As if there wasn't already enough evidence that the military is somewhat hostile to the nonreligious, an anonymous Marine recently discovered a lulu. Apparently the Marines consider lack of religious belief--or "lack or loss of spiritual faith," as the Marines put it--to be a sign that a Marine may be contemplating suicide. The soldier got in touch with the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, which has laid down the law to the Marines--scrap this document or face a lawsuit.
"The whole concept of judging service members based on their spirituality is completely unconstitutional," says Mikey Weinstein, a former Air Force officer and founder and president of MRFF. "This country was founded on a very critical principle — the Founding Framers looked at the horrors that occurred throughout history by mixing religion and war, and they said, 'We're going to separate church and state.' And that means they cannot test for religion in the military."Rock Beyond Belief managed to get its hands on a copy of the document. Read it here. It considers lack of religious belief to be a "guidance/moral compass issue"--along with lack of courage and lack of prudence. I don't think I need to tell you how insulting this is on its face.
The training document does not specify how a commander is supposed to test whether a Marine has spiritual faith — Weinstein claims that in a preliminary computer test, Marines are asked questions like "what do you think of when you see a sunset?" — but it does say that when a Marine is identified as high risk, a "Force Protection Council" will interview, monitor, and recommend further action at the council's discretion.
When Blake Page--the former West Point cadet who famously resigned to protest the pervasive fundie influence there--saw this document and the premise behind it, he said in so many words, "Bullshit!"
The Marine Corps document also notes that its risk indicators for early death are "derived from scientific studies."Paul Loebe, an active-duty Marine sergeant who serves as both executive director of Rock Beyond Belief and the military director of American Atheists, had a similar reaction, in part because he has some stories to tell about what it's like to be an atheist Marine.
But Page argues that this logic is flawed, because studies that come to the conclusion that religion reduces dangerous behavior "only measure religiosity through religious service attendance. This is a failed conclusion, because attending a regular social activity of any sort produces the same external community of support that a religious community provides."
(Loebe) says that in his eight years of service, the Marine Corps never required him to take a religious test — although "they do have one available" — but notes that he was initially denied the right to put "atheist" on his dog tags. When Loebe tried to seek counseling from a chaplain, he was asked to end every session with a prayer. "It made the whole situation very uncomfortable, especially when I had a very serious problem to deal with," Loebe says.When Loebe was asked to put together a Force Preservation Policy for his unit, he left out the part about religious beliefs. To his mind, putting his brothers' religious beliefs out there in the open actually undermines unit cohesion. It's hard not to agree, given the numerous accounts I've read about how officers proselytizing to their men.
This sort of thing isn't just oppressive to atheists and agnostics. It's oppressive to Christians who have the crazy idea that maybe, just maybe, we need to learn to coexist with those who don't believe in God.