End Religious Discrimination in the Military

Despite data indicating that one out of five members of the United States military identify as atheist, agnostic or having no religious preference [1], nontheists serving in the U.S. armed forces are frequent targets for religious discrimination and coercive proselytizing.  Upon enlistment, military personnel pledge to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States.” [2] The Constitution plainly states that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States” [3] and that our government can neither advance nor inhibit religion. [4] Despite this pledge, assignments and promotions based on religious membership rather than merit [5] have been documented.

The problem of coercive proselytizing in the military came into public view in 2005 when a report [6] was released showing that officers, faculty, and cadets at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs promoted evangelical Christian beliefs and displayed insensitivity toward and harassed cadets who practiced a different religion or no religion at all. [7] This coercive proselytizing is not an isolated occurrence and extends into all five service branches. 

In recent years, organizations such as the Officers’ Christian Fellowship (OFC) [8], the Military Ministry of the Campus Crusade for Christ [9], the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) [10], and the Christian Military Fellowship (CMF) [11] have encouraged soldiers to proselytize as their primary mission in the military. The CMF identifies itself as “an association of believers who are committed to encouraging Men and Women of the United States Armed Forces […] to love and serve the Lord Jesus Christ.” The CMF instructs its members to “evangelize every segment of the military society by any means which honors Christ.” [12] Such evangelizing co-opts military resources and personnel to market Christianity.

As part of the U.S. Army’s “Comprehensive Soldier Fitness” program, soldiers are evaluated on their “spiritual fitness.” Sergeant Justin Griffith, an atheist, reported that the spiritual fitness evaluation contained questions aimed primarily at soldiers who believe in god or another deity, virtually ensuring that nonbelievers who answered honestly would score poorly. [13]Soldiers who score poorly are often referred to chaplains for training in order to increase their scores in the area of “spiritual fitness.” Given the over-representation of evangelic Christians in the Chaplains Corps, this “training” often becomes nothing more than a taxpayer-funded promotion of one particular brand of Christianity.

According to the U.S. Supreme Court, the Chaplains Corps of the armed forces exists to “engage in activities designed to meet the religious needs of a pluralistic military community.” [14] The Court has observed that military chaplains are employed to serve military personnel “who wish to use them” and are not authorized “to proselytize soldiers or their families.” The chaplains have a mandate to serve and foster a religiously pluralistic population but too often are silent when members of their units are ostracized, harassed, denied promotion or threatened with physical violence for their beliefs or lack of belief in god. [15] Furthermore, chaplains and religious groups continue to perpetuate the disparaging claim that “there are no atheists in foxholes.” [16] In order to foster a truly pluralistic military community, military chaplains must have the resources, the training, and be willing to address the needs of all service members regardless of their faith.

The Secular Coalition for America urges the Department of Defense to end religious discrimination and the unconstitutional proselytizing that takes place in our nation’s military. The Secular Coalition for America asks that the Department of Defense provide military chaplains with training to enable them to assist service members with humanistic and nontheistic life views.

Further information:



[1] Military Leadership Diversity Commission, “Religious Diversity in the U.S. Military,” published June 2010, http://mldc.whs.mil/download/documents/Issue%20Papers/22_Religious_Diversity.pdf

[2] 10 USC § 502

[3] U.S. Constitution, Article VI, Paragraph 3

[4] U.S. Constitution, Amendment I

[5] Kaye, Randi. “Atheist soldier sues Army for ‘unconstitutional’ discrimination” (July 2008) http://articles.cnn.com/2008-07-08/us/atheist.soldier_1_tours-discrimination-bible

[6] Report of the Headquarters Review Group Concerning the Religious Climate at the U. S. Air Force AcademyPublished June 2005,http://www.foxnews.com/projects/pdf/HQ_Review_Group_Report.pdf

[7] Ibid

[8] Officers’ Christian Fellowship website: http://www.ocfusa.org/about/

[9] Campus Crusade Military Ministry website:http://www.militaryministry.org/about/

[10] Fellowship of Christian Athletes website:http://www.fca.org/AboutFCA/

[11] Christian Military Fellowship website: http://www.cmf.com/

[12] Christian Military Fellowship website, Our Operating Principles,http://www.cmf.com/Information/AboutUs/tabid/113/Default.aspx

[13] Leopold, Jason. “Army’s ‘Spiritual Fitness’ Test Comes Under Fire”. (January 2011) http://www.truth-out.org/armys-fitness-test-designed-psychologist-who-inspired-cias-torture-program-under-fire66577

[14] Katcoff v Marsh, 755 F.2d 223 (1985)

[15] Kaye, Randi. “Atheist soldier sues Army for ‘unconstitutional’ discrimination” (July 2008) http://articles.cnn.com/2008-07-08/us/atheist.soldier_1_tours-discrimination-bible

[16] Campus Crusade Military Ministry statement of beliefs,http://www.militaryministry.org/about/beliefs/

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