Humanist ex-soldier denied opportunity to lay a wreath on Remembrance Sunday.

poppyUpdate, 24.11.2013: Grateful to have recieved a response from Mark Hendrick MP with regards to this article.

Update: Published on Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science

A few weeks ago I was asked by the Stockport Humanists if I could present a wreath at the official Remembrance civic ceremony. I was extremely happy to help and also honoured to be asked to take part in a day that has particular importance to me and all other serving and non-serving military personnel past and present. Imagine my surprise to be contacted a little later and told that I was not allowed to lay a wreath as an official part of the ceremony to pay my respects. Certain individuals and organisations including The Rt Revd Robert Atwell have the opinion that “we remain clear that this is a religious ceremony and wish it to continue as such” (Jan 14th 2013). This is also particularly galling when bolstered by the words of one local councillor who exclaims that there was “no stomach” to take on the church in a recent telephone conversation.

As an ex-soldier and Humanist, I have served in Afghanistan and as a communications liaison in Pakistan and feel that I have developed certain insights into the role of religion in conflict, remembrance and wider society. Having recently started work as a Neuropsychology Researcher I also seek to understand the mind set of those that claim to preach peace and equality when their holy books clearly condone war (against the out-group and allowing for interpretation of course). Non-religious people in the forces deserve representation at the official part of this most important civic ceremony. Indeed, having served in areas of the world where religion plays a major, often central and ever divisive part in external and internal conflicts, I can see a greater need for a non-religious representative at such ceremonies rather than another one that caters to the pious community.

The Stockport Humanists have attended the remembrance ceremony over the past couple of years and have remarked in an article that “with fewer and fewer people, including service personnel, attending church or practising a faith, is it really appropriate to have an overpoweringly religious tone to this occasion?”  They have then petitioned the local council, The Royal British Legion and local Church to try and make this civic ceremony more inclusive. I for one think it is inappropriate to have an overwhelming religious sentiment at an event that should be designed to be inclusive. After all, the point is remembrance, not religious observance. The Humanists proposed a slight change in format in the form of war poetry, interspersed with names of the dead; instead of 25 minutes of prayer and sermonising. We think that everyone can get behind such moving and often sublime art; it also makes the ceremony more about the soldiers’ experiences which does them more justice than any amount of hypnotic chanting. At the very least one official representative of the non-religious to lay a wreath would be appreciated. Both suggestions were denied.


On the point of Religious observance in the Military, the MOD do keep a record of how many religious and non-religious personnel they employ in a publication called the United Kingdom Defence Statistics. It might surprise you to know that in 2012 there were 148,550 Christians, 520 Buddhists, 820 Hindus, 80 Jews, 650 Muslims and 130 Sikhs. What about the non-religious though? Well there are 26,180 of us in the Military which seems to be conveniently overlooked in Stockport. In fact, the non-religious far outweigh all non-Christians. At the Stockport ceremony there were even representatives of the Jewish and Islamic faiths representing their 80 and 650 personnel respectively but still no non-religious representatives. Are we then to believe that this is inclusive; it looks rather more like it is inclusive as long as you aren’t non-religious!

Further to this, the Military does actually recognise the existence of many non-religious belief types as detailed in the Guide on Religion and Belief in the Armed Forces. Currently, the British Humanist Association actually has a little bit of web space on the British Forces website and an active organisation within the Military (UKAFHA) for which we are grateful. Add to this the fact that in the 2013 British Social Attitudes Survey, 48% of the entire nation identify as non-religious. It then stands to reason that a group recognised by the Military and by wider society, has an equal right to be included in the official civic ceremony (it’s not a religious event) especially when minority religious groups are afforded the opportunity. To my mind, religion is only one of many aspects of Remembrance, but their representatives are far from the only people able to perform this duty. To claim that Remembrance is centrally a religious event, is tantamount to saying unicorn husbandry is part of agricultural events; which is of course ridiculous. More seriously, it seeks to alienate those of us that are not religious, which to any reasonable onlooker indicates that an equal right to express our thanks to our fallen comrades is not observed.

The concept of equality will resonate with anyone familiar with Humanists. If we have any core ‘belief’ as such, as I’m sure the majority of other atheistic world views will agree, it is that of equality under humanity and hard won understanding of what it is to be human, rather than through membership to psychologically tribal religious group. As we strive to achieve equality for all and highlight the part of reason in an enlightened society, it is only right, or rather morally necessary, that we are afforded some of that reasonable equality ourselves, especially when it comes to paying our respects to the military, the actions of whom, religious and non-religious, have helped to develop and preserve much of our society today.  

 Note: All quotations and statistics come from correspondence between organisation representatives and UKAFHA members, one media article and official government statistic records.


About glencarrigan

Glen Carrigan is a Neuropsychology Postgraduate Researcher and Senior Research Assistant in Clinical Practice at The University of Central Lancashire. Glen is a public speaker, humanist, science presenter, ex-soldier, and social and political activist with an interest in all things related to equality, science, education, and politics.

Posted on September 3, 2013, in Humanism. Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.

  1. Reblogged this on Homo economicus' Weblog and commented:
    Why not allowing the non religious to commentate the fallen at offical ceremonies is a disgrace. Honour, sacrifice and duty are what make us human – not religious.

  2. When the non-Christian faiths can officially represent the *tiny* minorities reflected there, but the 26k non-religious can’t be represented, something is very definitely wrong. As you repeatedly and quite correctly note: this is a civil event, to remember and respect people.

    I am tied between two conclusions:

    – they are worried that any non-religious representative will turn the event into a soap-box exercise (because obviously: all non-religious people are unable to respect the solemnity and intent of the occasion…)
    – or perhaps more likely, they are worried that the non-religious representative WON’T turn the event into a soap-box exercise – but will simply conduct themselves with respect, courtesy and honour, which might later force them to acknowledge that non-religious is not interchangeable with “disrespectful, soul-less, chaos-bringing malcontent dissidents”

    But more likely, it is about screen-time; anything where they can present religion as the “only answer” serves their purpose, and having anyone demonstrate “actually, no” is the most fundamental threat they have.

    However, all of this politics is completely unrelated to remembrance day, and it is to their shame that they are playing this game – and let’s be honest: with the numbers the way they are, the “they” here is undeniably the Christian lobby.

  3. As you have quite eloquently said, this is supposed to be an inclusive ceremony of remembrance. It is not meant to be a religious ceremony. I don’t know if they realise it but those christian (and it is mainly christian) groups who oppose the inclusion of humanists in this type of ceremony, do themselves no favours. This is bad PR on their part.

    A quick question, if this is a civil ceremony, just what right do the religious have to insist that non-religions be barred?

  4. To insist that Remembrance retain religious connotations is to do a massive disservice to those who bravely faced, and met, death, in service of country and humanity, without any notions of sitting on clouds with their imaginary friend afterwards!

  5. We have made headway though. Last year we had Humanist wreaths laid in both Middlesbrough and Stockton-on-Tees. This year we will be adding Thornaby-on-Tees to the list. I think as usual the Christians are trying to hold back the flood. Only a matter of time.

  6. athestist people are wolfs dressed in lambs clothing they have no morals because if the can get rid of god then their minds would tell them we can do what we want now , their world surrounds a sex sickness to the extreme. gesss what yous will never get rid of god yous will need to keep going under ground with you sick mental illness , most of yous are pedo….

  7. I am appalled at the denial of the “right” of an ex soldier to lay any sort of rememberance artifact he so wishes to place at his local cenotaph.
    In these days of farcical political correctness where common sense has been replaced by an almost complete submission to any and all who feel they have been offended, I find it breath taking that a combat veteran cant pay his respects to his fallen comrades by whatever means HE seems fit.

    I have myself stopped attending part of my local rememberance Service, due to me being force fed religion, and expected to join in prayers which I frankly find hypocritical at the best of times.
    I am no longer a christian, but consider myself a humanist that follows the Buddhist teachings, I meditate and practise mindfullness.whenever I am faced with any sort of prayers related to any funeral, christening, or wedding I attend.
    I feel that the church and the establishment try to hold sway over rememberance Day- they even hold it locally on the nearest sunday to try and give it more religious weight.
    Religion has NEVER stopped people killing each other, and sadly no lessons have been learned from past wars.
    Jonathan -Falklands War Veteran

  8. Awesome issues here. I’m very satisfied to peer your post.
    Thanks a lot and I’m having a look ahead to touch you. Will you please drop me a mail?

  1. Pingback: Cameron The King: We’re Christian, or if not Christian, just not non-religious. God Forbid! | Glen Carrigan - Homoscientificus

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