Atheist Chaplain Applicant Sues US Navy over Rejection
Religion scholar and former youth minister Jason Heap filed suit Wednesday along with the organization backing him, the Humanist Society, alleging that the military unfairly passed him over earlier this year not because he lacked qualifications, but because he doesn’t believe in a traditional religion.
There are a few high hurdles Heap has to overcome. First, he has to prove the Navy “passed him over…because he doesn’t believe…” Remember, the Navy previously said less than 50% of the Chaplain applicants were approved. Heap has to prove that he was rejected because of his non-theistic beliefs, and not for any reason similar to the other 50% who were rejected just as he was.
There are two possibilities here: Heap and his advocates already know they can prove this point by deposing members of the panel who chose the chaplains, or they hope to find such evidence by going on a fishing expedition — using their lawsuit as the means to get the information to sustain their own lawsuit. Of course, a few months ago, Tom Carpenter wrote a piece as if the group already had the evidence in hand.
Second, though related to the first, Heap has to convince the court that the Navy’s practice of requiring a religious endorser for a religious position is unconstitutional. Heap was “endorsed” by the Humanist Society — which is not a religious organization (a point discussed extensively already). In other words, Heap didn’t even meet the basic qualifications for a chaplain candidate. The Navy may have rejected his application without regard to his beliefs simply because he was not properly endorsed.
Third, to gain relief from the court, Heap also has to prove that but for his lack of belief/endorsement, he would have become a chaplain. In other words, even if the Navy had overlooked his lack of religion, he might still not have made the cut. Heap has to prove he would have been in but for that specific discrimination.
Fourth, after he proves the Navy has an “anti-atheist” policy within the chaplaincy, Heap has to get a court to agree that policy is unconstitutional. That is no small feat, given the courts’ reliance on historical precedence and tradition of the chaplaincy throughout the government. More importantly, Heap will finally have to demonstrate in public what he, as an “atheist chaplain,” can provide that an atheist non-chaplain cannot. In other words, if he can provide an atheist troop with the same services absent the title “chaplain,” then the US Navy is not discriminating against him by preventing him from becoming a chaplain.
Heap’s lawyers put it pretty plainly: You shouldn’t have to believe in God to be a religious minister, they said:
“Belief in divinity is not a litmus test for protection under federal law and the Constitution,” said Matthew A. Smith, a lawyer with Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll, the Washington law firm that is representing Heap and the Humanist Society.
The entire situation sounds ludicrous. Atheists have been making these claims for years, and they are no less nonsensical now. A non-religious person wants to take on a religious title because… why exactly? A few more militant atheists have outright claimed it has nothing to do with supporting non-theists. Instead, the effort is intended to weaken the positions of the religious. In other words, since they can’t get the chaplaincy eliminated, for now they’ll settle for undermining it and making it a mockery.
How can the government recognize humanism as a religion when humanists themselves can’t even articulate their belief system? As previously noted, that may not be much of a barrier, as one court has already declared humanism a religion.
The chaplaincy is supposed to be composed of religious leaders who can minister to the unique aspects of faith held by members of the military. To allow Heap, as a non-religious person, to become a chaplain — a religious position — would ultimately eliminate the military’s ability to regulate the position at all. The chaplaincy is not a collection of philosophers or life coaches. If Heap desires to serve, he can support the troops in the same ways as others who choose to do so without regard to religion.
Why he wants to take on the garments of a chaplain to do so is incomprehensible — unless the motives of Heap and his supporters are less pure than they appear.