For Veterans Day, honor all vets — including atheists in foxholes

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The Freedom From Religion Foundation urges that “atheists in foxholes” and other freethinkers who have served our country be honored and remembered this Veterans Day.

It’s unfortunate that during World War II, journalist Ernie Pyle promoted the myth that “there are no atheists in foxholes” — a falsehood that endures till today.

A quarter of FFRF’s membership are veterans, and a quarter of active duty military identify as nonreligious. Yet members of the military are often subjected to overt proselytization by religious superiors and tax-paid chaplains. And all too often, a Christian cross is put up on governmental property and dubbed a “war memorial.” Courts have repeatedly ruled that Christian crosses, the pre-eminent symbol of Christianity, may not be placed on public property. A Christian cross on public land establishes Christianity as a state religion, giving it preferred status and endorsement. But when such an unconstitutional cross is excused as a war memorial, it sends an ugly and discriminatory message of exclusion, signaling that only Christian veterans are worthy of being honored.

That’s one reason why FFRF has erected two monuments to atheists in foxholes and other nonreligious veterans. One sits in a piney woods near Lake Hypatia, Ala., lovingly carved by the late Bill Teague, who served in World War II.

The other impressive monument, made of the same granite as Mount Rushmore, resides in FFRF’s Rose Zerwick Memorial Courtyard and Patio outside Freethought Hall, FFRF’s bustling office building in downtown Madison, Wis. (Both monuments are pictured here.)

The genesis of these unique monuments was the decades-long court challenge to remove a 43-foot Christian cross from atop Mount Soledad in La Jolla, Calif. Although it was claimed after-the-fact to be a veterans memorial, it was known as the Easter cross and stemmed from a tradition dating to the 1920s, when the Ku Klux Klan burnt crosses in the then “exclusive” neighborhood. A lawsuit, the longest state/church court battle ever, was begun in 1989 by veteran Phil Paulson, who received FFRF’s first Atheist in Foxhole Award. After Paulson died, possibly of cancer caused by exposure to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War, FFRF State Representative and veteran Steve Trunk took up the cudgel. Steve also was named an Atheist in a Foxhole. That case finally ended the past year. Following numerous interventions by religionists and Congress, it was resolved rather unsatisfactorily, with the land and cross being sold to a group established to “save the cross.” But at least all the courts conceded that the government could not continue erecting that cross.

At one point in the long and convoluted court battle, officials offered to put the land under the cross up for bid. FFRF’s feisty founder Anne Nicol Gaylor immediately proposed replacing the sectarian symbol with a monument to “Atheists in Foxholes.” Needless to say, FFRF’s bid was not accepted. But Patricia Cleveland, the “veteran” leader of FFRF chapter Alabama Freethought Association invited Anne and FFRF to create and place the first monument in the world honoring nonbelieving veterans at the Lake Hypatia Freethought Advance (“not retreat”). And so a little freethought history was made. FFRF added a monument at its national headquarters in Madison, Wis., in 2015 during our building expansion.

Veterans, their families and active duty freethinkers are most cordially invited to visit and contemplate FFRF’s monument honoring them and their service.

The words, penned by Anne, read:

In Memory of
Atheists in Foxholes
And the countless freethinkers who have served this country with honor and distinction.
Presented by the Freedom From Religion Foundation with hope that in the future humankind may learn to avoid all war.

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