The U.S. Army this week announced that “humanist” is now officially recognized as a “faith code” within its ranks.
Humanism, according to the American Humanist Association, is “non-theistic.”
“By this, we don’t mean to say there is no God. Instead, we say that there is no proof for the existence of God, any gods, the supernatural or an afterlife. We are living the only life we’ll have, in the only world we know about. The responsibility for the choices we make are ours and ours alone,” the group explains
The change was prompted by a letter from the ACLU on behalf of Maj. Ray Bradley, who’d tried for years to get the option of putting “humanist” in his official record.
“Until this week, we could choose between ‘atheist’ or ‘no religious preference,’” Major Bradley said in a statement on the ACLU’s website.
While soldiers could choose from more than 100 Christian denominations, as well as Muslim, Hindu, Wiccan, Jewish, Buddhist and more, no option existed for those like the major who consider themselves humanists.
“The ability to accurately identify myself in my official Army records as a Humanist is not only a matter of personal integrity and dignity, but it also has important implications for my military service,” Major Bradley said in his statement
Among those implications — humanists can now ask the Army Chaplaincy for help in establishing services and meetings.
Maj. Bradley first requested the change in 2011, but after waiting two years, he approached the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers for help. The association directed him to the ACLU, which in February wrote a letter to the Department of Defense on his behalf. The MAAF said in a statement that the decision “resolves, at least in the Army, one of the most obvious examples of discrimination in the military. Now, humanists for the first time can be recognized for what they DO believe and not just what they don’t believe.”
OK TO PRAY
With the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule any day now on the landmark Town of Greece vs. Galloway case concerning prayers at government meetings, a New Jersey university recently found that most voters don’t mind the practice.
A Fairleigh Dickinson University PublicMind Poll found that 73 percent of American voters felt prayers to open public meetings was an acceptable practice, as long as no religion or faith was favored more than another. Only a quarter of the nearly 900 registered voters polled said prayer had no place in a public meeting.
“This has always been a praying nation, despite its very secular Constitution,” said Peter J. Woolley, professor of comparative politics at Fairleigh Dickinson University. “People generally see generic prayer as harmless, if not uplifting, not as something that is oppressive.”
The Supreme Court case began in 2008 when the group Americans United for Separation of Church and State filed a lawsuit against the town of Greece, a suburb of Rochester, N.Y., on behalf of residents Susan Galloway and Linda Stephens. Until the lawsuit, the Town Board meetings began with a prayer — nearly all of them led by Christian clergy. Ms. Galloway, who is Jewish, and Ms. Stephens, an atheist, protested the practice.
The survey also found that Republicans were more likely to support public prayer than Democrats, though a majority of both party affiliations largely supported the option of prayer at government and official meetings.