U.S. Navy Rejects Request for First Humanist Chaplain

US Chaplain

Although the United States Army recently allowed “humanist” as a religious preference, the U.S. Navy has rejected the application of Jason Heap for a commission as a humanist chaplain last week. While Heap was not available for comments, groups that pushed for his commission and other atheist members of the military have expressed their disappointment.

“The Humanist Society and the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers have provided years of outreach and a great chaplain candidate to the military. We hope non-chaplain military leaders swiftly overturn this discriminatory decision,” said Jason Torpy, president of the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers.

Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association also urged for a reversal of the decision saying, “Prejudice is not an American value.”

However, the decision seemed to appease the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty.

“Chaplains, historically and by definition, are people of faith. You can’t have an ‘atheist chaplain’ any more than you can have a ‘tiny giant’ or a ‘poor millionaire,” said retired reserve Chaplain Ron Crews, executive director of the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty.

While some humanists are atheists, most say that the word “atheist” is insufficient in expressing their belief or the lack of it completely. Army major Ray Bradley was allowed to use humanist as his religious preference in April 2014 after waiting for two years. He said the term best describes his stance on life, which focuses on scientific explanations and optimizing human happiness.

Most applicants failed to receive recommendations when the navy recently reviewed applications for chaplain commissions.

“Due to the highly competitive nature of the board, less than 50 percent of the applicants could be recommended for a commission in the United States Navy,” said Lieutenant Hayley Sims, a spokeswoman for the chief of naval personnel.

Heap is highly qualified and the Humanist Society endorsed him after he completed all his paperwork and passed the necessary physical tests.

“This is my chance to give back to my country. I want to use my skills on behalf of our people in the service,” he had said at the time.

Of the approximate 2,900 active duty chaplains in the US military, most are Christians. Humanist chaplains usually serve in the militaries of the Netherlands and Belgium where most members are either atheists or agnostics.



Casper Rigsby

Casper Rigsby

The old phrase, "there are no atheists in foxholes" just won't fly any more. Like the myths that the religious hold onto so dearly, this one is merely another false sentiment that has no substance in reality. If they are willing to offer their lives in service, they deserve to be respected enough to have a chaplain who can address their issues from a similar perspective. All that is being asked for is equal representation and if we cannot offer equality for the men and women who fight to supposedly secure that freedom for all of us, then we fail the entire premise of our nation. It's time we lived up to the idea of freedom and justice for all.

Dean Van Drasek

Dean Van Drasek

Its not about religion, its about bureaucracy. How do you certify someone as a "humanist" who is qualified to minister to others? There is no school for this, no certification process. Religions are organized and can verify that an individual is qualified to represent their faith. How do you do that with a "humanist"? At best, its self-certification. Do you appoint someone who has a degree in philosophy? This is what is holding this up, not some desire to freeze out any group.

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