FOXHOLE ATHEISTS FACE FRIENDLY FIRE: Bart Meltzer, coordinator of state and regional operations for American Atheists, asked that I send along a message from AA Military Director Kathleen Johnson, who is currently serving on active duty in Iraq. Following her report you'll find a link to the article she mentions from Stars and Stripes.
Per Kathleen's request, please send any emails of encouragement to the brave young soldier mentioned below via Kathleen. Kudos to this brave young soldier for having the courage to stand up for his beliefs and right to express them freely in the face of such drastic opposition. Kudos to the other brave soldiers who had the courage to participate. Let him know he's doing work in the service of a far greater good than the shockingly tyrannical, and unsurprisingly pious, officer who disrupted their meeting. If you have a perspective on this report, I strongly encourage you to forward it to the Boston Atheists mailing list by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. We know how unwelcome vocal atheism can be in the workplace, academe, and civic life -- it should be no surprise that members of the military can be just as hostile toward nonbelievers.
Bart shared his opinion on the matter: "If all Atheists stood up for their beliefs and were as vocal as these soldiers we would not be facing the discrimination we are facing today. We would be perceived as a much larger majority that should not be trifled with. I'm proud to be a part of the national organization that fights for the civil rights of Atheists in the face of this discrimination." The large majority Bart mentions is that eclectic group of forty million Americans, united only by disbelief. If there is to be a future in which religious institutions are displaced by civic organizations, in which faith is rightly disenfranchised, and in which belief is become only a historical fact, those forty million Americans need to coordinate their desire to work against the nearly-universal fallacy that religion is necessary. Give this young soldier your encouragement and your support; let your atheist neighbors know that you share their intolerance of this kind of bigotry. If we're going to come out of the woodwork, an email is an easy way to start. Here's Kathleen's report:
One of our members, a young Atheist enlisted soldier, thought he would like to see if he could generate some interest in MAAF [Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers] meetings at his Forward Operating Base (FOB) here in Iraq (not the base I'm at, by the way). He got things coordinated and started hanging flyers, and after weeks of having to re-hang his flyers almost daily because some vandal kept tearing them down, he finally succeeded in having a small MAAF meeting. I wasn't there because the meeting wasn't on my FOB, but I knew he was holding it and was expecting to hear from him after the meeting. Keep in mind that this young soldier did everything right - he went through the Chaplain's office and jumped through all the hoops it takes to legally hold meetings that are religiously or philosophically based. Four soldiers attended this meeting - all of them very junior enlisted soldiers with the exception of one Major (an O-4), who claimed to be a "freethinker". Well, to make a very long story a little shorter, the Major turned out to be a fundamentalist Christian who verbally berated the other attendees, accused them of plotting against Christians and disrespecting soldiers who have died protecting the Constitution, and threatened them with punishment under the UCMJ for their activities (said they were "going down") and said he would do whatever it took to shut the meetings down. Keep in mind that by this point, he had two of the attendees (one soldier fled when the shouting started) standing at the position of attention so that he could yell at them, berate them, and humiliate them. This apparently went on for several minutes at which time the Major shut down the meeting by saying he wasn't some "push-over Chaplain" and that he would not tolerate the meetings to continue. The young MAAF member who hosted the meeting is absolutely freaked out about what happened, but he said he's going to continue with the meetings and isn't going to be bullied by the prayer warriors. I've advised him to immediately notify the Chaplain sponsor of what happened to get guidance while I try to figure out what to do next. I should hear something back from him tonight sometime and there's even a small possibility I might be able to score a mission to his FOB and attend one of his meetings in the next few weeks (if I do, I'll meet with the Chaplain in person). As for immediate action, he's going to get me the names of his Chaplain sponsor and the name of the officer who disrupted the meeting. My intent right now is to make a formal report to the most senior Chaplain I can find along with possibly an Equal Opportunity complaint against the officer if we can get him fully identified. I may not be eligible to make that complaint because I wasn't there, but I can at least smooth the way for this young troop to make one if he elects to. At the very least, I can make the EO office formally aware of what happened there. More info will follow when I get it, but right now, feel free to disseminate this information since I've intentionally sanitized it for names and locations.
Related items include Staff Sgt. Gene Horrigan's letter "Read the Constitution" in response to Spc. Matthew B. Cravens' letter "Atheist 'revival' bad for U.S." Also of interest are "Camp Quest is legal"by Spc. Jeremy Hall; "Religions' 'dangerous attitude'" by Senior Airman Matthew Frazee; and "Our country's values" by Michael Breslin, all at this page. Please let me know if anyone finds a link to the original article, "Atheists are happy campers at Ohio retreat," which appeared in the July 8th issue of that paper.
- COMING EVENTS: The Boston Atheists will take to the lanes next Friday, August 10th, at Boston Bowl. (RSVP) Guests are of course welcome. The following Tuesday, the 14th, we'll be meeting at the MC2 American Bistro in Cambridge for a salon-style discussion of a topic to-be-determined this weekend. (RSVP)
- "A TEACHER WITH FAITH AND REASON": Jeff Jacoby is an inimitable columnist, though for reasons of taste rather than skill. In this latest dispatch from the hinterlands of intellectual credibility, he wistfully wishes for a science as informed by spirituality as was Newton's, thus confusing cause with coincidence and suggesting that his awareness of the scientific enterprise is about 330 years behind the times. Boston Globe, 07/22/07
- "CREATION SCIENCE 101": Tongue-in-cheekiness by guitar-totin' teacher Roy Zimmerman.
- HELP WANTED: Camp Quest of Michigan is seeking one or two responsible males or females who are unafraid of commitment to volunteer as camp counselors for one week this August. Atheists preferred, but will consider all freethinking applicants. Immediate openings available due to 11th-hour cancellations by soft, spineless wannabes. If you are interested, contact Len Zanger, Director of Camp Quest: 248-330-5061. Spread the word as you see fit.