meet their unique needs.
Not too long ago, the Military Association of Atheists & Freethinkers filed Freedom of Information Act requests with the DoD, asking for data about the self-described religious preferences for all military service members. They also asked for the number of chaplains in the military based on their endorsing body. They ultimately received the religious responded from 2018 and chaplain data from 2017.
Still, it’s very revealing.
Just over 2% of the U.S. military has no affiliation with organization religion — roughly 42,746 people. Even if that seems relatively small to you, keep in mind that some people still think “There are no atheists in foxholes.” There are literally tens of thousands of people who prove that wrong. (22,721 service members use the label “atheist.”)
In 2014, the last time we had data on this, the percentage of non-religious military members was 1.16%. So that number has nearly doubled in five years.
Yet there are literally zero Humanist chaplains who can help those members. MAAF says the military is disregarding its duty to non-Christian service members by refusing to bring on non-theistic chaplains. In fact, they add, there’s a Christian bias.
Chaplaincy endorsements are over 97% Christian (vs under 35% of the general population), over 66% Evangelistic Christian (vs under 14% of the general population), and humanist endorsing agencies and candidates continue to be turned away. Humanist endorsing agencies such as The Humanist Society, the American Ethical Union, or the Society for Humanistic Judaism would be agencies that meet all DoD regulations.
That last bit is important to remember: There are organization that endorse Humanist chaplains, meaning they run training programs and can vouch for their qualifications. But the military won’t even consider those chaplains. If atheist soldiers want to speak to a counselor, then, their only options are religious in nature. It’s just awful policy.
MAAF also notes that the religious beliefs of nearly 30% of service members were “unknown” to the military. That’s an entirely different sort of problem. It means the military is basically unable to meet the spiritual needs (or non-spiritual, in some cases) of nearly a third of service members.
(Featured image via Shutterstock)