The Department of Defense has officially recognized several Heathen and Pagan religions as official faiths — and that's a big deal.
The DoD has added and updated several religions to its document, Faith and Belief Codes for Reporting Personnel Data of Military Members, a list that now includes Druidry, Heathenry, and Seax Wicca.
Including these religions, as The Wild Hunt points out, would entitle members to certain benefits and protections. For starters, it allows Heathen and Pagan military members to accurately describe their religious background, instead of checking a box that says "Other." Moreover, officially recognizing these religions as faiths means that the codes could spell out religious observance holidays, and have dedicated places to worship.
Josh Heath, co-director of the Open Halls Project, a non-profit that serves military Heathens, told The Wild Hunt that while this move may not exactly limit discrimination, it's a step towards far-reaching benefits.
"On official records you can now be known as a Heathen, Asatru, Druid, Troth, Seax Wiccan," he said. "That does not limit discrimination per se, but it does provide service members a significant element of support for certain cases of discrimination that might occur."
According to the DoD's document, the Department received advice from the Armed Forces Chaplain Board to expand the list of recognized faiths to "better align with" the protection of the rights of its members.
While Heath acknowledged that this is a victory for minority religions, he also told The Wild Hunt that the codes only work if they are implemented properly.
“To be honest, the US military in general is run by a large proportion of Christian leaders of one form or another," he told The Wild Hunt. "Some are mission focused and they know that being accepted gets their primary missions completed. Some are not and are fighting tooth and nail against allowing for a more inclusive environment in the Department of Defense at large. Discrimination will continue to be a problem.”