One of the Foundation’s most popular actions is to educate public figures that there are atheists in foxholes. Many FFRF members are veterans and currently serve in the military. Since the Foundation began in 1976, we have heard from many members that they were and are atheists (and agnostics and other skeptics) in foxholes. FFRF originally had members who were veterans of World War I!
Miami Herald columnist Leonard Pitts, an otherwise strong proponent of state/church separation, was the target of a recent Foundation Action Alert after he wrote in a column: “As there are no atheists in foxholes, it turns out there are no small-government disciples in massive oil spills.”
We expect the “no atheists in foxholes” myth to be perpetuated by religionists like Mary Matalin (see Action Alert), but an enlightened, progressive individual like Pitts ought to know better. Many of our members are attempting to educate him (some before even seeing FFRF’s Action Alert). His response, forwarded by his assistant, was as follows:
“I think you’re reading a little more into that offhand comment than I ever intended to pack. While I have no doubt there are many principled atheists who stick to their non-belief even in the face of great trial and danger, I also know there are those who do not. Maybe I should’ve said, ‘there are few atheists in foxholes.’ Maybe that’s what I’ll do in the future. But again, I was only using a familiar old saying to draw what I regarded as a useful parallel and intended no deeper meaning. I apologize to you and any other offended atheists.
Leonard Pitts, Jr.”
Still, Pitts is not correct. There are not just “a few” atheists in foxholes, and he should know that language matters. It is not appropriate to recycle old sayings that simply have no truth to them, and that only serve to reinforce bigotry.
As one member, Jeff Haley, wrote in response to Mr. Pitts’ letter: “People used to say, ‘There are no homosexuals in the army.’ They said this to oppress homosexuals. We now know it is and always was wrong, and it is oppressive of minority rights. It is exactly the same with ‘There are no atheists in foxholes.’ It is wrong and always was wrong. It is a myth perpetrated by theists to oppress atheists. When you repeat it, you support their agenda.”
Let’s hear from some of the other FFRF members who are taking action to dispel the “no atheists in foxholes” myth:
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Regarding your recent comments in the Miami Herald, please be advised that I have a son-in-law, a West Point graduate (12th in his class), who served in Desert Storm and was and still is an atheist. I served 2 years active duty and another 6 in the reserves as an officer in the US Army, Corps of Engineers, fortunately during peace time. However, I was ready, willing and able to fulfill any combat duties that would have been assigned to me at the time, had it been necessary. I was and still am an atheist. I think it is about time for you and everyone else, who mechanically mouths that ridiculous phrase, recognize it for what it is — a bogus, self serving, myth!”
—Dr. James T. McCollum (son of Vashti McCollum, who successfully challenged religious instruction in public schools, on Jim’s behalf — McCollum v. Board of Education, 1948)
A point of correction in your recent article – there ARE atheists in foxholes. In fact, I made a career out of the military due in no small part to the fact that the Army didn’t seem to care that I was an atheist. Back in 1986 during my entrance examination where Soldiers choose a military occupancy specialty, the counselor offered me a Chaplain Assistant position. When I said ‘No thanks, I am an atheist,’ I braced for the ostracizing rebuke that I had received from countless friends and teachers in Smalltown, USA when discovering my irreligion. Instead, she simply said that I had a good reason for not wanting to be a Chaplain Assistant and found me another job. I have served continuously and honorably ever since. I have always served my country openly as an atheist. You won’t see my head bowed in formation when called to prayer. I don’t offer nor accept ‘God bless you’ when sneezing. All my co-workers know my position on religion. And never once have I received an unfair evaluation or discriminatory treatment due to my lack of belief in the supernatural. So please, in the future, refrain from the stereotypical catch-phrase – ‘There are no atheists in foxholes.’ It belittles not only the atheists who serve, but also the theist that serve without discrimination toward their fellow atheist foxhole mates.”
—Raymond Bradley, an Operations and Training Officer in the Office of the USARC Surgeon
“I always enjoy your columns, but your recent observation in which the ‘no atheists in foxholes’ canard was repeated kind of got my goat. It’s definitely not true. I’m an atheist and I served in uniform, aboard the battleship New Jersey during the Vietnam War in a combat zone. There were a fair number of other atheists of whom I was aware who were onboard at the same time. So, please don’t snipe at we patriots who don’t happen to believe that it was some mythical god that got us into that (name your favorite) fine fix. We did our patriotic duty, anyway.”
“Please include my name in any future story you write about ‘atheists in foxholes.’ There were many other soldiers like myself that had ‘NO PREF’ stamped on their dog tags. At the time of my service, ‘Atheist’ was not a valid selection when designating one’s religious preference.”
—Rodney Hinds, US Army (1972-1976)
“There are a lot of atheists in foxholes. In fact a lot of soldiers get turned into atheists after seeing what they see and deciding, if there really was a god this would not be allowed to happen.”
Thanks to everyone who rebuts this myth, responding to FFRF Action Alerts and on their own!