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There ARE Atheists in Foxholes! Veterans Day Event in Nation's Capital to Honor Military Atheists

Copyright (c) 2005-2019

Nov. 9, 2005

The expression "There are no atheists in foxholes" is widely used by religious leaders, politicians and the media.

It is a false and bigoted statement.

"There are atheists in foxholes," says atheist Jason Torpy of Ohio, a retired U.S. Army captain.

Torpy joined the Army in 1994 right after graduating high school. He now serves as president of the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers, an Internet-based support network for non-theistic service members.

On Nov. 10-11, Torpy will join other atheist veterans and active duty service members to participate in a Washington D.C. event honoring those who have served in the United States Armed Forces and who do not believe in God or gods. On Friday, Nov. 11, there will be a Veterans Day "Atheists in Foxholes" parade and rally on the national mall, starting at 11 a.m.

World War II journalist Ernie Pyle is often credited for coining the expression "There are no atheists in foxholes." The canard-
turned-cliché implies that an atheist will quickly turn to a god or gods for assistance in times of duress. Some atheist veterans refute that implication with first-hand experience.

"As a member of the Army for more than 20 years, I have faced danger -- along with thousands of other atheists who have served -- and have never felt compelled to call upon any invisible deities in the sky for protection," said U.S. Army Master Sgt. Kathleen Johnson, an atheist on active duty at Fort Hood, Texas.

Retired U.S. Army 1st Sgt. Warren Allen Smith, an octogenarian, also refutes the claim that danger turns atheists into "believers". After being drafted into the Army during World War II, Smith led his company onto Omaha Beach in 1944.

"I was one of those 'atheists in a foxhole'," Smith said. "With Bertrand Russell, I am well aware that when we die we become food for the worms. And, well, after Omaha Beach who's afraid of worms?"

The author of Who's Who in Hell and Celebrities in Hell, Smith now lives in New York City. He will join a roster of distinguished veterans and freethought leaders to speak during the "Atheist in Foxholes" Veterans Day rally.

Another veteran slated to speak, is Hans Kasten, an American prisoner of war who was forced into slave labor by the Nazis during World War II.

In spite of what images the event's title might evoke, Master Sgt. Johnson said the "Atheists in Foxholes" march is not about war.

"It's about debunking the pernicious myth that patriotic and courageous military service requires religious faith," she said.

The rally is also intended to give freethinkers the chance to show support for the members of their community who have served or are serving in the armed forces. Master Sgt. Johnson said it is important for the community to know that atheists in the military face harassment and discrimination because of their lack of religious beliefs.

"The military is very much about 'god and country'," she said. "And religious rituals are incorporated into pretty much every significant military event and ceremony."

That's partially why Master Sgt. Johnson founded the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers in 1997. She is also the military director of American Atheists, the national organization sponsoring the Veterans Day events to honor military atheists.

One of the endorsing organizations of the "Atheists in Foxholes" event is the Institute for Humanist Studies (IHS), an Albany N.Y.-based think tank that promotes the non-religious philosophy of humanism. IHS President Larry Jones will speak at the welcome banquet on Nov. 10, and IHS Executive Director Matt Cherry will speak at the Nov. 11 rally.

Cherry said that the expression "There are no atheists in foxholes" is one of several myths about atheists perpetuated by the media.

"When someone says there are no atheists in foxholes, or in hurricanes, they are saying there are no true atheists," Cherry said. "When the media describe me as a 'self-declared atheist' --
but don't call the Pope a 'self-declared Christian' -- they are saying that I am deluded and he is for real. They are saying 'atheism' isn't for real."

Retired U.S. Army Captain Torpy also noted that the saying is not only insulting to atheists but to those who follow a religion, as well, because "it implies that fear, rather than belief or love, is a legitimate basis for faith."


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For information about the Nov. 11 "Atheists in Foxholes" march and rally in Washington D.C., visit: http://www.atheistfoxholes.org; see also: www.atheists.org. For information about the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers, visit: http://www.maaf.info. Duncan Crary is the director of communications at the Institute for Humanist Studies, http://www.HumanistStudies.org. He is the editor of the Institute's weekly e-zine, http://www.HumanistNetworkNews.org

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