Ever since US Rep Jared Polis (D-Co) tried to specifically authorize atheist chaplains in the US military there has been one misrepresentation after another over what the government is “required” to do, or what atheist troops even want.
The most interesting argument is that Congress cannot require a Chaplain to be “religious” because of the Constitution’s prohibition on “no religious test” for public office. It’s a bit pedantic, but at least you can see the (attempted) logic of the argument. (Given the language and reasoning of George Washington’s creation of the military chaplaincy, and even Congress’s own centuries-old chaplaincy, it is unlikely that such semantic gymnastics were their intent.)
Another repeated but misrepresented claim has been that the Appropriations bill amendment sponsored by US Rep John Fleming (R-La) did “nothing” (according to atheist Jason Torpy) because the current regulations allow non-theistic chaplains, so long as their organization is endorsed by the IRS. A PhD writing a blog at the Huffington Post bought into this argument. Said Rita Nakashima Brock:
The military and Congress are sworn to protect the Constitution, which guarantees the free practice of religion.
Close enough. Then:
They are not supposed to impose state-mandated beliefs or prohibit people from practicing what they believe in order to serve their country.
Also true, though her use of the phrase “not supposed to” implies (falsely) that they do, or that someone is trying to make it so. Finally:
Insisting on belief in God…is a violation of the religious freedom of those in military service, including chaplains.
And..she falls flat. Jason Torpy (who commented dozens of times on her article) is correct in one part: Fleming’s legislation only requires the US military to follow the current version of its own regulations, which do not require a belief in God. Brock’s statement is an argument against a straw man.
Brock and Torpy are quick to point out regulations require US military chaplains to be “endorsed” — but they just as quickly omit the rest of the sentence (found in DoDI 1304.28), which says a Chaplain is [emphasis added]
endorsed to represent a religious organization and to conduct its religious observances or ceremonies
Humanists are explicitly non-religious. (To further the point, avowed atheist Jason Torpy claims to be the personal humanist endorser for the US military.) As such, humanists do not qualify for the chaplaincy — at least not any more than the Toastmasters or the chess club qualifies.
Which brings us to an important point: Lost in all of this is the reason the military has chaplains at all. It is well understood that religious liberty — a basic human liberty — includes the exercise of religion, and that exercise is protected by the US Constitution from interference by the US government. When the US government restricts the ability of its citizens to exercise their faith — say, in the military service — it attempts to mitigate the potential impact to their human liberty by providing religious faith leaders. It is no more complicated than that.
With no offense intended, a humanist or atheist practices an ideology or philosophy that is not specifically protected by the Constitution. While it can be argued that they, too, are inhibited in the exercise of their ideology while in military service, the same can be equally said for Toastmasters or the chess club.
It may be a regrettable inconvenience on all of their parts, but the fact that a US military member is deployed away from his local support does not automatically entitle him to a “chaplain” in the ideology of chess mastery.
The intent is not to demean non-theists of any stripe. (Indeed, many non-theists have looked on this entire conversation with incredulity — and they have asked “Why would I want a chaplain?”) In truth, the US military provides non-religious resources to every servicemember already — including Military Family Life Consultants, who provide the same counseling benefits of the chaplaincy. So why does an atheist need a chaplain, when the chaplain’s purpose is religious in nature?
Is it change for change’s sake (or the sake of “progress”)? (One writer went so far as to say people of faith should welcome “atheist chaplains,” because it would force atheists to admit their faith system was a religion – meaning atheism would be subject to the same restrictions levied on other religions.)
As said once already, this is a simple situation unnecessarily made complex. When the government has a mission necessity that impedes the liberties of its troops, it generally attempts to mitigate that restriction (though it is not always required to do so).
For religious troops, it attempts to provide them with religious support to protect their religious liberties — generally, in the form of chaplains.
Non-religious troops, by contrast, see no governmental impediment to their ability to lack a belief in God. Thus, there is no obligation to provide them with “chaplains” to support that non-belief.