Army approves ‘humanist’ as religious preference

Army approves ‘humanist’ as religious preference

By Adelle M. Banks, Religion News Service

More than two years after first making his request, Army Maj. Ray Bradley can now be known as exactly what he is: a humanist in the U.S. military.

“I’m able to self-identity the belief system that governs my life, and I’ve never been able to do that before,” said Bradley, who is stationed at Fort Bragg in North Carolina and works on supporting readiness of the Army Reserve’s medical staff.

Lt. Col. Sunset R. Belinsky, an Army spokeswoman, said April 22 that the “preference code for humanist” became effective April 12 for all members of the Army.
In practical terms, the change means that humanists could face fewer hurdles in trying to organize within the ranks; military brass would have better information to aid in planning a deceased soldier’s funeral; and it could lay the groundwork for eventually adding humanist chaplains.

The change comes against a backdrop of persistent claims from atheists and other nonbelievers that the military is dominated by a Christian culture that is often hostile to unbelief.
Jason Torpy, president of the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers, has been pushing for greater recognition of humanists in the armed services; in February, the American Civil Liberties Union sent a letter to the Pentagon on Bradley’s behalf.

“This is a big victory,” Torpy said, who noted the decision was by the Army and not the other military services. “This is one part, and the easiest part, of a very long list of other reforms that have to happen before we have equality, not just belief or no belief but theistic belief and nontheistic belief like ours.”

According to a survey by the Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute, humanists make up 3.6 percent of the U.S. military.

Bradley, 47, said the ability to officially state “humanist” as a religious preference is technically an additional code in the military’s database.
“The real importance of this change is that our official military records can reflect humanists now,” said Bradley, who initially was listed under the broad category of “no religious preference.”

Torpy’s organization and groups such as the Secular Coalition for America continue to seek humanist chaplains in the military. But Bradley said he sees a more gradual process: first the designation, then a layperson designated as a “distinctive faith group leader” and eventually a chaplain.

“The military doesn’t usually turn on a dime like that,” he said. “I would see it more as a progression of steps.”

From the May 2014 Report from the Capital. Click here for the next article.