Jason Heap wanted to become a chaplain in the U.S. Navy and seemed perfectly qualified for the position: He earned two master’s degrees (including one in divinity), passed his physicals, and completed the paperwork… but what he doesn’t have is the endorsement of a religious organization that’s currently approved by the Navy.
That’s because Heap is a Humanist whose endorsement comes from the Humanist Society.
Robyn Blumner, the executive director for the Richard Dawkins Foundation and project director for Openly Secular, explains why the Navy’s decision is so narrow-minded and wrong:
The fact is there are more atheists and other non-theists in our armed forces than any other non-Christian denomination, yet there are currently no chaplains exclusively representing non-theistic beliefs. Non-theists in the military outnumber Hindus, Muslims and Jews combined, all of whom have chaplains for their respective religions.
Nonreligious service members face the same questions about life and death, fear and loss as any other person in the military. These brave men and women should not have to face them alone while their religious counterparts receive support and guidance.
Heap’s rejection represents bald-faced, government-sanctioned discrimination. It communicates a distaste for America’s largest growing cohort: people who profess to have no religious affiliation.
Heap issued only a brief statement after his rejection:
“I am exceptionally disappointed and aggrieved by the Navy’s initial rejection of my application,” he said in a written statement. “I will continue to seek acceptance. I hope military leaders will open their hearts to humanists and give me the opportunity to serve all sailors as a chaplain for the next 20 years or more.”
Meanwhile, the Christian Right group Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty, celebrated Heap’s denial… because they’re assholes.
“Chaplains, historically and by definition, are people of faith,” said Chaplain (COL) Ron Crews, USAR retired, executive director of Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty. “You can’t have an ‘atheist chaplain’ any more than you can have a ‘tiny giant’ or a ‘poor millionaire.’ Chaplains have been serving military members since 1775 by bringing God to soldiers, sailors, marines, airmen, and members of the Coast Guard. I am grateful that, in this decision, the Navy has honored our long tradition of providing for the spiritual needs of the men and women who serve our nation in the military.”
Crews is hung up on the terminology, which already favors people of faith. Forget the word “chaplain.” Think “counselor.” As Blumner noted, atheists, too, think about life and death and I imagine that’s even more pronounced when you’re in the military. Going to a religious counselor who doesn’t understand where you’re coming from is obviously not as helpful as speaking with a counselor who gets your godlessness.
Having a Humanist chaplain would take absolutely nothing away from religious chaplains — just as a Muslim or Jewish chaplain wouldn’t. Through their statement, Crews and his allies make clear that they care more about maintaining their religious privilege than they do taking care of the mental health of so many men and women in the Navy who don’t believe in a god.
Todd Stiefel, the chair of Openly Secular, sent a letter to Rear Admiral Mark L. Tidd, the Chief of Chaplains to the U.S. Navy urging them to reconsider Heap’s rejection. The Navy acknowledged receiving the letter but haven’t said they’d give the matter a second thought.