WASHINGTON (RNS) 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.

Ray Bradley listens during a planning meeting for the Central North Carolina Atheists and Humanists. Photo by John Nichols, courtesy of U.S. Army

Ray Bradley listens during a planning meeting for the Central North Carolina Atheists and Humanists. Photo by John Nichols, courtesy of U.S. Army


This image is available for Web and print publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

“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 Tuesday (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. In recent years, activists from the broad spectrum of freethinking organizations have demanded equal treatment as the tradition-bound military grapples with the growth of the spiritual-but-not-religious population.

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.”

The ACLU wrote in its letter that members of nontheistic faiths should have the option of describing themselves, just as members of theistic faiths do.

“Given the wide range of religious-preference designations currently allowed by the armed forces, there is no reason to deny Humanism similar recognition,” ACLU lawyers wrote.

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.

Jason Torpy, president of the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers, speaks on a panel about the freethought movement during the 2013 Religion Newswriters Association Conference in Austin, Texas on Sept. 28, 2013. Religion News Service photo by Sally Morrow

Jason Torpy, president of the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers, speaks on a panel about the freethought movement during the 2013 Religion Newswriters Association Conference in Austin, Texas, on Sept. 28, 2013. Religion News Service photo by Sally Morrow


This image is available for Web and print publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

“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.”

Although he doesn’t believe in God, Bradley determined that the term “atheist” was not sufficient for him. Frustrated with the lengthy process in getting the “humanist” designation, he had switched to “atheist” in January 2013. But he said “humanist” explains his life stance, which stresses scientific explanations and maximizing human happiness.

He hopes to work now with Torpy to encourage other humanists in the military to officially identify themselves and to seek opportunities for them to meet in facilities and advertise their meetings as many religious groups do.

“It may be very difficult, especially for young soldiers, to take such a step,” he said, noting some would be wary that they might be discriminated against if they reveal they are humanists.

Chaplain (Col.) Kenneth Stice, director of operations for the Army’s Office of the Chief of Chaplains, said the religious preference information — though voluntary — helps the military know how best to respect the religious wishes of an injured or deceased soldier. He said the chaplain corps is beginning to grapple with those who are in the “spiritual but not religious” category and will learn from humanists how to address their particular needs for accommodation.

Bradley said a 2012 meeting at Fort Bragg featuring the president of the American Humanist Association required a “special request” because the group wasn’t officially recognized.

“Humanists have life events, just like any other human being,” such as weddings and naming ceremonies for babies, he said. “Accommodation for that type of events in life, I think, would be important for the chaplaincy to support.”

The religious preference designation could mean that humanist chaplains aren’t far behind.

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.”

KRE/MG END BANKS

31 Comments

  1. Congrats to all – to Major Bradley for fighting for the right to identify his humanist position, to Jason Torpy for working on this issue so hard and so long and to Adele Banks for reporting it.

    “Behold all flesh is like the grass and all the splendor of mankind will vanish like a flower” Brahms Requiem, second movement

  2. Great article! I am always pleasantly surprised when the military shows that it is a few steps ahead of the civilian world. (It still has some work to do when it comes to that ban on natural hair, though.)

      • Hmmm! Really! I would say many modern atheist leaders had no problem
        murdering millions of people mainly for their religous views. My guess is that if a truly atheist politician was allowed to carry out his view of Utopia that delicate bloodbath would continue. The great humanist himself Richard Dawkins, I believe espoused great hatred for religious people specially Christians and throws some very violent rehtoric at christians which is not to far from the views of one famous author talks about the Jews of Europe. It really would not take be much of a stretch to see that happening again.

        CHeers!

        • wtfchristians

          the [expletive deleted] religous people like you hoallen, talk about…. look up the different between humanist and political leaders who are nationalists, while youre at it would you like to point out which atheist leader was a humanist… youre clearly not talking about Hitler, that would be a wrong example on so many levels

  3. Fascinating that in their ongoing effort to restrict First Amendment rights, only a few short years ago humanists were arguing that they themselves were not subject to such restrictions because their belief system does not include a deity or an afterlife (true also of Confucianism, Shinto, and a number of other universally recognized religions).

    But as a Christian, I’m glad to hear this news. It’s what the Founders intended- and if we’re playing by the same rules, it will be a great deal harder for humanists to work to restrict my rights while fully exercising their own.

    The First Amendment teaches neutrality toward all religions, not hostility toward any. Big difference.

    • I agree with this. One should always be free to express whpo they are and what they believe. Humanism is certainly a reliogion and incorporates a belief system. In many ways they must have as much if not more faith in their beliefs than main stream religions have. Good for you Humanists and may God bless you in all your endeavors.

      Peace!

  4. Humanists come in at least three flavours, atheist, agnostic, Christian (etc.) . . . UUA has always had a place for atheists & agnostics to the extent they felt a need to reach out to a universalist organization. Obviously, the humanists who pushed for separate recognition wante a broader recognition. BTW, some agnostics resent being automatically coded as atheists. Finally, being an agnostic or an atheist doesn’t automatically mean that a person is a humanist. Hitler appeared to be an atheist, but few would say he was a humanist.

  5. When I went in, during the Viet Nam era, “Deist” was as close as I could come to expressing my atheistic beliefs, and this in a country that prides itself on the Constitution, which includes a clause separating Church from State.

  1. […] 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 Tuesday (April 22) that the “preference code for humanist” became effective April 12 for all members of the Army. [Read more] […]

  2. Comment marked as low quality by the editors. Show comment
  3. Comment marked as low quality by the editors. Show comment
  4. Comment marked as low quality by the editors. Show comment
  5. Comment marked as low quality by the editors. Show comment
  6. Comment marked as low quality by the editors. Show comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Comments with many links may be automatically held for moderation.