The U.S. military doesn’t allow for non-theistic chaplains. After a long drawn-out fight, the Navy rejected a Humanist’s application this past March… which means
But Australia may be more receptive to the idea.
As it stands, military chaplains over there have to receive a religious endorsement — a recommendation from a pastor, for example — and atheists obviously can’t provide that. That’s a problem for Justin Murray, a Humanist who voluntarily serves as a hospital chaplain. He helps patients who don’t subscribe to any mainstream religions — including atheists, Wiccans, and Pastafarians — as well as the religious.
Murray said that secular humanists are the “vanilla ice cream of chaplains” because they can serve “100% of people”, whereas religious requirements can prevent other chaplains ministering to people of different faiths.
“I ask religious people: ‘What would you like to do?’. I’ve prayed with people. Praying to me is nothing but talking into the air but for them it’s meaningful. I’m there to help them.”
Despite his ability to do the job — and do it well — he doesn’t qualify for the military role. That’s why he recently filed a formal complaint with the Australian Human Rights Commission to investigate the matter.
His letter was fairly straightforward: There’s a need to be met. I can meet it. Why won’t you make it happen?
I am not from any of the officially “endorsed” religious groups. Therefore, I am not eligible to apply. I believe that the fact I am prevented from applying due to my religious affiliation amounts to religious discrimination.
… The [Australian Defence Force] chaplains recruiting selection criteria also discriminate against the 53% of ADF personnel who are non-religious by denying them access to a chaplain from their belief background (whilst at the same providing access to chaplains to religious personnel from their belief background).
He’s not kidding about that 53%. Check out this chart from the ADF’s 2015 census:
More than half the military doesn’t belong to any organized religion. That’s astonishing. (And that’s up from 37% in 2011.) Yet none of those people have a chaplain who speaks their language.
The good news so far is that the AHRC told Murray they would look into the matter immediately.
If the AHRC doesn’t reach the conclusion that Humanist chaplains should be included in the military, however, Murray says he may file a lawsuit. Hopefully, it won’t come to that. There’s absolutely no reason the military should block Humanists from helping those who sacrifice their lives for their country but who don’t find comfort in God.
Those soldiers deal with stress. They deal with loss of life. They have existential questions. They need someone to talk to who doesn’t resort to nonsense. Murray is the sort of person who could help them with that… yet the government refuses to let him do so because of some traditional dictionary definition of the word “chaplain.” If they care about the people who enlist, they should bring Murray (and others like him) on board.
Murray told me that he’s in communication with the Australian Council of Humanist Societies, the Canberra Humanists, and a law professor — so if there’s a legal battle, he has good people on his side.
The Australian government has to decide if they’d rather help soldiers or defend an arbitrary rule that does far more harm than good.
(Image via Facebook. Thanks to Brian for the link)