Board Recommends Navy Appoint Humanist Chaplain

Though not officially announced, a few websites and organizations have revealed that the Navy Chaplain Appointment and Retention Eligibility (CARE) Advisory Group has recommended that Jason Heap, an atheist, be appointed a US Navy chaplain. (The official silence may be because CARE’s decision was leaked in violation of Navy policy, which dictates the sessions be “closed” with members forbidden from “discussing deliberations or recommendations”.)

Heap had previously sued the Navy over its denial of his application to become a chaplain.  The lawsuit was largely dismissed, though some claims proceeded.  One site claimed the suit was subsequently “settled” under unpublicized terms.

Navy regulations say the CARE group is primarily composed of senior chaplains and other senior leaders. CARE ensures the “full spectrum” of professional qualifications is considered when someone applies to be a chaplain. The objective, in context, is to prevent people from becoming chaplains just because they meet the bare minimum requirements.

CARE’s role is to validate the applicant’s professional qualifications and make a recommendation to the Navy Chief of Chaplains. But, importantly, CARE is still supposed to consider — and validate — the applicant’s ecclesiastical endorsement and verify the fact they are “fully qualified Religious Ministry Professionals.”

How is it CARE managed to recognize Heap — who is explicitly non-religious — as a religious professional?

US Rep Doug Lamborn of Colorado and 45 other representatives and senators signed a letter (PDF) to the Navy objecting to CARE’s recommendation:

We are concerned that the navy is taking steps to expand the chaplain corps beyond its focused purpose of protecting and facilitating the constitutional right of service member to the free exercise of religion. The chaplaincy was designed to facilitate the exercise of religious belief, not philosophical belief.

They’re right, of course, though boundaries have become so offensive in society that they’re all being blurred, whether it’s a man wanting to be recognized as a woman or a non-religious person who wants to fill the role created for a religious one.

Importantly, however, Lamborn also noted:

The Supreme Court of the United States has made clear that non-religious beliefs, “however virtuous and admirable,” may not rely on the Religion Clauses for protection. To invoke the protection of the Religion Clauses, claims must be “rooted in religious belief”–something Dr. Heap specifically disavows.

It may not be comfortable, but it is true. The protection of religious belief in the US Constitution is precisely that: the protection of religious belief.

If you want be recognized for your non-religion, you can’t then also demand religious protections for your non-religion.  To wit, you can’t demand that you be allowed to not play soccer — and simultaneously demand to put in the game on your terms.

Even atheist Hemant Mehta, presumably a Heap supporter, seemed at odds with himself, as he apparently felt obligated to defend Heap while not truly believing atheists should be chaplains. He half-heartedly noted at one point:

Just because atheism isn’t a religion, per se, doesn’t mean that non-religious soldiers don’t have emotional needs. Depriving them of a chaplain who speaks their language hurts our military.

That’s a moronic and grossly simplistic argument, of course, because any service member — religious or not — can go to a counselor for their “emotional needs.” The chaplain is there because he is religious. Absent religion, he’s just a counselor. That’s not an argument for atheist chaplains; it’s an argument for counselors, and not a very good one, at that.

Further, the atheist said [italics original]

More importantly, having a Humanist chaplain would take absolutely nothing away from religious chaplains — just as a Muslim or Jewish chaplain doesn’t interfere with Christian ones.

It’s unclear if Mehta is being intentionally disingenuous or is simply naïve. A chaplain is a religious representative, so having different religions represented is not comparable to having non-religions represented.  His analogy fails badly.

In any case, the idea that violating the core principles of an organization would do “absolutely nothing” to others within that organization is lunacy. Atheists have, for years, salivated at the idea of infiltrating religious ministry for the very purpose of undermining it. Even if Heap chose not to actively do so, the creation of an atheist chaplain changes the very definition of the chaplaincy. It dilutes the organization and changes the definition of “chaplain” within the military.

Just as socially accepting changes to other definitions — like marriage and gender, for example — has undermined those institutions, so, too, would accepting a non-religious person to fulfill an explicitly religious role.

A few years ago, people laughed off the idea of a legislative requirement that the military not appoint non-religious religious leaders. It was an unnecessary rule, they said. Of course, not long before, people would have similarly laughed off the idea of needing a law to say men need to use the men’s room, and women the women’s.

Times change, don’t they? Perhaps we should start listening to those who reasonably predict the logical outcomes of our society’s moral decay.

As discussed at the Conservative HQ and the Freethinker.