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.
“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.