House rejects call to allow nonreligious military chaplains

RELIGION NEWS SERVICE (RNS)Kimberly Winston — Late on Tuesday, House lawmakers approved an amendment to a Pentagon spending bill to prevent the appointment of nonreligious military chaplains.

The amendment, sponsored by Rep. John C. Fleming, R-La., requires that only religious organizations be permitted to endorse chaplains for the military.

“The amendment holds the military to its current standards on endorsing agencies, which must be recognized religious and faith-based organizations,” said Fleming’s spokesman, Doug Sachtleben.

Currently, the Department of Defense recognizes more than 200 endorsing agents, all of them based on a belief in God. But there has been a recent push by Humanists, who do not recognize a supernatural divinity, to endorse their own military chaplains.

It is unclear if the amendment will affect the application of Jason Heap to become the Navy’s first Humanist chaplain. Heap, a 38-year-old graduate of Brite Divinity School and Oxford University, has the endorsement of the Humanist Society. His supporters are asking the Navy to add the society to its list of endorsers and appoint Heap a chaplain.

Jason Torpy, president of the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers, points out that military regulations already require that chaplains be endorsed — and not necessarily by an organization of believers in a divinity.

“The language (of the amendment) only requires adherence to the applicable instruction, which in no way restricts chaplains to only those who believe in some higher power,” he said. “Their amendment does nothing, so there’s nothing to be done in response. It just shows their ignorance about atheists, humanists, and military regulations.”

The amendment has the support of the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty, an organization of Christian chaplains. In a statement issued Tuesday, Chaplain Ron Crews, a retired Air Force Colonel, said, “A fringe minority is advocating for atheists to be commissioned as chaplains, but the very nature of the word ‘chaplain’ suggests that the individual possesses a belief in God and a desire to minister to spiritual needs.”

The amendment, which was attached to the Department of Defense 2014 Appropriations bill, was passed with a vote of 253 to 173. The larger bill is slated for a full House vote on Wednesday, Sachtleben said. It has not yet been considered by the Senate.

Jason Heap, who is applying to be the first humanist chaplain in the military. Photo courtesy Jason Heap



One Response to “House rejects call to allow nonreligious military chaplains”

  1. David Nelson

    An IRS designated “church” must endorse a chaplain’s application. Is the Humanist Society “church” the real endorser of Jason Heap, or is it the American Humanist Association (AHA), tax exempt but NOT a church? AHA is described as the parent organization of the Humanist Society. Since a parent organization typically controls its subsidiary (Humanist Society), will the chaplains board deem the endorsement as coming from the non-qualified AHA or the Humanist Society? Will it matter that the Humanist Society is an affiliate of AHA, and that its assets and those of AHA are shown in combined audited financial statements? Since the audited statements say that the Humanist Society pays a monthly fee to AHA for performing management functions for the Humanist Society, does the Humanist Society have any of its own employees? If not, can it in any substantive way endorse Mr. Heap? I suspect the Armed Forces Chaplains Board will want answers to these questions.

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