- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 24, 2014

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.”


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“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.

“An overwhelming number of Americans are upset by two things: Not being allowed to pray, and someone insisting that only their prayer is legitimate,” Mr. Woolley said.

REALITY RELIGION

Forget wedding-crazed women or sunburned survivors. The new frontier for reality television is the chapel.

The Lifetime Channel — which boasts such gems as “Devious Maids,” “Drop Dead Diva” and “Dance Moms” — is planning a reality show centered on women becoming nuns.

According to the Hollywood Reporter, “The Sisterhood” will follow five women on their personal and spiritual journey to decide whether they’re cut out for life in a Catholic convent.

“The series will explore whether the modern women can rise to serve God when they are cut off from family and friends and embedded in an unfamiliar community,” the Hollywood Reporter noted. “By taking vows of chastity, poverty and obedience, each of the women featured on ‘The Sisterhood’ leaves behind everything they’ve come to love — boyfriends, fashion, jewelry — to see if they want to become servants to the Church and Brides of Christ.”

The show is planned for six hour-long episodes. A convent and location are still to be determined, according to reports.

Whether the show is a hit or ends up a target for criticism is anyone’s guess, though one wonders whether the series could strike a chord with female viewers considering a life dedicated to the church. Figures compiled by the Washington-based Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, the number of religious sisters in the U.S. fell from about 180,000 In 1965 to just 51,000 in 2013.

BIBLE SHELVED

A bill that proposed making the Bible the official state book of Louisiana has been pulled by its sponsor.

State Rep. Thomas G. Carmody Jr., a Republican, on Monday announced he was setting aside the legislation because of the government’s busy agenda, and because the measure had caused “some constitutional problems,” the Advocate in Baton Rouge, La., reported.

Mr. Carmody put the bill, which he’d proposed on behalf of a constituent, back on the legislative calendar where it would stay until the session’s end in early June.

Mr. Carmody’s bill drew interest and ire when he proposed it earlier this year. Mr. Carmody said naming the Bible as the official state book was not the same as establishing a state religion. Others, however, felt the bill overstepped the line between church and state.

Meredith Somers covers religion and faith issues for The Washington Times.