Congressmen Ask U.S. Navy to Deny Application of Humanist Seeking to Serve as Chaplain

WASHINGTON — More than 20 Senators and 40 members of the House of Representatives have signed letters to the secretary of the Navy, asking that he deny the application of a secular humanist who is seeking to serve as a military chaplain.

Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., penned the joint letter from the Senate, and Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colo., wrote the collective letter from the House.

“The Chaplain Corps is an institution older than our nation, first created in 1775 by General George Washington to serve the specifically religious needs of his troops, and repeatedly reinforced by Congress as a fundamentally religious entity in the hundreds of years since,” Lamborn’s correspondence reads.

“We are concerned that the Navy is taking steps to expand the Chaplain Corps beyond its clear purpose of protecting and facilitating the constitutional right of service members to the free exercise of religion,” it states. “The chaplaincy was designed to facilitate the exercise of religious belief, not philosophical belief; this is the bright line that the Department of Defense must use in defining the boundaries of the chaplain corps.”

The letters pertain to an application submitted by secular humanist Jason Heap, who first sought to work as a chaplain in 2013, but was denied a year later. Heap holds degrees from Oxford University and Brite Divinity School, and has experience in human resources.

“As both a humanist and a scholar of religion, I have a deep knowledge and understanding of world religions,” he told the Los Angeles Times at that time. “My purpose and focus as a chaplain will be for holistic well-being of anyone who is in need of pastoral care.”

However, some objected to Heap’s application, calling the notion of an atheist chaplain absurd.

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“When it comes to the idea of an atheist chaplain, which is an oxymoron—it’s self-contradictory—what you’re really doing is now saying that we’re going to replace true chaplains with non-chaplain chaplains,” Rep. John Fleming, R-La., said.

“It’s just total nonsense, the idea of having a chaplain who is an atheist,” he continued. “A chaplain is a minister of the faith—someone who believes in a deity of a spiritual life who is assigned to a secular organization.”

Heap’s application was denied for unknown reasons, and as he has re-submitted his request, lawmakers are again expressing concern.

“The Navy’s approval would constitute a grave mistake,” Wicker’s letter states. “Approving a secular-humanist chaplain is inconsistent with the Constitution and the Department of Defense’s (DOD) own guidelines. As part of DOD, the Navy has a constitutional obligation under the Religion Clauses of the First Amendment to ensure that service members have access to services that meet their religious needs. The Chaplain Corps exists to fulfill this duty.”

“The Navy has sufficient authority to create programs for humanist or atheist service members. The Chaplain Corp is not the appropriate place,” it opines. “The Chaplain Corps serves religious needs, not philosophical preferences.”

Signees of the letters include Sens. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.; Tom Cotton, R-Ill.; James Lankford, R-;Okla.; Ted Cruz, R-Texas; Charles Grassley, R-Iowa; Tim Scott, R-SC, Roy Blunt, R-Mo.; and Reps. Steve Scalise, R-La.; Jody Hice, R-Ga.; Duncan Hunter, R-Calif.; Randy Weber, R-TX; Mark Meadows, R-NC; Daniel Webster, R-Fla.; and Glenn Grothman, R-Wisc.

Read the Senate letter here and the House letter here.

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  • Allan Trenholme

    LOL… things are just getting crazier and crazier these days.

  • Robin Egg

    Bravo! Thanks members of Senate and Congress.

    • Samwise

      Please explain. Explain why you find this praiseworthy.

      Christians value access to chaplains who share their values. 70% of the military are christians. 97% of the chaplains are christians.

      Please explain why you are glad almost 3 out of every 10 of service members do not have a chaplain who shares their values.

      Then explain to the young people fleeing christianity how being a Christian makes one a kinder and better person.

  • james blue

    “The Chaplain Corps is an institution older than our nation, first created in 1775 by General George Washington to serve the specifically religious needs of his troops

    And yet we’ve had so many articles saying the chaplains have the right to force their own brand of faith on the troops over the brand the troops follow.

  • Michael C

    Are troops requesting secular humanist, atheist, or simply non-religious chaplains? Because, at the end of the day, this is about serving the troops. It’s about their needs.

    It sounds a bit like this is a purpose in search of a need. It should be the other way around.

  • Samwise

    Here are the facts about chaplain representation in the military. Note the % of evangelical chaplains.

    % of Military. % of Chaplains

    17.39% 62.74% Evangelical Christian
    19.50% 7.34% Catholic
    31.94% 26.77% Other Christian
    1.29% 3.15% Other Religion

    23.17% 0.00% Atheist, Agnostic, Humanist
    and No Religious Preference
    6.71% 0.00% Unknown

    Chaplains perform many vital services. Every soldier, sailor, airman and marine should have equal access to a chaplain who shares his world view.

    To seek to block others from having equal access to chaplains, despite the fact it would not harm christians, is simply petty and unkind.

    • MCrow

      I am wondering what their actual reasoning is, and whether they would deny other applicants based on religion. Your statistics show there are a notable number of soldiers who don’t have a chaplain to go to who shares their beliefs

  • Polish Bear

    It’s like a guy with no legs saying that he has the “right” to be on the track team. Our whole culture has gone insane, they use “we feel excluded” like a club to browbeat people with. Not sane nor logical to have an “atheist chaplain.”

  • LynnRH

    An atheist chaplain. How ignorant!