We recently covered a story about the United States Army and how it is concerned with the spiritual well-being of their soldiers, and that if a soldier choose not to believe in the supernatural that the United States Army can consider you unfit to serve? The issue was brought to my attention by my friend, Sgt. Justin Griffith, Fort Bragg, NC., and concerned a mandatory survey called an SFT, which stands for “Soldier Fitness Tracker”. The purpose of this survey is to measure an individual soldier’s competency in several areas, including Spirituality. Sgt. Griffith is an atheist and a dedicated solider, and according to the interpretation of the survey results, he would be “unfit” to serve because he is a non-believer.
There has been some question as to the whether or not Sgt. Griffith was a real person, or a pseudonym that was created for purposes of anonymity and if this is a real issue or just another instance of a “whiney atheist blowing his horn over nothing” We can assure you that Sgt. Griffith is a real a soldier in the United States Army, and that he is unashamedly atheist and that this is an issue that is not only real, but is being attended to by some very heavy hitters.
Sgt. Justin Grffith has organized and is the founder of Rock Beyond Belief, which is an ambitious project that will be putting on a free festival consisting of secular speakers and musicians, both big name and small. They have the backing of many major secular and military foundations. Rock Beyond Belief is in the process of organizing a large-scale event that will be on the main post parade field on Fort Bragg, NC. The goal is the organzie similar events on many other military installations. The purpose of Sgt. Griffith’s efforts is to shed the negative connotations and debunk the myths associated with being a non-believer. We sincerely hope that this puts to bed any rumors that Sgt. Griffith is not a real person and urge you to visit the website of Rock Beyond Belief for more information about what they are all about, as well as a first-hand account of the SFT by Sgt. Justin Griffith, himself. If you are a Freethinker, please support Rock Beyond Belief by visiting their Facebook page and give them a “Like” to show the powers that be at Fort Bragg that there is a need, want and desire for this festival to take place.
With respect to the issue at hand, the “Soldiers Fitness Tracker” and related training, we can assure that this is a real concern and it has come to the attion of, and is being addressed by, some very heavy hitters, including theMilitary Association of Atheists and Freethinkers (MAAF),Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), American Atheists (AA), the Freedom From Religion Foundation(FFRF), the Foundation Beyond Belief, the United Atheist Front (UAF), Americans United for the Separation of Church and State (AU), as well as high profile individuals such as Hement Mehta, Michael Weinstein (MRFF), Annie Laurie Gaylor (FFRF), David Silverman and Kathleen Johnson (AA), myself on behalf of the UAF, and several others.
There is new and updated information for those of you who are following the progress of this. Jason Torpy, the President of the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers (MAAF) has also confirmed with Justin that the questions we posted in our last installment about this issue were accurate according to his best recollection. Justin had no way to look them up “word for word”, so when Sgt. Griffith broke the story on the Rock Beyond Belief website, he had to paraphrase the spiritual questions from memory, and they were all spot on, save one. As a consequence, a minor aspect of this story was transposed due to his paraphrasing. He listed one question as “I feel connected to a being that is greater than me”, when the actual question is “I believe that in some way my life is closely connected to all humanity and all the world.”
It has been agreed upon by the representatives of theMAAF, AA, AU, MRFF, FFRF, UAF as well as the other secular organizations that are involved in this issue, that this does not take away from the intention of the survey, the insinuation of the implied, nor the general lack of confidence that it engenders in our non-believing servicemen. Believing that your life is “connected to all humanity” and all the world holds a decidedly very supernatural connotation that is congruent with religious belief, whether that belief holds that the believer is“connected” through Christ, Muhammad, Akashic Record, Collective Conscious, etc. The fact that the introductory comments that says specifically that the spirituality questions are not “religious in nature” doesn’t change the fact that anything that connotes a reliance upon a supernatural force requires anyone, especially atheists, to do some mental gymnastics to make those statements fit a natural world view. Stating something is not religious in nature, but then following it up with something that is clearly religious is a blatant conflict of reason and is discriminatory in nature to anyone who holds a natrualistic, secular world view and rejects the supernatural.
The folks over at the Military Association for Atheists and Freethinkers (MAAF) have posted a more comprehensive report on military “spirituality” at their website, and it includes the actual questions that are on the SFT, including “I am a spiritual person”. We urge you to visit the MAAF’s website and view the full, thirteen page text of the Spiritual Remediation Training. It includes a section on“prayer” and a suggestion that “prayer” is for everyone and need not be religious. According to the MAAF, and agreed upon by all associated organizations, the Army is taking too many liberties in redefining a word. The Army should speficy that prayer is only for religious people and not the same or similar to reflection or meditation. It is the contention of all parties concerned that the Army should abandon the entire spirituality approach. According to the training, everyone is encouraged to seek help from Chaplains. According to the information contained within the Spiritual Remediation Training there is an assertion that chaplains never proselytize, but while there exists several references to various religions, there is no such section that is inclusive of nontheists, even though official DoD demographics (available from MAAF) show there are more Atheists than Jews in the military. Clearly, there exists no demographic justification for overlooking the many members of the United States Army that choose not to believe in the existence of a deity.
There remains no room for doubt when one considers the two testimonials listed within the training. The first provides a “church” resolution and the second a “higher power” MAAF President, Jason Torpy, asserts that these two testimonials “provide a religious solution, and that shows bias toward religious spirituality. As with the assessment itself, the terms ‘spirituality’ and ‘human spirit’ are likely not something that can speak to nontheists. It also indicates a bias to traditional religions”
American Atheists has been a tireless ally on this issue as well, from the beginning. President David Silverman and Vice President / Military Director Kathleen Johnson have been a tremendous support and Kathleen has, on behalf of the American Atheists, sent a letter via Federal Express to the Secretary of the Army alleging the discriminatory nature of the SFT, and has cited AR 600-20 as the reason why its use must be ceased immediately. American Atheists have assured that this is not the end of their involvment, but further action will have to wait until the holidays are over. They have the story up on their website as well and all of us are circulating this story through every means available. It should be noted that Kathleen Johnson is not just the VP of American Atheists, but also the founder of the MAAF and holds the rank of First Seargent (Retired), Department of the Army Civilian, Fort Hood, TX.
This issue is far from over. In fact, the fight has just begun and we urge everyone who concerned about the fair treatment of non-believing military personnel and the unfettered right for a soldier in the United States Armed Forces to hold absolutley no belief in anything even remotely supernatural without fear of discrimination or retribution of any kind to follow this story with great interest by visiting and supporting in any way you can the following organizations who are working tirelessly for the equal rights of the men and women who put their lives on the line every day to protect the sanctity of our uniquely secular Constitution, which upholds that there shall be no religious test required to hold any office within the United States Government, and that includes wearing the uniform of any of our Armed Services.
Stay informed by bookmarking the following organizations:
- Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers(main site)
- Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers(to follow this issue specifically)
- Rock Beyond Belief (main site – please support their planned secular festival)
- Rock Beyond Belief (to follow this issue specifically)
- Military Religious Freedom Foundation (main site)
- Military Religious Freedom Foundation (to follow this issue specifically)