The U.S. military is known for its religious undertones. Over the past few years, atheists have made a concerted effort to work against the faith-based culture that is ingrained in the armed forces. Now, there's a major fight unfolding between the Military Association of Atheists & Freethinkers (MAAF) President Jason Torpy and Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty (CARL) over the role of religion in suicide prevention.
According to The Christian Post, Torpy has requested that the military remove "personal religious expressions" that are part of a mandatory suicide prevention program. Part of this program involves chaplains who council service members in need of assistance. In a statement on the MAAF web site, Torpy explained his issues with religious involvement:
Suicide rates in the US military exceed one per day. This has been identified by military leaders as a crisis requiring attention throughout the military. Last Thursday, there was an Army-wide “stand down” to focus on suicide prevention training. However, reports are coming in that chaplain-led sessions on ‘resilience’ showed a priority on religion, prayer, and “god’s plan”. These personal religious expressions may be appropriate in private, optional settings, but they have no place in mandatory settings and even violate the Army’s own guidance that its “spiritual fitness” training be optional. Organizations like MAAF and American Atheists are advising soldiers to report issues to their command to see if the military can resolve these issues internally. [...]
If these were in the local chapel or in an optional Christian or general religious setting, then they may have been appropriate. But in a mandatory briefing, they only serve to ostracize the nonreligious and give the appearance that the chain of command prefers theistic viewpoints and does not accommodate the nontheistic.
As was reported by The Associated Press, the "stand down" event involved an order that all soldiers stop their normal duties to spend an entire day learning about suicide prevention and the services that are available to them. The general purpose was to strike down the embarrassment that some people in uniform feel when they realize they are in need of mental help services.
While atheists, like Torpy, view the presence of faith in the process as a violation, retired Col. Ron Crews, executive director for the CARL, is dismayed. Quite the contrary, he believes that religion fills -- and should continue to play -- an important role in helping soldiers overcome face their issues.
"Why would anyone not want every resource available to help our military personnel?," he said, going on to tell the Post that chaplains have been one of the military's most utilized tools in the fight against suicide. "I sincerely hope that military leaders will not bow toward this intolerance."
Crews maintained that suicide is a very serious problem in the military. Some of the contributing factors are: feelings of loneliness, depression, loss of a relationship and issues pertaining to alcohol abuse. He contends that chaplains are trained and prepared to deal with these issues and that there are numerous examples of the positive results that this arrangement offers.
However, Torpy believes that personal expressions of faith should be just that -- personal. These tenets, he claims, have no place in mandatory military events. These suicide briefings "only serve to ostracize the nonreligious and give the appearance that the chain of command prefers theistic viewpoints and does not accommodate the non-theistic," he contends.
In an effort to show how apparently dire the situation is for non-theists, Torpy also wrote that, "nontheists feel very alone and vulnerable when suddenly part of a command-led, mandatory prayer event." You can read the rest of his statement here.
This isn't the first time that Torpy has fought diligently against faith in the armed forces -- and it certainly won't be the last.
(H/T: Christian Post)