The Freedom From Religion Foundation on Veterans Day encourages Americans to honor all veterans, including “atheists in the foxholes” and other free thinkers who served our country with bravery and distinction, even though a religious cliché insists on their non-existence.
More than 20% of the 39,000 members of the FFRF are veterans, and A quarter of active duty service members identify as non-religious or ‘no religious preference’. Yet members of the military are not recognized and are often the object of overt proselytism by religious superiors and tax-paying chaplains.
Too often, a Christian cross is erected on government property and labeled a “war memorial.” A Christian cross on public land establishes Christianity as the state religion, giving it privileged status and approval. 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 deserve to be honored.
Journalist Ernie Pyle during World War II unfortunately promoted the myth that “there are no atheists in foxholes” – a lie that persists to this day.
The genesis of the unique FFRF monument (pictured above) was the decades-long legal challenge to remove a 43-foot Christian cross from the summit of Mount Soledad in La Jolla, California. In fact, it was known as the Easter Cross and stemmed from a tradition dating back to the 1920s, when the Ku Klux Klan burned crosses there.
A lawsuit, the longest-running state-church court battle ever, was filed in 1989 by veteran Phil Paulson, who received the FFRF’s first Atheist in Foxhole award. After Paulson’s death, FFRF member and veteran Steve Trunk took the club. Steve was also named an atheist in a Foxhole. This case finally came to an end in 2016. Following numerous interventions by clerics and Congress, it was resolved in a rather unsatisfactory way, with the land and the cross being sold to a group created to “save the cross”.
At one point in the long and convoluted legal battle, officials offered to put the land under the cross up for auction. The fiery founder of the FFRF, Anne Nicol Gaylor, immediately proposed replacing the sectarian symbol with a monument to “atheists in foxholes”. Needless to say, the FFRF’s offer was not accepted. But Patricia Cleveland, the “veteran” leader of the FFRF chapter of the Alabama Free Thought Association, invited Anne and the FFRF to create and place the world’s first monument honoring unbelieving veterans at the Lake Hypatia Free. Thought Advance (“no retreat”). And so a little freethinking story was made. Lake Hypatia Advance is no longer in operation, but the monument remains cared for and honored on Cleveland family lands near Talledega.
The FFRF erected a second “Atheists in Burrows” monument at its national headquarters in 2015 during the expansion of its building. Made of the same granite as Mount Rushmore, the monument sits in the courtyard and patio of the FFRF’s Rose Zerwick Memorial outside Free Thought Hall, the FFRF’s bustling office building in downtown Madison , Wisconsin (World War II veteran Joseph Cunningham, a longtime FFRF member and activist, is pictured in front of the monument.)
Veterans, their families, and active-duty Freethinkers are cordially invited to visit and view the FFRF’s “Atheists in the Foxholes” monument, which honors Freethinker veterans and their service.
The words, written by Gaylor, read as follows:
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 the hope that in the future humanity can learn to avoid all war.