No atheists in foxholes? New study says different

A new population study of official Department of Defense records by the Military Association of Atheists & Freethinkers shows religious preference and chaplain endorsements for all components and branches of the military. Findings show atheists are represented in larger numbers than any non-Christian denomination. “No Religious Preference” is the largest individual selection. The Air Force also admitted that it does not know what organizations are endorsing its chaplains.

As a result of the study, Air Force officials have promised to reform their oversight of chaplain endorsing agencies. There has been no commitment to reaching out to atheists and humanists in the military. Top-level chaplains have declined to address formal outreach MAAF and grass roots development. Humanists have no opportunity to state their religious preference on their official records. Lay leader applications have been pushed aside for over a year. This new demographics study should help to show the growing need for chaplains to support nontheists as well as theists.

Chaplain support for diversity communities

Over 0.5% of the military self-identified as atheist. While this may seem low, the atheist religious preference was ahead of all responses except Christian or undetermined groups (No Pref & Unknown). Atheist is in the #15 position of all options, and 88 different religious preferences, including 73 Christian denominations and all non-Christian denominations, fall below atheist.

Chaplain support showed a Christian majority as expected, but the total for all Christians was less than 70%, even with disparate groups like Catholics, Lutherans, Methodists, and Mormons lumped together. Despite this diversity, Christians fill nearly 97% of all chaplain billets, and Christians still enjoy special privileges while other groups face regulatory challenges. In addition, most “minority” religious groups like Jewish, Muslim, and LDS are overrepresented relative to the general population. Atheists and humanists have no dedicated chaplain support or even attention in chaplain training despite being a relatively large minority in the general population. MAAF seeks to do our part by endorsing humanist chaplains, if the military will accept candidates.

Raw data on the study, including technical details about the data provided in 2009 and 2012, changes, and methodology for categories are annotated on the official page. The study should be reviewed only in the context of the study’s methodology.

View the full religious preference study and information as well as the MS Excel Raw Data:  Requires Microsoft Excel MAAF 2012 DoD Religious Preference and Chaplain Study.

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