In case you missed it, May 5th was the National Day of Prayer. Events were held all over the Nation’s capital throughout government buildings including the Pentagon – which amazingly hosted multiple events to celebrate the “day” of prayer over three days.
The Day of Prayer was signed into law by President Truman in 1952 at the height of McCarthyism in America. This began a series of events designed to signify the distinctions between the United States and the evil, godless, Soviet Union. In 1954, “Under God” was added to the Pledge of Allegiance and two years after that, the National Motto “In God We Trust” was officially adopted.
Throughout the 1950’s and into the 1960’s America went through a religious revival. The percentage of people that self-identified as non-religious averaged 2 per cent until 1967. In 1956, the year in which “In God We Trust” was taken as the nation’s motto, 96 per cent of Americans identified themselves as either Protestant or Catholic. According to the latest Gallop poll (2010), the number of self-identified Christians has fallen precipitously in the last 54 years, down to 74 per cent, with only 66 percent identified as Protestant or Catholic and eight per cent as Christian “other.”
Conversely, the number of no religious affiliation has continued to rise over the same period from next to nothing in the 1950’s to 16 per cent of the nation.
So it should not come as a surprise that as the Pentagon went out of its way to be as inclusive as possible to carve out time over three days to represent the multitudes of religious faiths that make up the nations’ military – including prayer services for Hindus, Muslims, and Jews, which combined account for less than 3.5 per cent of the nation – a significant minority of US service members were isolated from the prayer celebration.
Despite the old saying “there are no atheists in foxholes” apparently those that hold to that point of view haven’t kept up with the sea change in religious thought occurring in the military. The Military Leadership Diversity Commission found “a gradual trend in the United States toward greater percentages of people claiming no religious affiliation, a phenomenon reflected in ARIS [American Religious Identification Survey].”
The Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute survey found that 25.5 per cent of service members claim no religious affiliation while nearly five per cent choose to affiliate as “Humanist” (3.61) and “Pagan” (1.18). While the nations’ Christian population stands at 74 per cent, only 66 per cent of those serving our country in uniform claim Christianity as their religious identification. The survey also found that “No Religious Preference” (NRPs) was highest among the under 30 year old – accounting for 28 per cent of the military in that age bracket. Source
|SSG Griffith and his “A”|
One soldier, Staff Sergeant Justin Griffith, recently decided to speak up on behalf of this rising minority of military NRPs. Offended by a mandatory Army survey measuring the “spiritual fitness” of soldiers and the use of taxpayer dollars to fund religious-themed events on military posts, SSG Griffith formed Rock Beyond Beliefto draw attention to the way the government and the military favors the endorsement of religious practices while in effect denying the existence of nearly one quarter of the military force. Rock beyond Belief currently has 3,735 fans on Facebook and SSG Griffith has given numerous interviews to the media speaking out on equal treatment for the non-religious in the military.
Walking the hallways of the Pentagon in the days and weeks leading up to the National Day of Prayer I noted the schedule of events and did not notice a time set aside for NRPs to congregate in fellowship or meditate individually with regard to where we fit in in an uncertain world. Of course, this would not fit the purpose of the organizers of the National Day of Prayer that clearly describes in their mission statement their purpose: “The Task Force represents a Judeo Christian expression of the national observance, based on our understanding that this country was birthed in prayer and in reverence for the God of the Bible.”
So while the Pentagon throws a bone to the Hindus and Muslims, expanding the religious participation in this squarely Christian event, one out of four service members are excluded and treated as “other.”
The Freedom From Religion Foundation has repeatedly attempted to halt the continuation of The National Day of Prayer in court, arguing that the congressionally-mandated Day of Prayer violates the 1stAmendment. Foundation Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor stated “Congress and the president of the United States have no business telling me or any other citizen to pray, ‘to turn to God in prayer at churches,’ much less setting aside an entire day for prayer every year and even telling me what to pray about.”
I was recently accused by a theist reader of this blog of being an “evangelical atheist.” He cited as his evidence that a “normal” atheist as someone “who for the most part just does not talk about religion and accepts the beliefs of those around them as their prerogative.” In other words – a normal atheist should keep their mouth shut and respect the practices of the majority even when religion intercedes beyond the privately held belief construct into the public forum, subsidized by the taxpayer dollar.
Pointing out these “abuses” of religion in the public domain, as SSG Griffith and the Freedom From Religion Foundation and many, many other atheist-oriented organizations attempt to do earns them the derisive moniker of “evangelical atheists.” In contrast to evangelical Christians, “evangelical” atheists are not out to convert people to non-belief – specifically, they are standing up saying we’re here too and we also count – be it in foxholes or just roaming the halls of the Pentagon.
Note: An upcoming article will feature Steve Benson – a noted critic of atheism and this blog, providing the view from the conservative right. Steve and I will attempt to provide light entertainment as we “debate” each others’ views as we are nearly diametrically opposed on every issue from religion to politics.