This Is an Awful Editorial Denouncing Humanist Chaplains in the Navy April 9, 2018

This Is an Awful Editorial Denouncing Humanist Chaplains in the Navy

It’s old news by now that the Navy has rejected the application of Humanist Chaplain Jason Heap, despite his impeccable credentials and despite the recommendation of the Navy Chaplain Appointment and Retention Eligibility Advisory board. Heap would have become the first Humanist chaplain in the military — able to counsel people who don’t believe in God, as well as everyone else — but backlash from members of Congress resulted in his rejection.

The Washington Times, a conservative outlet, published an editorial yesterday saying this was the right move. But there are so many mistakes in it that you have to wonder if anyone there bothered doing any research before writing about this. It looks like they just copied and pasted right-wing talking points without bothering to check if they made sense. (Shocking, I know.)

The problems begin right with the headline: “No foxhole for an atheist.” While that actually makes sense given the story, it raises an important point: Conservatives can’t use the offensive (and untrue) statement “There are no atheists in foxholes” — something the same newspaper did in 2013 — while simultaneously blocking non-theists from serving in important positions. They do the same thing in this piece:

And now, just as “there are no atheists in fox holes,” another bit of wisdom from that war, there won’t be any among the Navy chaplains, either.

There are atheists in foxholes. A lot of them. There’s a list of a few of them right here.

This is what “fake news” looks like.

The article also misstates what a Humanist chaplain would do:

If the U.S. Navy appointed its first atheist chaplain, as the organized atheists demanded (twice), what could his duties as a chaplain be? Perhaps he could tell a sailor seeking spiritual solace in the face of death not to worry, he has no soul, anyway.

That’s… not what they do. Rep. Mike Conaway (R-TX) said something similar in 2013, when he claimed an atheist who has to deliver bad news to a military family would say, “You know, that’s it — your son’s just… worm food.” Rep. John Fleming (R-LA) also chimed in with his idea of what an atheist would say to a dying soldier in the hospital: “If you die here, there is no hope for you in the future.”

The truth is that Humanist chaplains would be fully trained as counselors for people of all beliefs, meeting soldiers wherever they’re at, regardless of faith. Their job would not be to convince people not to believe in God, but to comfort those who need their help. That’s especially useful for non-religious soldiers who would like to get counseling from someone who doesn’t invoke God as a solution.

As background on his story, the Washington Times also suggests his rejection was bipartisan:

The Navy was about ready to make the appointment after the Chaplain Appointment and Retention Eligibility Advisory Group recommended it to the chief of naval operations, who has final say over who gets to be a chaplain and who doesn’t. After 67 members of Congress, 22 senators and 45 congressmen from both parties urged the Navy not to make the appointment, the Navy agreed.

This is just stupid.

It wasn’t “both parties.” It was one party. Just one. Take a guess. You can read the letters from the House and Senate. The only people signing it are Republicans.

And then, just to show how absurd it would be to allow a Humanist into the chaplain corps, the Times says this:

This would seem to be self-evident, but nothing is self-evident any longer in America, with a man now enabled to take another man as his bride, and with a woman enabled to lead men in an assault on an enemy position and men, women and children free to use a latrine together.

There’s the bigotry we’ve come to expect from conservatives: The idea of a Humanist chaplain is as silly as marriage equality, women leaders in the military, and allowing transgender people to use the proper bathroom (as if strangers always share a single stall).

This is a garbage editorial. The Washington Times editorial board should apologize for publishing it, but they’ll never do that. They’ll probably just double-down on it in the future.

(Image via Shutterstock)

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