The US Army announced recently that it would formally recognize humanism as a religious preference if soldiers elect to self-identify as humanists. For some time a US military member, Major Bradley, has been seeking to have his religious self-identification recognized as Humanist, and his request has been supported by the American Civil Liberties Union. While some might use the term humanist and atheist interchangeably, Major Bradley is clear that while he does not believe in a god, the term atheist is an insufficient description of his beliefs.
The Religion News Service explains the significance of this decision by the military: In practical terms, the change means that humanists could face fewer hurdles in trying to organize within the ranks; military brass would have better information to aid in planning a deceased soldier’s funeral; and it could lay the groundwork for eventually adding humanist chaplains.”
While there are advocates of humanist chaplains in the US military, I would not expect to see them anytime soon, but I do know of at least one advocacy group, the Forum on Military Chaplaincy, that supports the move. The recognition of humanism by the Army probably means that we will see a humanist chaplain at some pony.
Religious Studies scholar Elizabeth Drescher has some interesting thoughts on why this move is significant.
For the record, there are no humanist chaplains in the Canadian Forces, and I am not aware of whether the CF allows members to self-identify this way. At least one other NATO militaries (the Dutch, I believe), have humanist chaplains.