Defence Humanists

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The Defence Humanists, formerly known as The UK Armed Forces Humanist Association (UKAFHA), is a British organisation 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 with attendance of certain religious services being mandatory. Defence Humanists aims to prove that there are indeed 'atheists in foxholes' and distributes material to help the non-religious register as such in official military records. Membership of the organisation doubled during 2011.[1] In 2012 it was reported that 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 all 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’. This is the largest group after Christianity, which has seen 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 is now recognising 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 were intensified since the establishment of Defence Humanists in 2010. This resulted in the decision that humanist representatives could lay wreaths in Edinburgh and Belfast. The request for participation in Whitehall was at that time rejected on the grounds of ‘limited space at the Cenotaph’ and a need to receive permission from the Royal Household. This was again rejected in 2011.

In 2012 the For All Who Serve campaign was launched with Defence Humanists, in order 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. This was followed in November 2017 by the second annual Remembrance Ceremony which was held in Fitzrovia Chapel.

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

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