U.S. Navy Rejects Application of Humanist Seeking to Serve as Chaplain

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Navy has reportedly rejected, for the second time, the application of a humanist who is seeking to serve as a chaplain to servicemembers. Members of Congress had written to the secretary of the Navy, noting that a chaplain is defined as a minister of faith, and the applicant simply did not meet that criteria.

“The very definition of the chaplaincy was at stake here, so I am relieved to see the Navy’s response. Appointing a secular humanist or atheist chaplain would have gone against everything the chaplaincy was created to do,” Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Co., said in a statement.

As previously reported, more than 20 Senators and 40 members of the House of Representatives signed letters to Secretary Richard Spencer earlier this month, asking that he deny the application of Jason Heap, a secular humanist.

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

“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,” Lamborn’s letter read.

Both he and Wicker noted that the chaplaincy was created in 1775 by Gen. George Washington to provide for the spiritual needs of the troops. They said that the Navy has the authority to create additional programs for those who identify as atheist, agnostic or humanist, but the chaplaincy program isn’t the place as it is, by definition, a faith-based position.

“My request for the Navy to reject the application of a ‘secular humanist’ chaplain is in no way an attempt to curb the constitutional rights of any service members,” Wicker said on Monday in his weekly report. “The Navy has the authority to create separate programs for non-religious expression. My effort stems from the need to protect the Chaplain Corps from politically correct inclusions that would erode its very identity.”

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He and Lamborn contended that the concept of a humanist chaplain does not fit into the Department of Defense’s (DOD) guidelines.

The chaplaincy page on the Navy’s website state that the “guiding principles” of the chaplaincy’s mission include “providing religious ministry and support to those of your own faith,” “facilitating the religious requirements of those from all faiths,” and “advising the command in ensuring the free exercise of religion.”

Chaplains are also required to obtain an ecclesiastical endorsement from a religious organization, and must adhere to that organization’s standards in order to obtain the endorsement.

Heap, who holds degrees from Oxford University and Texas Christian University’s Brite Divinity School, and has experience in human resources, first applied for the chaplaincy in 2013, but he was rejected then as well.

“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.”

He filed suit in November 2014 after being denied the position.

“As a result of the Navy’s decision to deny Dr. Heap’s application, there are no humanist chaplains in the U.S. Navy or in any branch of the armed services,” the lawsuit read. “The absence of even a single humanist chaplain impairs the religious exercise of humanists in the Navy.”

The case was later dismissed in federal court.


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  • Steve Buckley

    A young naive soldier comes to the chaplain seeking encouragement and hope after a traumatic incident in his life.
    “Chaplain, I’m really struggling here, and I am here seeking hope, and encouragement.”
    “Sorry son. I have nothing but platitudes to give you. Buck-up. You’ll find life is hard, so you must become hard to survive it…….”
    Along with the ideas spouted by philosphers for centuries.
    The same young man comes to a biblical chaplain, and asks the same.
    “Well, I’ll tell you what. Let’s start by praying, because God says that he will comfort us, and be with us through the most difficult and painful of life’s circumstances.”
    They pray, God shows up, and comforts the young soldier, giving him a sense of peace, and an idea of what he can do to work through the process of resolving the frustrations, and griefs he’s dealing with.

    I don’t know about you, but I don’t need any help being hard. I can do that without any philosopher’s telling me that is what I should do. I need help finding a way to get through the service, and eventually return home to my wife, and family, without ptsd, and the madness of watching my fellow soldiers being blown to bits, and trying to grab their body parts in a fit of shock, as I realize my bunk mate just died as he was telling me about his new daughter, and the dreams he had for her.

    Jesus came for people like him.

    • MCrow

      You…don’t know what humanists believe, do you?

      • Steve Buckley

        You’d think after talking with them for 14 years, I would, but what I did learn is that,
        1- they don’t like answering questions.
        2- they keep bouncing all over the place, like they’re a Mexican jumping bean, refusing to pin themselves down, to a coherent set of ideas.
        After years of asking questions, and only getting blame-filled arguments in response, I grew weary, and stopped wasting my time with people who had no interest in knowing God, or in answering my questions.
        So, if you want to explain it, by all means, go for it. Don’t think it’ll prove anything though. Sorry. I just got weary of their games.

        • Blue

          Emphasis on “talking to them” not “listening to them.”

          • Steve Buckley

            Curious, isn’t it.
            Had you actually been listening, you would have seen that they were seeking encouragement, and hope.
            But instead you decided to talk about your emphasis on talking, and not listening.
            Good job.
            Not!

          • TheKingOfRhye

            Had you actually been listening, you would have seen that they were seeking encouragement, and hope.

            One doesn’t have to be Christian, or even be a theist, to offer encouragement and hope. You’re talking as if the only ways to do that are through religion, but that’s not true.

          • Daniel Lee

            An atheist hope will be based on manmade institutions on the sands of cultural values and the glories achieved in a society, but only speaks of legacy at best for a man facing death, and legacy can be manipulated to great disingenuity. A Deist hope absent of Jesus Christ will claim knowledge of the infinite and ultimate good, but lacking faith in the resurrection of the savior, will similarly draw a clear line for moral endurance to a point of selfishness or survival on a community level at best, when push comes to shove, never attaining to a true love of the Creator and intimacy with the Most Holy, and thus being cut off from the true source of life, is left to gross appropriation and envy of the true fount of every blessing.

        • IslandAtheist

          If there was a way of “knowing God” you would have no need of faith.

          • Steve Buckley

            According to Jeremiah 24, vs 7, God said,
            I will give them a heart to know me.
            According to John 17, vs 3, Jesus said,
            This is eternal life, that they may know you, the true and living God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.
            So…..
            You have a choice.
            Do you believe God, or do you believe what you think you know, and all the clamoring voices vying for your belief in them?
            God says he can be known.
            God says he’ll provide you with the wherewithal to actually know him.
            Whom do you believe?

          • IslandAtheist

            I don’t “believe” anything. I demand testable, repeatable evidence before I’m willing to accept something as being true.

          • Charles

            I guess that means you don’t believe in Evolution I take it.

          • Blue

            I do not “believe” the Theory of Evolution. Or the Theory of Gravity. Or Atomic Theory.

            I accept, based on evidence, that those theories and other scientific theories are the best explanation of the data in those fields.

          • Leon

            Accept is only a synonym for believe.

          • Blue

            English has tons of near synonyms.

            Eat and dine mean the same thing, yet at the same time they don’t. Likewise clothes and garments, woods and forest, family and kin.

            So how about paying attention to what I’m trying to say rather than quibbling over which word I chose. Pick another word if you prefer.

            Accepting the result of a scientific process that can be observed and that has been tested by innumerable scientists on several continents is not the same as believing in a non physical deity. No value judgment. These are simply two completely different processes. They are not synonymous.

          • Leon Redmond

            …and another synonym related to the word accept, is faith, just as to word believe does.

          • IslandAtheist

            Science isn’t a belief system.

          • Steve Buckley

            Based on your lack of explanation for what it is, it’s clear that you believe it is indeed a belief system.
            You use a few words, but expect others to just accept, without question that you have clearly understood it.

          • Steve Buckley

            I don’t buy that for a single heartbeat.
            When was the last time you started a new job? Did you receive your first paycheck before you started, or did you have only the promise of a check, at the end of the pay period?
            Are you involved in a relationship with someone?
            If so, tell them that. I’d like to see the look on their face when you do.
            How about the last car, or vehicle, house, or anything else you purchased? You received the key to start the vehicle, open the door, etc…. meaning you had to believe you were being told the truth.
            I recognize that you believe what you claim, but to do so, and be genuine about it, you’d not once be able to trust anything.

          • Blue

            Not one of those situations are “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”

            Each of those situations is an example of confidence based on experience.

            I have experience with car keys. I understand that locksmiths exist and car companies and rental car companies have procedures in place to make sure the correct key is matched with the correct car. All of this gives me confidence that the car key that goes with the car is likely to start it. On the other hand, if someone hands me a piece of spaghetti and tells me that would start a car, this would require extreme faith, because of my experience with both cars and pasta.

            Belief in God requires faith. The Bible says so.

            Confidence that a car key will start a car is based on experience. Confidence that a company will pay its employees is based on the reputation of the company. Some companies have a track record of cheating suppliers, most do not.

          • Steve Buckley

            Experience after the fact.
            When you get the key to the car, you’re trusting that the salesman has given you the right key.
            I.e., faith.
            When you meet someone for the first time, you’re trusting them enough to open up to them.
            When you go to a restaurant for the first time, you are taking the claims of others, with whom you have no familiarity, and perhaps those of friends and family, that the food is good enough.
            Every instance in life, which you do for the first time, it’s by faith.afterwards, you either have experiential confidence in the person, place, or experience, or you turn away from it.
            God is the same.
            My initial experience with God was to ask if he/Jesus were real, or just another pile of religious BS.
            I had no idea how or even if he’d be real/or respond.
            I took the same level of chance that I would in buying a home, car, going to eat at a new restaurant, meeting my wife for the very first time, going to a new job, etc….

            If you don’t grasp so simple a concept as first time experiences with life, then you’ve completely missed what knowing God is about, and how the dynamic of faith works.
            I now have nearly 41 years of experience with God.
            Sure, I started with the initial step of faith, but that turned into confidence through experience real quick.
            I learned more, and applied more faith, and gained confidence when he responded according to the written word.
            Over the course of the past 41 years, I’ve been learning more and more, finding out that many ideas I had were wrong, but God was always there to teach me what it takes to follow Jesus, and how not to be a blind-faith type.
            So, instead of thinking you got it….. grow up and become an adult.
            Fwiw, I’m a physicist, and mathematician.
            You’re not talking to some uneducated religious nut job.
            My entire world is about asking questions, and working through the process of solving problems.
            So, I actually know what I have described based on decades of experience.

        • MCrow

          Humanism is the belief that each human life is valuable and that we should live collectively and altruistically for one another to better our society.

          So the whole “get hard” thing is, quite literally, the opposite of what they believe. They would be more likely to argue coming together and sharing grief with others so that the person can recover and, in turn, share altruistically with others. “Pass it forward,” as it were. A humanist who says “just get over it” is a bit like a Christian who tells a poor person to “just get a job.”

    • Blue

      A service member, an evangelical christian, is struggling after months away from family and kids. The chaplain tells him that daily prayer to the Virgin Mary will bring him peace. Maybe a Hindu chaplain will encourage prayer to krishna.

      Do you see the problem with this? Not only does an evangelical not believe that such prayer would be effective, the very suggestion of prayer to anything other that the Father, Son or Holy Ghost violates his core beliefs.

      Likewise, non religious service members do not benefit from being told to pray to something they don’t believe exists.

      Why is it so hard to be kind?

      • Steve Buckley

        So, in your world, kindness is telling a lie, that brings a smile, and rejecting the truth which brings actual hope, and comfort?
        I’m not talking about the virgin Mary, nor krishna, nor allah.
        But, since you obviously know everything, perhaps you should become a chaplain. They obviously need people like you.
        It strikes me that you actually need to learn what kindness really is.

        • Blue

          A person who believes prayer to the Virgin Mary is effective could find comfort in praying to the Virgin Mary. An evangelical Christian would find the suggestion insulting rather than comforting.

          Regardless of your confidence that only your religious beliefs are true and everyone else’s are “lies,” the fact is that hundreds of different religious beliefs exist. Soldiers have a right to hold those other beliefs and receive guidance from chaplains that corresponds to their beliefs, not yours.

          • Steve Buckley

            Curious.
            I never said anything about praying to the Virgin Mary.
            Why would you use this, when I stated nothing about this?
            Is that a standard practice for you? A sidestep to ignore what I did state?
            Seems to me that you have a problem reading, and understanding what I actually stated.
            Please.
            Try it again.

  • Vince

    Good! Tell those weasely little trouble-makers to take a flying leap off the pier.
    “Humanist chaplain.” They should’ve laughed right in his face.

    • Blue

      It is just that “love,” that “kindness,” that “fairness” that is causing young people to flee christianity. If Christianity makes people what they are, why would anyone want what you have?

      30% of service members are not religious. Yet 97% of chaplains are christian. Non religious service members have the same need for ethical and moral counseling from people who share their values as christians. And all you can do is laugh and mock.

      • Daniel Lee

        Beginning from a perspective of disbelief and absence of love for the most holy engenders the worship of what is created rather than the Creator, and is patently the source of impious derision of both the faithful and the Father in Heaven and espouses ethics for the sake of the temporal standards of man’s own shifting sands of values instead of the rock of eternal truth. Wise decision

  • Roger Zaring

    Although it may not be possible to know everything, surely it is possible to know something. Yet some disagree with even this, claiming that we can’t know anything outside our own “personal” reality and must instead get in touch with consciousness—our “higher selves.” Trying to search for knowledge outside ourselves wilts our true potential. New Spiritualist writer Shakti Gawain believes that “when we consistently suppress and distrust our intuitive knowingness, looking instead of [external] authority, validation, and approval from others, we give our personal power away.”

    The idea that truth and morality depend on our personal or cultural situation is called relativism. If relativism is correct, one of the main goals in life should be to remove any barriers people might face in finding truth for themselves. But isn’t this dangerous? Even Paul Kurtz, an atheist philosopher who helped develop a philosophy called “Secular Humanism,” acknowledged that it can be:

    “The humanist is faced with a crucial ethical problem: Insofar as he has defended an ethic of freedom, can he develop a basis for moral responsibility? Regretfully, merely to liberate individuals from authoritarian social institutions, whether church or state, is no guarantee that they will be aware of their moral responsibility to others. The contrary is often the case. Any number of social institutions regulate conduct by some means of norms and rules, and sanctions are imposed for enforcing them…. Once these sanctions are ignored, we may end up with [a man] concerned with his own personal lust for pleasure, ambition, and power, and impervious to moral constraints.”

    Kurtz understands that unless there is some revealed moral truth we are all obligated to obey, anything can be construed as good or bad relative to the situation in which we find ourselves. Even though we strive to do the right thing, if there is no absolute standard by which to judge, then we may honestly disagree among ourselves what the right thing is.