Atheists in the Military Seek Obama’s Blessing

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As Barack Obama prepares to take office, all sorts of advocacy groups are angling for his attention. And atheists, too, are seeking his blessing. This week the Secular Coalition for America, a national lobbying group for “atheists, humanists and freethinkers,” released its wish list. The group is not looking for Obama to remove “In God We Trust” from US currency. It has a more a modest agenda: countering what it claims is discrimination against atheists and non-Christians in the military.

The group is requesting that Obama appoint leaders who are committed to a secular military and that he issue a directive to the military that explicitly prohibits proselytization, prayers at mandatory events, and official statements endorsing a particular faith. The proposal also advocates creating a “commission for religious accommodation” within the Pentagon’s Inspector General’s office.

According to the group, major news outlets have reported at least twenty incidents in which military personnel have been coercively proselytized in the past five years. In 2005, Air Force Academy alumnus Mikey Weinstein filed a lawsuit (ultimately unsuccessful) against the Colorado Springs Air Force Academy, alleging that non-Christians at the Academy faced discrimination from evangelical Christians. That same year, The New York Times quoted the Air Force Chief of Chaplains, Cecil Richardson, as saying chaplains “reserve the right to evangelize the unchurched.” Recently General David Petraeus endorsed the book Under Orders: A Spiritual Handbook for Military Personnel, which is not officially affiliated with the US military.

Surveys show that 21 percent of military personnel identify as atheists or as having “no religion.” But when it comes to persuading Obama to take these protect-the-secularists steps, there’s no telling if these atheists have a prayer.

 

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You expect the big picture, and it's our job at Mother Jones to give it to you. And right now, so many of the troubles we face are the making not of a virus, but of the quest for profit, political or economic (and not just from the man in the White House who could have offered leadership and comfort but instead gave us bleach).

In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

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