For Country, Sans God: Humanism and Religious Hegemony in the Military

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Ryan M. Jean, Captain, U.S. Army Reserve

May 20, 2012

Pro Deo et Patria [for God and Country]? Since the earliest days of the republic, the Constitution’s First Amendment has furnished a source of endless debate regarding religious intermingling in government affairs. Nowhere does this result in a sharper point of contention than in the rigid and demanding environment of the military. In its attempts to thread the needle between the limitations on establishment and the duty to support free exercise, the military has typically erred on the side of more religion, creating an environment of sustained hostility to those of minority faiths or no faith at all and using the authority of command to entrench a predominantly Christian vision within the armed services. In the last few years, however, significant inroads have been made against this Christian control of everyday military life and the privilege this hegemony supports. From a Wiccan circle at the Air Force Academy to an atheist concert at Fort Bragg, religious minorities of all kinds have started to find a voice and insist on not being ignored for the sake of conformity. In this talk, Captain Jean discusses his take on the grand promise for true religious freedom in uniform and why the old adage of “no atheists in foxholes” is an argument against foxholes, not atheists. He’ll navigate the complex legal landscape used to keep at bay the forces of positive social change, and – using his own story of how he turned a berating for his lack of faith into a passion for activism – will show how Humanism can bring us closer to achieving a truly secular military.

Captain Jean encourages support for the USO of Metropolitan Washington and the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers.  Captain Jean is a member of the Atheists of Meade (ATOM) (ATOM on Facebook).

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Captain Ryan Jean was born and raised in Las Vegas, Nevada, in a mainstream Protestant family. Intensely curious, he began to seriously question the family religion in his early teens, eventually abandoning belief entirely. He has a BA in computer science from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and works primarily as a contract software developer for the Army. He was commissioned in the Army in 2003 as an intelligence officer. While deployed in 2009, he experienced an encounter with a negative chaplain that catalyzed his desire to advocate openly for better atheist and Humanist treatment in the military. This led to his volunteering in 2011 to be a Humanist Lay Leader at his station at Fort Meade, Maryland. In doing so his intent is to ensure that the Chaplaincy’s secular services and benefits are as available to non-theistic service men and women as they are to their religious counterparts – but without added religious pressure. To date, the military has not approved any applications for Humanists in this role. Captain Jean’s hobbies include programming, puzzle-solving, and anything science related as well as pursuing research on cryptology and security. He is married to Sergeant Christine Jean, and they live in central Maryland with their two children, Lucas and Logan.

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