Now You Can Have “Humanist” on Your Army Tag

Every person entering service in the U.S. Army is asked, “What’s your religious preference?” They can select from over 100 options, and if you are an atheist or have no religious preference, that’s okay—the Army recognizes non-religions as well. But what you may not know is that just this past week, the Army added “Humanist” to the list of recognized preferences under the category of religion.

The Military Association of Atheists & Freethinkers (MAAF) and its members have been fighting for the humanist recognition for years after historically being denied. Ray Bradley, an Army Major who identifies as a humanist, has been working directly on the religious preference issue to gain recognition. After two years, he and MAAF prevailed upon the ACLU to take an interest. Finally, after months of wrangling, the Army added “Humanist” to its list of religious preferences.

For many atheists in the military, identifying as a humanist is a positive expression of their values. The unintended consequence of religion vs. non-religion debate results in only two options: belief in a god (usually the Christian one) or belief in nothing. Humanists believe in many things—reason, compassion, empathy, and service for others, as exemplified by Humanist Society Celebrants or charitable organizations like Foundation Beyond Belief.

In addition, recognizing “Humanist” as an answer to the religious preference question is a step toward recognizing humanist chaplains in the military. Religious service members have long enjoyed the benefit of talking privately with a chaplain, and humanists should be afforded the same access to a leader who is training in counseling and understanding of humanist and non-religious viewpoints. Many major religious and non-religious leaders are in full support of a humanist chaplain in the military, even when the House of Representatives rejected the idea.

But should some humanists, especially those who strongly identify as secular humanists, be concerned that humanism will be labeled as a religion? The Army already recognizes “Atheist,” “Agnostic,” “No religious preference,” “None,” and “Unknown”—all of these identities are under the religious preference category. For the purposes of categorizing and identifying service members, religious preferences and non-religious preferences are the same.

It’s time for the rest of the military to catch up with the Army and do right by their humanist soldiers. For now though, every military humanist should head down to the Veterans Administration or your military personnel unit to update your records to “Humanist.” If they refuse, contact the American Humanist Association or the Military Association of Atheists & Freethinkers.

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  • DMD

    I remember all too well, upon entering the USAF, in Basic Training, being asked for my religious preference for my dog tags. I asked for Agnostic, as this was early 1972, and the term Atheist was a lot more derogatory in the minds of most Americans back then. I was told that I could have No Religious Preference, which was always truncated to NO REL PREF. Maybe occasionally NRP. I suspect that this was a means to giving credibility to the saying “There are no atheists in foxholes.”

    • vetboy45

      There are no atheists in foxholes. We’re too busy fighting the enemy since we know this is all there is.

      • Haler44

        That’s not true of a lot of atheists, who are so far to the left on a lot of issues that they regard U.S. military policy as, at best, a waste of money better spent on social programs and, at worst, imperialist oppression of the world’s poor. Consequently, not many of these atheists are likely to be in the armed forces in any capacity, much less in combat positions. (Incidentally, I’m willing to pay taxes to support both a robust military AND social programs, both of which, on balance, improve the welfare of billions of people worldwide).

  • Terry Scott Boykie

    I would prefer Atheist, not that wimpy humanist category, because humanists are too busy whining about religious conservatives instead of arming themselves for the next civil war that grows closer every day,

    • disqus_U9U1sLzDe7

      What an ignorant comment. There’s nothing wimpy about Humanism. You can prefer “atheist,” if that describes your belief system, but why would you disparage that of others? “Atheist” and “Humanist” are not synonymous. One can be, for example, an atheist, but still believe in astrology. Most Humanists would eschew belief in such non-scientific systems.

      • Terry Scott Boykie

        Astrology?! Where did that enter the discussion? Astrology is pagan nonsense that helps keep women barefoot and pregnant. Just what conservatives desire. You are right about humanism and atheism not being synonymous, and thank god for that. Humanists are unwilling to fight for America’s ideals. They eschew the passion and patriotism required to confront the jackasses who want a christian nation. Sure, humanists will complain about where America is heading, but they will be the first to beg for mercy when the right wing goes to war. I guess someone has to write poetry during the coming conflagration and it might as well be the good without god sect. Atheists, however, will be on the front line fighting to preserve democracy so that potential humanist quislings can remain free of gun-toting NRA and KKK militia.

        • disqus_U9U1sLzDe7

          All secular Humanists are atheists, but the converse is not true. I’m not sure why you think that Humanists can’t be passionate about separation of church and state. Nor can I understand why you believe all Humanists have a similar mindset about any topic. Nor why you align Humanism and poetry and atheism with war. You seemed to be confused about what Humanism is.

          • Terry Scott Boykie

            If you want to live in this forsaken land, you must protect and preserve your country and philosophy. Humanism is a cop-out word for let’s be friends. Why the need to say all humanists are atheists and then proclaim the diversity of the good without god crowd. To me if you can’t boldly assert your atheism, you are trying to hide in plain sight. I would bet that the vast majority of humanists would never go to war because they just want to get along. I would also wager that the majority Atheists will not settle for right wing takeover of the USA. Humanists would go along with such a revolution. Talk to your humanist cronies and see if they are willing to fight the confederate scourge that wants to keep the blacks, browns, and godless in barbed wire corrals. My atheist colleagues will never let the neo-slavers take over, and we’ll need the silent majority of humanists to admit to their godlessness while they prepare for war. If you don’t think the christian right is preparing for insurrection you better get your head out the humanist sand because you will die soon enough, leaving the christians to pick your bones. In conclusion, quit riding the fence between religion and godlessness. Humanists sound like measly, wishy washy political moderates in their philosophy, the need dictates on how to live, how to marry, and how to hold services with sermons. For godsakes, get out and do something that is not mimicking a church. That is all, I am too disabled to argue with a devout humanist. Instead, I am polishing my rifles and blunts for the upcoming war. If you are young person, under 50 or so, you can bet that the second civil war will be contested in your lifetime. I hope the humanist quislings and poets will not be cowards when that time comes. BTW, humanist is a PR word that will evolve into something else. Atheism is a term that is eternal, even if its solid defenders are battered and beat.

          • disqus_U9U1sLzDe7

            I cannot tell where your metaphor ends and reality begins in terms of brandishing weapons for war, but you seem quite unbalanced. I hope you are getting the help you need. Again, I would assert that ALL secular Humanists ARE atheists. The atheists you refer to include all Humanists. Why you believe atheists to be far to the political left and Humanists to be moderates, I’ll never understand. Good luck with everything and God bless (LOL.)

  • Ryan1159

    Hi, I’m in the National Guard, how do I do this? Thanks

    • Raymond Bradley

      Ryan – Submit a DA 4187 to your Personnel (S-1) section. Check box for Other Action and place in the notes portion requesting to change your Religious Preference from “Whatever” to “Humanist” (code HU).

  • Indio Bravo

    If the question is “Religion”, my answer is “None”. Atheism and humanism are not religions (even if some folks say so).

  • Haler44

    I was an officer in the Army during the late 1960s. I was quite content then to have my religion simply classified as “NONE,” especially because I never experienced any criticism or pressure to participate in any sort of religious exercise, including the “Pledge of allegiance to the flag.”

    Instead, upon accepting my commission as an officer, I affirmed my commitment to uphold to the U.S. Constitution without reference to any supernatural being. I consider that to be a much more substantive expression of commitment to a nation than a pledge to its “flag,” which after all is basically just a piece of cloth. I fly an American flag myself on certain national holidays, but don’t hold it in the same sort of awe that “people of faith” hold their various icons. Accordingly, I don’t have much regard for people who burn American flags, but accept their Constitutional right to do so as long as they bought the flags themselves.

  • Sam Bonello

    I had NO PREF on my dog tags not considering Atheist was an option.

  • Grace Skerp

    It should be an option to have none of those designations on the marker. If the individual or NOK want one, fine; otherwise, why? What does a personal philosophy or spiritual belief have to do with the individual’s service?

    • Mark Warkentin

      Unfortunately, theists think some symbol should be displayed to indicate which heaven they go to, and it is very important to them (they sure don’t want to go to the wrong heaven). This is a public display of their personal and family beliefs. The military gives this traditional belief and cultural practice validity by adding symbols to grave markers. If an atheist is a veteran, they can choose no symbol. I will request some non-theist symbol just to make them put something on the marker to be publicly different from the theists. I can mock their choices even when i am dead.

    • Mark Warkentin

      This started with the fact that most service members have some sort of religion that details what to do with your body after you get killed. Or some need some words spoken over the dead body (Catholics for example).

  • Haler44

    As I stated in another post under this thread, I was in the Army and never experienced any hassle over reporting my religion as “none.” In fact, religion was mentioned so rarely that I had no feel for the number of others who had no religion, and I find it surprising that there would be a higher percentage than in the overall population.

    Nevertheless, the percentage of non-believers who are or have been in the armed forces is very small, and that leaves a substantial percentage who have strong left-wing views on socio-economic issues that correlate with anti-military views. Just read the articles published by the AHA and other humanist groups.

  • adamweishaupt

    can I pray to Quetzatcoatl? ha ha ha.