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.