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Defence Humanists

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The Defence Humanists, formerly known as The UK Armed Forces Humanist Association (UKAFHA), is a British organization that represents the rights of humanists and the non-religious servicemen and women, their families, veterans, and civilian members of the Ministry of Defence. Religion has enjoyed a privileged position in the UK military. Attendance of certain religious services is mandatory. Defence Humanists aim to prove that there are true 'atheists in foxholes' and distribute materials to help the non-religious register in official military records. Membership of the organization doubled during 2011.[1] In 2012, over 26,000 serving members of the British armed forces described themselves as 'having no religion,' making it the largest category after Christianity and significantly larger than the total number of other major religious affiliations, which is in the region of 3,000.[2]

Figures from April 2020[3] indicate that almost 32% of serving members of the Armed Forces described themselves as having 'no religion.' It's is the largest group after Christianity, which has seen a continuous decline since records began. The non-religious number is more than nine times all the non-Christian religions combined at 3%, including Hindus, Muslims, Jews, Sikhs, and Buddhists.

The MOD diversity and inclusion policy are now recognizing and revealing the contribution of non-religious personnel to the armed forces.


For decades Humanists UK spoke out in support of inclusive Remembrance ceremonies. Those efforts intensified since the establishment of Defence Humanists in 2010. These developments resulted in the decision that humanist representatives could lay wreaths in Edinburgh and Belfast. The request for participation in Whitehall failed due to 'limited space at the Cenotaph' and lack of permission from the Royal Household. In 2011, they again rejected the organization.

In 2012 the For All Who Serve campaign was launched with Defence Humanists to amplify the call. The family of Major Sidney Excell, the committed humanist who arrested Heimlich Himmler, spoke out in support.

In 2013 Humanists UK worked with Dan Snow to raise the issue. They and Defence Humanists have continued to speak out since and put pressure on the responsible bodies. And in 2015, the Commission on Religion and Belief in British Public Life recommended that 'The pluralist character of modern society should be reflected in national and civic events so that they are more reflective of the UK's increasing diversity.'

In 2016 Defence Humanists held their first Remembrance Ceremony. In November 2017, they had their second annual Remembrance Ceremony in Fitzrovia Chapel.

In 2018, Humanists UK, together with Defence Humanists, gained humanist representation for the first time at the annual Remembrance Day Ceremony in November at the Cenotaph in Westminster.

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