Becket Fund Sides with Military Against Humanist Chaplains

Update: Via The Religion Clause:

[The] Virginia federal district court ultimately allowed Dr. Heap to move ahead with his Establishment Clause and Equal Protection/ Substantive Due Process challenges to the Navy and Department of Defense’s actions.

However the court dismissed challenges brought under other parts of the 1st Amendment, the No Religious Test clause, and RFRA, dismissed The Humanist Society as a plaintiff for lack of standing and on ripeness grounds, and dismissed claims against the individual defendants.

The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty has had what might be considered a banner year in its legal support of religious liberty, winning more than one case at the Supreme Court. Moreover, what separates the Becket Fund from some other stereotypical religious liberty groups is their willingness to not just speak but also act in defense of all religious liberty.

While they represented a Christian family when the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby last year, they more recently represented a Muslim prisoner in Holt v Hobbs, in which the Supreme Court ruled their client was permitted to wear a religious beard. Becket has also represented Native American spiritualists, Jewish clients, and others across a wide religious spectrum, demonstrating a principled stand on freedom, regardless of the particulars of any one belief.

With that credibility in mind, it is notable that the Becket Fund has come out against the American Humanists Association’s lawsuit attempting to force the US Navy to accept a non-religious chaplain, which was argued for the first time last week:

The Humanist Society and its parent organization, the American Humanist Association (AHA), wage an aggressive anti-religion campaign arguing that religion is superstition and should be stripped from the public square. Yet now, in the matter of Heap v. Hagel, the Humanist Society is suing the Navy to be recognized as a religious organization so it can appoint AHA’s members as chaplains.

Becket’s position appears to be based on two main points: First, the AHA’s goal is not to support religious liberty, as demonstrated by its history of conduct. Second, the AHA is not a religious organization, but the chaplaincy is:

The Becket Fund supports the Navy in preserving the right of service members to have chaplains who will respect their religious beliefs, not reject and ridicule them…

The entire purpose of military chaplains is to provide religious ministry to service members who need it…Secular atheist organizations such as the Humanist Society that reject and mock religion cannot serve that purpose.

Becket Senior Counsel Eric Baxter makes an important point:

“Militant atheists have the right to serve in the military, just like all other patriotic Americans,” said Senior Counsel Eric Baxter, “but that doesn’t mean they’re qualified for every position. You wouldn’t ask a shipman to fly a jet, and you shouldn’t ask an anti-religion atheist to provide religious ministry.”

At its core, the United States provides its citizens equality of opportunity; it does not guarantee equality in results. The AHA’s proposed chaplain, Jason Heap, appears to be demanding equality in results by claiming entitlement to a position for which he isn’t qualified.

Some atheists have said that atheism is a religion like not playing soccer is a sport. In this case, the AHA and Heap are trying to assert that, to make humanism “equal” with all “sports,” the military should appoint him as a not-playing-soccer coach. Its an interesting demand, but ultimately nonsensical.

Baxter had another interesting criticism of the AHA:

These organizations…have sued to tear down war memorials that have religious symbols, and have even teamed up with organizations that call chaplains ‘spiritual rapists’…

That can be a reference to only one person, Michael “Mikey” Weinstein. The AHA filed a lawsuit against the Bladensburg Peace Cross, a war memorial in Bladensburg, MD, in May — and Weinstein’s MRFF joined the lawsuit. Weinstein has previously called Christians in the military “monsters” and has repeatedly made accusations of variations of spiritual or religious “rape.”

While the AHA has a demonstrable history of being anti-religion, Mikey Weinstein claims he works for religious freedom — just as the Becket Fund does. However, the Becket Fund’s history shows a broad support for religious liberty, while Weinstein’s is just the opposite. A survey of his actions reveals his “charitable” MRFF has a striking anti-Christian theme, not a support for religious liberty.

The Becket Fund’s consistent and principled support of religious liberty gives it credibility, and Becket’s assessment is correct here, as well. The military chaplaincy is an inherently religious function, and it makes no sense to intentionally insert non-religious personnel into what are supposed to be religious positions. Further, wisdom and common sense dictate caution when a group that is hostile to religious faith suddenly wants to join those with faith.  One would be easily forgiven for suspecting that group had ulterior motives.

The role of the chaplaincy is to protect the religious liberties and exercise of the troops they serve. It is questionable that militant atheists or humanists could fulfill that role at all, or if they even really want to. Given its history, it is not unreasonable to wonder if the AHA’s goal isn’t to protect religious liberty, but rather to spike it from within.



  • Mikey Weinstein works for religious freedom the same way the Pharisees of old did. They crush anything not to their liking and put in place rules and laws that make salvation impossible.

  • What a huge stinking load of Christian victimization fantasy and delusion.

  • An IRS designated “church” must endorse a chaplain’s application. Is the Humanist Society recognized many years ago as a “church” the substantive endorser of Jason Heap, or is it the American Humanist Association (AHA), tax exempt but NOT a church?

    AHA has been described as the parent organization of the Humanist Society. Since a parent organization typically controls its subsidiary (Humanist Society), did the chaplains’ board deem the endorsement as coming from the non-qualified AHA or the Humanist Society “church”?

    Did it matter that the Humanist Society is an affiliate of AHA, and that its assets and those of AHA are shown in combined audited financial statements? Since the audited statements say that the Humanist Society pays a monthly fee to AHA for performing management functions for the Humanist Society, does the Humanist Society have any of its own employees? If not, can it realistically endorse Mr. Heap? I wonder if the Armed Forces Chaplains Board considered these issues when it denied his application.

  • If Jason Heap wins his lawsuit, a remedy the court might provide would be to have him re-submit his chaplaincy application, while at the same time ordering the military not to discriminate against him on the basis of his humanist/atheist beliefs. Assuming Mr. Heap passed all the qualification tests, he still must be endorsed by an IRS designated “church” that is a “religious” organization. The Humanist Society has the IRS designated “church” status. However, the military could argue that humanism is not a religion and therefore, The Humanist Society does not qualify as a “religious” organization. There is no guarantee the military would win that argument, as the court might decide that humanism qualifies as the equivalent of a religion. But even if the court determined that humanism qualifies as a religion equivalent for chaplaincy purposes, the court might still deny The Humanist Society the status as a qualifying endorser on the basis that it is controlled by its parent organization, the American Humanist Association. Conceivably, the court could determine that in substance, the real endorser of Mr. Heap is the American Humanist Association, which although a tax-exempt organization, is not recognized by the IRS as a church.