Military’s expanded recognized religions list worthwhile challenge

I vaguely recall in filling out my Army enlistment papers in the 1950s, being asked to either check one of the six or so religions shown, check no preference, or to write one in on the blank line provided.
Fast-forward to the present, when I recently received a government news release announcing the Department of Defense increasing its list of recognized faiths and belief systems from a little over 100 to an expanded list of 221.
Some of the faiths I had never heard of included; Eckankar, Heathen, Church of the Spiral Tree, Troth, Wicca, Pagan, Deism and Asatru.
What a shocker! Obviously I have not been following developments in this area. It seems that there have been growing numbers of military enlistees whose faiths and belief systems were not among the mainstream and not officially recognized.
So, how does this recognition of religious belief systems outside the traditional mainstream faiths help the military and its members?
The Chaplains Corps believes that by being all-inclusive, service members of the non-mainstream faiths will now feel more accepted and will be more willing to approach Chaplains of any faith with the expectation that they will be heard and helped.
For incoming Jewish military, they can still choose “Jewish” or one of the three (Orthodox, Conservative or Reform), bringing the number of Jewish choices to four.
Before one criticizes our military leaders for possibly making things more complicated and confusing than they need to be, consider the following.
There is a rational justification for developing a more accurate, complete list of faith groups to which a military member may belong.
This change means that servicemen and -women who are members of small faith groups will now have the same rights and protections granted to service members of the larger, traditional faith groups.
Before the faith group list was expanded, there were some military who were refused time off for religious observances because their faith was not listed. Some service-members were even punished and given extra duty for requesting time off.
Our military now recognizes the 200-plus listed faiths, allowing all service-members to attend and/or observe legitimate holidays, if possible. Of course, the needs of the military always come first, no matter what the religion or holiday.
On one hand, this expanded list of recognized faiths by the U.S. Military sounds fair, democratic and inclusive, but at the same time it must present a challenge to the Chaplain Corps who are generally not members of those sects.
Let us wish them well. Hopefully this expansion of faith acceptance will serve to further strengthen the unity of the men and women of our military.
Bless them all, whatever their faith.

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