USA Today ad says 'there are atheists in foxholes' - takes aim at others' religious rights

by Dwayne Hastings, National Correspondent |

MADISON, Wis. (Christian Examiner) -- A well-known atheist organization trolling for support within a USA Today publication intended to reach members of the military, promised a fight to stop "proselytizing by chaplains" and "[B]ible-peddling by superior officers."

The ad from the Freedom from Religion Foundation -- an "association of atheists, agnostics and freethinkers" -- is in a special edition of the paper, "Year in Defense," published in late December.

"You are not alone. There are atheists in foxholes," reads the advertisement, an unflattering twist on the words of William T. Cummings, a Roman Catholic priest who ministered to American troops on the Bataan peninsula.

The volunteer army chaplain reportedly uttered the phrase, "There are no atheists in foxholes," during a field sermon in 1942, suggesting anyone experiencing the hellish horrors of battle would find comfort only in crying out to God. Cummings died as a Japanese prisoner of war.

The group's ad seems oddly out of place in the magazine, nestled among advertisements from Sikorsky, a provider of helicopters to the Department of Defense; FN Herstal, the maker of Browning and Winchester firearms; and other businesses that support the mission of service personnel.

Yet the full-page ad's placement is not surprising for those who track the status of religious liberty within the ranks of the armed forces.

The issue of religious discrimination the military in the military has been a contentious one over the past several years, with groups like the Freedom from Religion Foundation pushing back against Christian service members' rights to exercise their faith.

The U.S. Department of Defense's own policy says the department is committed to ensuring "all service members are free to exercise their Constitutional right to practice their religion...."

Despite the policy there are those, including some within the military itself, who want to muzzle Christian service members.

In the Freedom from Religion Foundation's ad, the group asks readers: "Proselytizing officers got you down? Annoyed by preaching chaplain emails? Frustrated by prayer at mandatory events? Tripping over bibles [sic] with every about face?"

Yet many are standing up to those who want to trim service members' liberties.

There are "concerted efforts to scrub the military of religious expression," claims a report by the Family Research Council, one such group tracking threats to religious liberty in the military.

"Unfortunately, pressures to impose a secular, anti-religious culture on our nation's military services have intensified tremendously during the Obama Administration," reads a statement by FRC's Tony Perkins and Lt. Gen. (Ret) Jerry Boykin. It also notes, "This pressure exists across the armed services, but it has become extremely acute in the United States Air Force (USAF)." Perkins is president of the Family Research Council; Boykin is the group's executive vice president.

The atheist group's ad encourages readers "to join the ranks of the largest non-prophet nonprofit" and indicates the organization's desire to purge any reference to religious faith or religious activity from the military.

Yet the Freedom from Religion Foundation doesn't restrict its work solely to banish religious expression within the military; it targets civilians as well. The foundation's website notes its commitment to the "cherished principle of separation of state and church" and says the group "works as an umbrella for those who are free from religion."

In December the group was busy targeting communities across the U.S. that dared to place crèches in public squares or near city buildings. On the group's website, the foundation boasts they were behind the posting of a sign last month near a nativity scene in the Nebraska state Capitol that read in part, "There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell. There is only our natural world. Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds."