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Defence Humanists calls for non-religious pastoral care in the armed forces

Defence Humanists has set out why the time has come to provide non-religious pastoral support services to the armed forces. Through a submission to the Government’s Integrated Review of foreign policy, defence, security and international development, it has called for an independent review of pastoral support for the armed forces which takes into account the nation’s changing religion and belief demographics and the need for a multi-faith and belief approach.

The availability of high-quality pastoral support, tailored to individual belief systems, is essential to supporting Service personnel through the challenges of their careers and to enhancing the fighting effectiveness of the armed forces. The only current provision for non-religious personnel however is through the Christian chaplaincy, despite some 56,000 regular and reserve personnel currently formally identifying as non-religious, the second largest belief group after Christians. More could also be done to support other, non-Christian religious groups.

Other institutions, including the NHS and Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) have moved in recent years towards a multi-faith and belief and person-centred model, with 40% of NHS trusts now having a humanist pastoral supporter. That number was growing at a rate of about 10 percentage points a year, until the coronavirus pandemic struck.

Defence Humanists President Roger Hutton commented, ‘A non-religious person serving our country needs appropriate pastoral support to fulfil their role, from a provider that shares or has a deep understanding of their worldview. The NHS and HMPPS have led the way in recognising the principle that pastoral care should be provided by a like-minded supporter. We want to do all we can to support the Ministry of Defence in modernising its pastoral support provision in the same way, including through humanist pastoral care.’


For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson at or phone 020 7324 3072 or 07534 248 596.

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Defence Humanists is a section of Humanists UK. Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by over 85,000 members and supporters, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. We provide ceremonies, pastoral care, education, and support services benefitting over a million people every year and our campaigns advance humanist thinking on ethical issues, human rights, and equal treatment for all.

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