Feature: Few atheists in U.S. foxholes

By STEVE SAILER, UPI National Correspondent

LOS ANGELES, April 21 (UPI) -- The old saying "There are no atheists in foxholes" turns out to be virtually correct, at least for the U.S. armed forces. About 0.1 percent of all American military personnel officially declare themselves to be atheists.

That doesn't mean, however, that all service members belong to a particular religious denomination. About 27 percent do not volunteer to have a specific religious preference inscribed on their dog tags.


Congress prohibited the U.S. Census Bureau from inquiring about the religious affiliations of the general populace, which means there are no official statistics on the size of the various American faiths. The military, however, does ask about religion since it employs nearly 3,000 chaplains to meet soldiers' religious needs. For example, a Marine with a "C" stamped on his dog tag knows that if he is mortally wounded in battle, the corps will attempt to find a Roman Catholic chaplain to give him the last rites.


Overall, 44 percent of Americans in the volunteer military call themselves Protestants and 24 percent say they are Catholics, according to the Defense Manpower Data Center. The other major world religions are not heavily represented: Muslims and Jews make up 0.3 percent each, Buddhists 0.2 percent and Hindus 0.1 percent. The "other" category numbered 5 percent.

The religious makeup of the armed forces is similar to that of the general population. A 2000 Gallup Poll found that 56 percent of all Americans consider themselves Protestant, 27 percent Catholic, 2 percent Jewish, 1 percent Orthodox, 1 percent Mormon, and 5 percent "other." An additional 8 percent gave their religion as "none." That doesn't mean, though, that 92 percent of the public is active in an organized religion. About one of every three Americans said they did not belong to a church or synagogue.

These Gallup figures tend to be higher for each religion than the military's numbers because 8 percent of the public stated their religion was "none," while 27 percent of the armed forces offered "no preference." This does not necessarily mean, however, that men and women in the services are more irreligious than the norm. There are differences between telling a pollster you have no religion and telling the military that you do not wish to specify a religion.


Among those who do state a religion, Protestants and Catholics both appear to be about as well-represented in the military as in the general population.

At 0.3 percent, Jews make up less of the services than they do of the general population, where estimates of the proportion of Jews center around 2 percent.

There are several reasons for this. For example, American Jews tend to be older than the national average with a median age of 41, according to the 2000 National Jewish Population Survey, compared to 35 for Americans as a whole. So, fewer Jews are of military age.

Further, this study found that about half of all Jews have bachelor's degrees, vs. 28 percent overall. While 95 percent of military officers have college degrees, only about 3 percent of enlistees do, and 85 percent of them have never been to college. Therefore, the percentage of Jews in the working class from which most enlistees are recruited is well below the national average.

Muslims, who make up about 1 percent of the population, according to a Center for Immigration Studies report by Daniel Pipes and Khalid Durán, are somewhat more represented in the military on a per capita basis than Jews, but are less represented than Christians.


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