Moral Low Ground

Civil Liberties

Atheism a ‘Suicide Risk,’ US Marine Corps Warns

(Photo: United States Forces Iraq)

(Photo: United States Forces Iraq)

United States Marine Corps training materials designed to prevent troops from killing themselves teach that atheism is a potential suicide risk.

The Week reports the training document, part of the Marine Corps’ Force Preservation Program, describes “potential risk indicators” for suicide. In addition to problems such as prior suicide attempts, divorce and loss of parental custody, legal or financial problems, post-traumatic stress disorder, and drug or alcohol abuse, the document lists “lack or loss of spiritual faith.”

Military officials claim they’re doing everything they can to prevent troop suicides. Last year, 349 active duty troops killed themselves, a record high. But an active-duty Marine who was given the training material believed it discriminated against atheists and passed the document along to the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving the “Constitutional guarantee of religious freedom.”

MRFF says it plans on suing the Marines unless the offending passage is removed from the training document.

“The whole concept of judging service members based on their spirituality is completely unconstitutional,” MRFF founder and former US Air Force officer Mikey Weinstein told The Week. “This country was founded on a very critical principle– the Founding Fathers 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.”

Paul Loebe, an active-duty Marine who is also the military director of the freethought group American Atheists, told The Week that exposing troops’ religious beliefs “does quite the opposite of ‘preserving the force.'”

“There are many service members past and present that have served honorably and continue to serve without believing in God, and there’s no reason to believe they cannot continue to do that today,” Loebe said.

Critics, including atheists and Muslims, claim there is an increasing Christianization of the US armed forces. Some Muslims allege that the United States is at war with Islam, a notion confirmed, they say, by statements from former President George W. Bush and some high-ranking military officers and by training materials and courses that teach officers to wage “total war” against Muslims, using “Hiroshima tactics” to destroy Islam’s holiest cities.

Until 2011, the US Army required soldiers to take ‘spiritual fitness surveys,’ with individuals who ‘failed’ the exercise told that “improving your spiritual fitness should be an important goal.”

More recently, a proposal by Rep. Rob Andrews (D-NJ) to allow atheists and other nonbelievers to serve as military chaplains failed to win congressional approval. Rep. Mike Conway (R-TX) told the Huffington Post that he “can’t imagine an atheist accompanying a notification team as they go into some family’s home to let them have the worst news of their life and this guy says, ‘You know, that’s it, your son’s just… worm food.'”

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