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Army recognizes 'Humanism' as a religious preference

Apr. 24, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
The 'Happy Human' symbol associated with Humanisn.
The 'Happy Human' symbol associated with Humanisn. (Wikimedia Commons)
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The Army has taken a step toward officially acknowledging “humanists” among other faiths and belief systems, ending years of resistance to the idea, advocates say.

The faith code for Humanism — a secular belief system — was officially approved by the service alongside Muslim, Hindu, Wiccan, Jewish, Buddhist and various Christian denominations.

The religious “preference code,” which troops can select to denote their preference, became effective for humanists on April 12.

Army Maj. Ray Bradley, in a blog post, said for years he and others had to choose between “atheist” or “no religious preference,” which inaccurately described his beliefs.

“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,” said Bradley, who is stationed at Fort Bragg, N.C.

Bradley made a request in 2011 that was blocked initially, but was approved after intervention on his behalf by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers.

Jason Torpy, president of the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers, said he hopes the move will pave the way to broader recognition for humanists, as well as their inclusion in chaplain services, lay-leader programs and various therapy offerings.

“Being able to identify as who we are in the Army is a great step forward, and we’re happy about that,” Torpy said.

“The real need is not just to have a binary appreciation: ‘Well, you believe in God, then we’ll attend to that, and if you believe in nothing, you can sit in the corner.’ Nontheistic practices have to be included in the discussion because our soldiers have to deal with life and death, and love and loss as well,” he said.

Chaplain (Col.) Kenneth Stice, director of operations for the Army’s Office of the Chief of Chaplains, said the chaplaincy has been grappling with how to better serve troops who are spiritual, but not religious. The millennial generation is markedly open source and outside-the-box, in contrast with previous generations, he said.

“If they are spiritual, they may not consistently identify with one faith or one type of expression — that seems to be the growing phenomenon across the millennials in America — is we still ask how to support that audience,” Stice said. “They’re still soldiers in our formations and we have to provide them with religious support.”

Stice noted that the religious preference code can not only indicate what services to offer, but it may protect an individual from those they don’t desire — for example, a Jewish soldier would not receive Catholic last rites.

“The Army certainly wants to reinforce its values, that we treat all soldiers with dignity and respect, and that includes their religious preference,” he said. “However they so designate, we should honor and respect that.”

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