Former Army Captain and current atheist Jason Torpy is keeping busy. While currently claiming to act as the endorsing agent for a proposed humanist chaplain, he’s also trying to act as an officiant for a humanist wedding at the US Naval Academy. The only problem for the “Reverend” Torpy: Annapolis reserves its Christian chapel for Christian ceremonies.
Jennifer Erickson, an academy spokeswoman, said in an email that the Naval Academy Chapel is a religious venue that has been used for Protestant and Catholic services since its dedication in 1908.
“The chapel contains permanent Christian architectural features that make it inappropriate for non-Christian or non-religious wedding ceremonies,” Erickson wrote in response to questions about the request. “For requests involving non-Christian and non-religious wedding ceremonies, the Naval Academy offers alternative venues, such as the non-denominational chapel and the Naval Academy Club.”
Because the Christian chapel has unmatched “grandeur” — including the crypt of famed seaman John Paul Jones — the humanists complain that nothing else will do. The non-theists apparently admire theistic architecture.
To be clear, there are several chapels at Annapolis, including a Jewish one with an equally famous namesake in Uriah Philips Levy. The issue isn’t that Annapolis won’t allow the wedding; just that it won’t let the humanists conduct it in the facility of their choosing.
The policy is actually not uncommon, though it is not often brought up. That’s because only a few military bases remain that have faith-specific chapels. These chapels were built decades — in this case, more than a century — ago, before “faith neutral” became the enfored norm for these faith-based settings. When a post has a faith-specific chapel, it is not uncommon for the base to reserve it for adherents to that faith.
The “controversy” is ultimately mundane. There are certainly arguments to be made for the respect for the facility and those whose faith is (permanently, unchangeably) represented there. There are also arguments to be made about some non-religious ideologies believing they have a “right” to be equal to religion – while simultaneously claiming they cannot be restricted like a religion. Thus, they want the good “trappings” of religion without, as the FRC says, all the “Christian stuff.” These claims sometimes come across as a spoiled child demanding a present on his sibling’s birthday.
The American Humanist Association is said to be considering a lawsuit. (Oddly, their announcement initially omitted Jason Torpy’s one-man Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers, until he complained.)
(The regional Colorado Springs Independent queried the US Air Force Academy to see if their policies were similar. In short, USAFA restricts use of the chapel to ceremonies that are “religious in nature.” Since humanism isn’t a religion…)
In the end, though, it neither “picks my pocket nor breaks my leg” should a non-Christian perform a wedding in the chapel. The US Naval Academy is free to reserve specific spaces for specific functions, or it is free to open all locations to any person.
In fact, maybe Annapolis should be encouraged to open the facility to use by non-Christian wedding ceremonies. Perhaps the “grandeur” of the building during the ceremony, captured in their wedding photos for posterity, will one day help them see the grandeur of the King. One can hope.