Religion in the UK's Armed Forces

By Vexen Crabtree 2011 Mar 14


Across All Services (%)2006220101
Christianity9485.9
No Religion  412.6
Hindu0.20.4
Muslim0.20.3
Buddhist0.20.2
Sikh<0.10.1
Jewish<0.1<0.1
Other0.5
More precise data for 2006:2
Christians in 2006 (=94%)Count%
C of E6504161.0
Roman Catholic1393913.1
C of S89068.4
Methodist31072.9
United Board7660.7
Pentecostal2900.3
Salvation Army1120.1
Mormon78<0.1
Orthodox49<0.1
Lutheran13<0.1
Christian Scientist12<0.1
Plymouth Brethren3<0.1
Christian (Unspec)59155.55
Non-Christians in 20062Count%
Atheist26972.5
Agnostic13641.3
Spiritualist22<0.1
Humanism15<0.1
Unitarian8<0.1
Bahai2<0.1
Unit. Scottish1<0.1
Parsee1<0.1

1. Religion in the Armed Forces

Until recently when a new computer-based system was introduced, administrative personnel put down "Church of England" for those who were unsure what religion they were, or if someone had no preference. This trend remained for longer in the Army, and, the list was limited to thirty or so well-known options, meaning that religious diversity in the Army was masked by beaurocratic simple-mindedness. As many do not care enough about religion to change their status, this historical fact means that for the present generation, religious numbers are artificially bloated towards Church of England and mainstream Christianity.

The Army is the youngest service, with recruits joining at a lower average age. The Army is also the service that is least knowledgeable about religion, comprises the highest percentage who are likely to put "Christian" (88.1%), but paradoxically, has the same of rate of belief in God (under 50%) as the other services, meaning that many state they are a religion that they do not actually believe in.

Links:

2. Padres and the Chaplaincy Department

RAChD Chaplains
As of 2006:

Church of England84
Roman Catholic22
Church of Scotland20
Methodist12
United Board9
Other (see below)4
Total: 151

Source: DASA (2006)2

Tri-Service appointees (from 2004)6: 1 Muslim, 1 Hindu, 1 Buddhist, 1 Sikh and a tri-service Jewish Rabbi act as advisors to the Forces, and are known collectively as the Ministry of Defence Religious Advisory Panel.

Fully Trained Chaplains:
1996: 1447
2006: 135 + 16 retired8
And some contradictory statistics: "Thanks to a recruiting drive [...] in 2005, there are about 280 chaplains in the armed forces (2007 figures)"10.

Annual Cost of the 313 full-time chaplaincy staff: £29.5 million a year (2006 data)4.

All Padres and Religious Advisors in the British Army work under the Royal Army Chaplaincy Department (RAChD). This has fallen under the administration of the Adjutant General's Corps since 199211.

2.1. Modernisation: Catching Up With Pluralism

Defence Chaplaincy started out from a position of extreme exclusivity, only allowing Church of England clergy to fulfil the role of Chaplain. Society has moved in and now the intolerant practices of the past are no longer acceptable. But Defence is a traditionalist industry - especially in societal matters concerning Serving personnel, and ideas surrounding tolerance advance only slowly. The Chaplaincy is no different:

"The Revd David Wilkes (a Methodist) is the Chaplain General, in charge of all army padres. [... He] believes the army will eventually have full-time, commissioned non-Christian chaplains"10. Given the rate at which people are ceasing to put 'Christian' down as their religious status, and the very slow rate at which other religions are gradually increasing, it does appear that the non-religious are the category most in need of attention by Chaplains.

2.2. Padres Fulfil a Secular Role: So Let's Have Humanist Non-Religious Chaplains

The RAChD is not limited to a clerical role, and a major part of a Chaplain's job centres on secular welfare support, moral guidance and counselling - to all people, not just the religious9. Chaplains also deal with issues such as relationship and family problems and helping with cases of bullying and complaints. They are part of the formal welfare package used by Commanding Officer's to address the needs of soldiers no matter what religion they are.

The facts are clear: most military personnel are not religious, although the majority still do have various forms of Christianity down as their religion (simple because they don't know what else to put), and non-Christian religions are rare. If the Chaplaincy represented the needs of soldiers, half of them would be humanist (i.e., non-religious), working in a similar way to workplace counsellors.

2.3. Recruiting Padres

"In order to join the Royal Army Chaplains Department you must be [...] an ordained minister recognised by one of the Sending Churches (Anglican, Roman Catholic, Methodist, Baptist/URC/Congregational, Church of Scotland/Presbyterian, Elim or Assemblies of God) and normally have at least 3 years experience in full-time ministry"13. The Army is finding it difficult to recruit padres (and the total numbers of clergy in the UK is decreasing overall):

All will be aware that chaplains join the RAChD having already been ordained as priests and ministers and that the churches themselves are finding it very difficult to recruit people. Furthermore, the average age of ordination in the mainstream churches is around 40. Recruiting chaplains is therefore a key challenge for the RAChD as it is fishing in a pool which is getting older and smaller. A number of initiatives are currently being planned to meet our targets which, for the next few years, are: 16 (2005/06), 15 (2006/07) and 15 (2007/08).

RAChD news on the Army website
army.mod.uk/servingsoldier/career/mcmdivs/rachd/whatsnew/ss_cmd_mcm_rachd_whatsnew_w.html, accessed 2006 Aug 03

3. Church Parades: Religious Coercion in the British Army

Army life, from Basic Training onwards, includes enforced Christianity at almost every level of the institution. (1) Recruits must attend compulsory Church Parades (or stand outside 'in the rain'). (2) Memorial Services, despite being sombre occasions where the dead should be remembered, are in reality occasions when the Padre generally talks much more about Jesus and God than about the departed, everyone sings Christian hymns and pretends to pray. On one occasion the soldiers were told to pray for those who did not have faith in Christ! And (3) all Padres are Christian.

If more people in the Armed Forces updated their religion state to reflect their actual beliefs, there would be much more impetus for these types of things to change.

4. The Reaction to the Salvation Army's Choice to Stop Selling Lads Mags

The Salvation Army's shops on British military camps sell magazines, amongst other things. In 2006 Summer, they chose to stop selling the 'lads' mags' that are more formally known as soft porn and related newspapers. The reaction of British Army representatives confirms that the Army is not religious, and is in fact so secular that many cannot even fathom why religious people behave as they do.

The Sixth Sense on 2006 Jul 20 featured a report on this as their headline story. The title read: "Squaddies were up in arms yesterday after their favourite national newspaper, The Sun, was banned from sale at Salvation Army shops in British Forces Germany"14. All quotes below are from this article.

"Giving the reason for the ban, Salvation Army chief Lieutenant Colonel Vic Poke said 'the content of some items really isn't consistent with the nature of our work and our Christian principles". It is perfectly within the right of a company to sell what it wants, for its own reasons. Mr. Poke explained that The Sun and other "lads' mags" are inconsistent with the religious ethos of The Salvation Army. He has ideological reasons for the ban. Despite this, a long stream of Army soldiers and workers bemoaned the ban and seemed to, to the last man, completely misunderstand the reasons for the ban.

The Salvation Army has religious reasons for its ban. But the reactions of the people above all show that no-one seems capable of understanding that 'religion' can somehow be a motive for stopping selling The Sun. They appear to think that the Salvation Army did it just to annoy them. Army personnel are taught "Moral Courage" as a main Ethos of the British Army: Standing up for moral principles. Yet they seem to hit a mental block when this is applied to religious principles, "how could they think about banning it?", asked SSgt Osbourne. That the answer to that question was unfathomable speaks volumes about the secular, non-religious nature of the Armed Forces.

5. UK & European Law: Reasonable Accommodation

The position of the British Army towards the granting of special rights for religious people, largely reflects the same ideals of European high-brow culture. Here is an excerpt from "Legislation and Faith: Religious Rights and Religious Wrongs" by Vexen Crabtree (2013):

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (United Nations), article 18, and the EU's Charter of Human Rights (article 9) state that everyone has freedom of religion and belief. This means you can't punish people for apostasy or heresy or any other element of thought crime. CHR article 9 gives the exception that rights can be curbed for the protection of the fundamental rights of others. On human rights and religion, European Law is most clear when it comes to the employer/employee relationship (which also covers public services):

The Employment Equality Directive introduced in 2000 requires all Member States to protect against discrimination on grounds of religion and belief in employment, occupation and vocational training. [...] The complexity of [it] comes from the fact that while Europe is committed to upholding religious freedom, it is equally committed to equality and other fundamental freedoms. At times these rights are complementary, [but] in other respects, the rights are in tension, with religious groups failing to recognise equality rights or the right of those outside the religious group.

European Commission (2006)15

A second complication is to do with what is called reasonable accommodation. This means: if a worker makes a specific request to hir employer that has something to do with hir beliefs, hir employer has to consider it. A denial must, if it is to be legal, be for clear practical purposes and not merely theoretical ones. So an employer cannot reason that "if loads of Sikhs joined my company, how could I continue to operate if I let them have this?", as this is a theoretical problem. It would be a real problem if specific persons on the roster would be made unhappy at the granting of a specific request.

Employees whose requests that a work uniform be adapted to accommodate religious practice are refused would suffer indirect discrimination. The employer's requirement that staff wear the uniform would put religious members of staff at a particular disadvantage, and the requirement would need to be justified.

European Commission (2006)

UK Law: Beliefs are probably only defensible under the Employment Equality Directive in the UK, if they have a certain level of "cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance"16. Thus, it is the case that the person making the complaint of discrimination must prove their level of commitment to their beliefs, and the employer must prove why he cannot accommodate the specific request. The exact details of how such cases will be worked out is not yet clear.

In the first section of Part 2 of the Equality Act 2006, section 44 states in very clear terms that non-belief is protected in the same way as belief, and that the non-religious are protected in the same way that religionists are.

The limitations on religious behaviour in the Army is more profound than in most civilian companies. There are clearer needs for constant identification of male and female soldiers, little scope for a guarantee that a soldier can interrupt work for regular prayer, and many occasions when places of ritual or magical significance (such as areas for worship) cannot be provided. Likewise, the foods, clothes and substances required by some religions are unsuitable for the Army, causing clear practical problems that interfere with the effectiveness of the 'organisation'.

Read / Write Comments

By Vexen Crabtree 2011 Mar 14
Originally published 2006 Aug 23
http://www.vexen.co.uk/military/religion.html

Links:

References: (What's this?)

DASA (Defence Analytical Services Agency) www.dasa.mod.uk

European Commission
Religion and Belief Discrimination in Employment - the EU law (2006). Directorate-General for Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities, Unit G.2

Heyman, Charles
British Army Handbook 2002-2003 (2002, Ed.). Pen & Sword Books Ltd, Barnsley, UK. Amazon link is to a newer edition than the one I have used.

NSS. The National Secular Society, London, UK.
Newsline. Weekly news letter. See: "Secularism" by Vexen Crabtree (2011).

RAChD (Royal Army Chaplains' Department) army.mod.uk/chaplains

Footnotes

  1. DASA (2007-2010) (stats as of 2010 Apr 01). Website accessed 2011 Mar 13.^
  2. DASA 2006 statistics received by email on 2006 Aug 23, stating their accuracy as of 2006 Jul 01. Not shown on the table are 3497 listed as "Other".^^^
  3. A 2006 Aug 24 interview of Padre [Name Withheld] by Vexen Crabtree in Kabul, Afghanistan.^^
  4. National Secular Society newsletter (2007 Jun 15). NSS Honorary Associate Graham Allen MP asked a parliamentary question [2006 Dec 14 - Official Report, column 1253W] about how much the taxpayer had to fork out to pay for chaplains in the Armed Forces. The MP Derek Twigg, under-secretary for defence, followed up his initial underestimate in 2007. The 313 full-time chaplaincy staff cost £29,500,000 a year. Added to this page on 2007 Jun 17.^^
  5. ARRSE.co.uk poll accessed 2011 Mar 10. ARRSE is the most popular (infamous) web forum of interest to UK serving personnel. This poll was not run by sociologists or by responsible academics, and, respondents can include retired people and others, so the sample is not the same as for other stats on this page. Nonetheless, the results are not unexpected nor surprising.^
  6. Regiments.Org Historical Encyclopaedia. URL: www.regiments.org/regiments/uk/corps/RAChD.htm, accessed 2006 Aug 03, page went down by 2011.^
  7. Heyman (2002) p23.^
  8. Old RAChD website (was www.army.mod.uk/chaps), accessed 2006 Aug 03.^
  9. Multiple sources: (1) Heyman (2002) p154. (2) The RAChD front page affirms the universal approach to welfare 'irrespective of religion or belief' (army.mod.uk/chaplains). Also "The Role of Army Chaplains". Accessed 2011 Mar 14. (3) Defence literature on Values and Standards.^
  10. History of the Royal Chaplains' Department via the BBC, accessed 2011 Mar 14.^
  11. Heyman (2002) p150.^
  12. Army Chaplains' History page on the Royal Chaplains' Department website. Accessed 2011 Mar 14.^
  13. RAChD website URL army.mod.uk/chaplains/career/1223.aspx accessed 2011 Mar 14.^
  14. The Sixth Sense (2006 Jul 20) headline story: "Squaddies were up in arms yesterday after their favourite national newspaper, The Sun, was banned from sale at Salvation Army shops in British Forces Germany". The Sixth Sense is a weekly magazine produced for British Forces Germany.^
  15. EC 2000/78/EC, establishing a general framework for equal treatment in employment and occupation, [2000] OJ.L303/16 (the Directive). Via Religion and Belief Discrimination in Employment - the EU law, European Commission (2006).^
  16. ECHR case law X, Y and Z v. UK (1982) 31 D&R 50, and Campbell and Cosans v. UK (1982) 4 EHRR 293. Via European Commission (2006).^

© 2013 Vexen Crabtree. All rights reserved.

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