Congressman Calls Idea of Atheist Chaplain “Total Nonsense”

Update: The House passed the Appropriations bill along with the amendment referenced below requiring chaplains to have endorsers — effectively prohibiting non-theistic chaplains (along with any new endorsers).  Rep Doug Collins (R-Ga) accused atheist activists of having the real goal of covertly undermining the entire institution of the military chaplaincy.

The Obama Administration has threatened to veto the 2014 Department of Defense Appropriations Act, saying it is too generous with military pay and too stingy with civilian pay.

As a point of clarification, the Defense Appropriations Act is a distinct entity from the Defense Authorization Act (or NDAA), which has been the point of focus for the past few months.  The Authorization Act describes how the US DoD is “authorized” to organize and operate; the Appropriations Act “appropriates” the money to accomplish that end.

The appropriations bills were actually already passed by each house of Congress, but have yet to come out of conference committee.

Additionally, the recent push for atheist chaplains has now generated an official Congressional response — twice.  First, US Rep Jared Polis (D-Co) offered an amendment (#295) to the authorization act that would have permitted 

those certified by recognized nontheistic organizations to be appointed as officers in the chaplain core [sic] in order to fully serve nontheistic or nonreligious service members.

That was voted down (twice).

Now, US Rep John Fleming (R-La) has countered the move with a proposed amendment (#160) to the appropriations bill that would

Prevent[] funds from being used to appoint chaplains without an endorsing agency

as defined by current US Department of Defense policy, which requires endorsement by one of a list of approved religious endorsers.  Fleming offered the amendment in response to the moves by some which would seem to require the military to have atheist chaplains, noting

“When it comes to the idea of an atheist chaplain, which is an oxymoron — it’s self-contradictory — what you’re really doing is now saying that we’re going to replace true chaplains with non-chaplain chaplains,” said sponsor Rep. John Fleming, R-La. “It’s just total nonsense, the idea of having a chaplain who is an atheist.”

Retired Chaplain (Col) Ron Crews commended Rep Fleming and defended the institution of the chaplaincy:

A fringe minority is advocating for atheists to be commissioned as chaplains, but the very nature of the word ‘chaplain’ suggests that the individual possesses a belief in God and a desire to minister to spiritual needs.

‘Pro Deo et Patria, For God and Country’ is the motto of Army chaplains who are committed to bringing God to soldiers and soldiers to God.  This has been our ministry since George Washington founded the chaplain corps on July 29, 1775.

Atheist Jason Torpy made the news again on this topic, with a correctly worded but misleading use of the demographics he’s so often misrepresented:

Jason Torpy, president of the Military Association of Atheists and Free Thinkers, claims that 23 percent of those in the military ranks assert no religious preference. And he argues chaplains are not providing enough “positive outreach and support” in the way “they do for all of those beliefs that aren’t their own.”

That percentage may very well be correct, but as discussed exhaustively, “no religious preference” does not mean “atheist,” as Torpy would have you believe.  His unsupported accusation that chaplains aren’t working for atheists contradicts the evidence of those that do.  Chaplains will speak and listen to anyone of any faith, and they will provide spiritual support for anyone.

Torpy’s claim is ridiculous, but he is trying to make the case for the government placing a non-religious person in an explicitly religious field — for no reason.  Atheists in the military are perfectly free to exercise their non-belief.  They are free to congregate to do so.  Chaplains and others may even help them with that.

The other most frequently used argument — that atheists need a chaplain because only chaplains have absolute confidentiality — wasn’t even mentioned in these articles.  It was also debunked some time ago, though atheists have yet to highlight the Military Family Life Consultant option on their own.

Their choice not to believe in a religion does not obligate the government to act, other than to allow them to exercise that non-belief without coercion.  That it does.  It need do no more.



  • cameron winters

    actually the percentage on non believers is higher, but persecution of non believers forces many to not check the “none” block.

    • The military no more “persecutes” non-believers than it does “believers.” Jewish personnel have likewise historically chosen “No Religious Preference” — so if they were captured in a Middle Eastern country of another religion, they wouldn’t be mistreated due to their faith.
      The point is proven: The demographic data of “nones” is unknown, and it is dishonest of Torpy to try to claim all “nones” are atheists.

  • Doesn’t the entire notion of an atheist chaplain undercut the oft-used platform of organizations like the ACLU, FFRF, and MRFF, which is that the promotion or advancement of the Christian faith by the government is offensive and non-inclusive to those OF NO FAITH? Are they now conceding that atheism is, in fact, a religious belief? If so, they cannot make the argument that the government is prohibited from taking any action to further religion because it would be impossible to now honor those with no faith without advancing a religious belief.