As I mentioned the other day, the Navy Chaplain Appointment and Retention Eligibility Advisory board may finally admit a Humanist to its ranks. If that happens, Jason Heap would become the first military chaplain to meet the specific needs of non-religious soldiers. But Republican legislators are trying to put a stop to that.
Colorado Rep. Doug Lamborn argued that the “chaplain corps is historically a religious institution” and that allowing a Humanist chaplain would somehow be a disservice to soldiers. Mississippi Sen. Roger Wicker echoed that sentiment, saying the “Chaplain Corps serves religious needs, not philosophical preferences.” Even though religious beliefs are a kind of philosophical preference. Both legislators sent letters to Navy officials co-signed by dozens of their respective colleagues.
Wicker went further in a piece for Fox News’ website, saying that we must adopt a literal reason of the Chaplain Corps’ mission:
No one is arguing that atheists do not have the same First Amendment rights of free expression as their neighbors of Christian, Jewish, Muslim or other faiths. This is not the subject of scrutiny. The central question here is how an atheist chaplain can be expected to fulfill a role that, by its very nature, is supposed to serve the religious needs of our service members.
This person’s application has already cleared the Navy Chaplain advisory board, putting it one step closer to being approved. Should this impending appointment of an atheist chaplain be made, it would put the very integrity of the Chaplain Corps’ religious mission at stake.
Wicker’s rant is nothing more than an essay laying out his ignorance. Heap is endorsed by the Humanist Society. He meets all the qualifications expected of religious chaplains. And — this is really important — while Humanism may be non-theistic, the Department of Defense officially added Humanism to its list of “Faith and Belief” groups last year. As far as the DoD is concerned, Humanism is a sincerely held religious belief and must be treated as such by officials.
In other words, Heap’s approval wouldn’t ruin the Chaplain Corps’ integrity. It would make it even stronger by broadening the number of people who feel comfortable coming to them for help. Non-religious soldiers dealing with trauma or death or relationship issues don’t always want to speak to a chaplain who thinks God is a solution for anything. They need a trained counselor who speaks their godless language.
Wicker is so caught up in some literal mission statement that he’s missing the forest for the trees. By blocking out one particular kind of chaplain, he’s making life harder for a lot of soldiers. The only thing that helps is his re-election chances when he makes his case to evangelical primary voters.
As one commenter on the Fox News site (!) said so well,
So let me get this straight. The Navy has no problem with this guy being a Chaplain. The DoD has no problem with this guy being a Chaplain. The other Chaplains have no problem with this guy being a Chaplain. But a Senator from Mississippi seems to have a problem with it, even though he’s never met the man. Looks like the standard christian bigotry that you see from the bible belt these days…
Even worse was the statement by Family Research Council president and Donald Trump defender Tony Perkins, who said a Humanist chaplain was unnecessary because there were no atheists in the military.
If there aren’t atheists in foxholes, why should we put them in the Chaplain Corps? 3 yrs ago, the idea was so absurd that even Obama’s military attorneys went to court to stop it. Now, no one can quite understand why the topic is even up for discussion. https://t.co/NWVb3eXDMj
— Tony Perkins (@tperkins) March 15, 2018
Really? That’s the game he wants to play? Here. Here’s a list of atheists in foxholes. And those are just the ones who gave their information to that website. There are no doubt plenty more who didn’t. And don’t forget Pat Tillman, dammit.
If Perkins bothered to do three seconds of research before making such an irresponsible statement, he would’ve known that.
But this is why Perkins and his evangelical buddies should never be trusted. They lie about everything. They lie even when the truth is staring them in the face. The responses to Perkins’ tweet include many from atheist soldiers. As expected, he hasn’t bothered to apologize for doubting their existence.
When they lie about something this easy to debunk, why should we take their word about anything? It’s meaningless.
Here’s the bottom line: The same people who always demand respect for the military are now making sure non-religious soldiers don’t have the emotional and psychological help many of them want or need.
Why? Because they demand religion be given special status in American life. Giving a Humanist chaplain the same opportunity as religious ones would be a form of equality — and we all know how much conservatives hate that.