Caffeinated Godlessness: Religion in the Militaryby Don Lacey on May. 31, 2013, under Atheism, Christianity, Critical Thinking, Ethics, Faith, Freethought, Freethought Events, Government, History, Question of the Day!, Reason, Religion, Responsible Government, Separation of Church & State
Every other week, on Thursdays, some of the Tucson Atheists meet at the Fronimos Greek Restaurant near the corner of Country Club and Speedway. We have a designated discussion topic unlike the free-for-all discussions we have at the Drinking Godlessly events held at the Red Garter Bar and Grill across the street on the alternate Thursdays. The topic for the 3oth was “Religion in the Military.” The 23 attendees were very eclectic. A few had military experience. There was an active duty member from Davis-Monthan AFB, one retired military member (that would be me), and a couple of more that served at different times in different services. The conversation was light and lively but there was a concern that having paid chaplains serving in the military may be a violation of church/state separation. If there is any unifying principle in the Atheist/freethinking community it is that church/state separation is a good thing that must be maintained.
Those that have served in the military, even Atheists, know that the chaplains are important. They are a key element in the social support of deployed and garrisoned troops and they serve religious and other important functions. Not all people serving consider religious belief as an option. The military assigns people to locations far from their community support, and sending along a religious leader to tend to the religious is necessary. There are about 2,900 active duty chaplains in the military. In addition, the chaplains provide counseling of individuals regardless of religious affiliation and the sessions are considered privileged communication. You can say anything to a chaplain and be confident that the chaplain will not share what you say to your boss, coworkers, or anyone in your chain of command. The same cannot be said about discussions with a psychologist, for example. Leaders, Atheists or not, often direct their troops to seek out chaplain counseling.
However, when individuals enlist they agree to certain limitations and chaplains also have similar limitations. Chaplains are forbidden to proselytize to unaffiliated military members. They cannot participate in political demonstrations in their uniform. There are times when a chaplain’s religious beliefs and opinions conflict with the requirements of the duties and restrictions. Service members and chaplains alike must recognize that occasionally their “free speech” may be limited by military regulation. Air Force chaplain Lt. Colonel Garland L. Roberson was drummed out of the service for using his rank and position when he questioned the wisdom of using military force in Iraq in the Abilene Reporter-News in January 1991. Had the chaplain published his complaint as a private citizen, the decorated combat veteran of the Vietnam War, would have not been dismissed.
For a gathering of Atheists the phrase; “Religion in the military” contains two emotionally charged trigger words but a rational discussion which included personal experiences led to a pleasant informative meeting. You can join in on the fun by signing up with the Tucson Atheists Meetup.com Group.