Despite a recommendation from the Navy Chaplain Appointment and Retention Eligibility Advisory Board, the Navy has denied the application of Jason Heap to become the military’s first Humanist chaplain.
It comes in the wake of strong pushback to his appointment from congressional Republicans.
Heap is certainly qualified to serve as a chaplain — or, if you’d prefer to think of it, a counselor — to the non-religious members of any branch of the U.S. Armed Forces. If his endorsement came from a traditionally religious institution instead of the Humanist Society, we likely wouldn’t be discussing this at all.
Republican Senator Roger Wicker and nearly two dozen of his GOP colleagues wrote a letter to the Navy last week calling Heap’s potential approval a “grave mistake.”
Wicker was quick to celebrate Heap’s rejection in a press release today:
“The Navy’s leadership has done the right thing,” Wicker said. “The appointment of an atheist to an undeniably religious position is fundamentally incompatible with atheism’s secularism. This decision preserves the distinct religious role that our chaplains carry out.”
Wait wait wait… atheism is secular?! I’m shocked, I tell you.
But Wicker made a huge mistake in that brief statement.
He refers to Heap as an “atheist” applying for a “religious position.” Heap is a Humanist, and that’s an important distinction, because last year, the Department of Defense added Humanism to its list of “Faith and Belief” groups, making the case for Heap’s inclusion in the chaplaincy even stronger.
As far as the military is concerned, Humanism is a religion.
More importantly, though, Heap’s rejection ultimately hurts the ever-growing number of non-religious members of the Navy, who will have to continue seeing religious chaplains who believe in God to meet their personal and emotional needs. Wicker is depriving those members of a chaplain who speaks their language for the sake of preserving his narrow view of what a Chaplain Corps should look like.
Despite the claims in his letter, having a Humanist chaplain would not denigrate the position, nor would it provide an opening for religious debate. Just as Muslim chaplains help Muslim soldiers, a Humanist chaplain would help non-religious ones.
GOP Rep. Doug Lamborn, from Colorado, also wrote a letter to the Navy advocating for Heap’s rejection — it was signed by 44 of his colleagues — but he hasn’t issued any reaction to today’s decision as of this writing.
Heap also didn’t respond to an immediate request for comment. It’s unclear if he plans to pursue any legal action over what could arguably be a case of religious discrimination.
The Navy screwed up. Hell, the entire U.S. military has screwed up, refusing to appoint a single Humanist chaplain. It shouldn’t take this long to fix such a simple problem, but that’s what happens when you take advice from Republicans with a Christian agenda.