Non-Theists Argue Titles, Chaplain Amendment
In a revealing outcry, many “non-religious” persons have criticized the vote by the US House to prevent non-religious personnel from becoming chaplains.
In that vein, atheist Jason Torpy has tried to promote the premise that the Defense Appropriations amendment proposed by US Rep John Fleming (R-La) didn’t actually do anything, demonstrating the “ignorance” of the Congressman.
“The [amendment] only requires adherence to the applicable instruction, which in no way restricts chaplains to only those who believe in some higher power,” he said. “Their amendment does nothing…It just shows their ignorance about atheists, humanists, and military regulations.”
Actually, Torpy’s statement demonstrates his ignorance. The clear language of the amendment indicates it wasn’t written to restrict chaplains to “those who believe in a higher power.” Torpy simply erected a straw man. What it was intended to do was prevent non-religious personnel from entering the religious field of the chaplaincy — and that it clearly does. The amendment simply requires the DoD to continue to abide by guidance — Department of Defense Instruction 1304.28 — that says
To be considered for appointment to serve as a chaplain, a [religious ministry professional] shall receive an endorsement from a qualified religious organization…
The RMP [must have] 2 years of religious leadership experience…
The same regulation defines an RMP as
An individual endorsed to represent a religious organization and to conduct its religious observances or ceremonies…
and it defines a “religious organization” as
An entity that is organized and functions primarily to perform religious ministries to a non-military lay constituency and that has met the religious purposes test of section 501(c)(3) of title 26, United States Code…
While the American Humanist Association is clearly not a religious organization (the AHA calls it a “life philosophy“), this particular paragraph is the one upon which Torpy is relying: Tax code recognition can justify status as a “religious” organization. But for the uninitiated, the quote above is known as a “compound sentence,” in this case two parts joined by “and” — a conjunction that requires both statements to be true.
The latter half does, indeed, say a tax recognition can be used to determine an organization’s status as “religious.” But the first half of the sentence says the group must function “primarily to perform religious ministries.” There are no conceivable circumstances under which a non-religious “group,” such as the atheism Torpy represents, can be said to perform a religious ministry.
Of course, Torpy has never let the facts get in the way of his agenda before — as when he misrepresented religious demographics in a brief to the White House a few years ago. At the time, he claimed that troops with “no religious preference” should be lumped in with atheists and agnostics, which increased the number of “atheists in the military” from 0.5% to 23.4%. While these numbers continue to be repeated, even just weeks ago, it seems some members of Congress have been doing their own research, with Rep Fleming saying
Opponents of my amendment make vastly exaggerated claims about the religious demographics of the military.”
Fleming said less than one percent of service members identify themselves as atheists, “and all chaplains stand ready to serve any member of the Armed Forces, regardless of whether he or she shares the chaplain’s faith.”
As an aside, it has been fascinating to watch the in-fighting among non-theists about whether a humanist is an atheist, or an atheist a humanist, or whether either is a religion. For example, Fleming’s bill has been most often characterized as blocking “atheist chaplains,” leading some opponents to say it does nothing to stop humanist chaplains (including Jason Heap, previously mentioned). (Those same critics go on to criticize Fox News for not understanding the difference between an atheist and a humanist.) But then there’s an article from a “humanist chaplain” at Harvard who explicitly says he is an atheist chaplain.
As was said long ago in this years-long conversation about atheist chaplains, if they can’t agree among themselves about their own belief “system,” how can they possibly expect the US government to act?