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Atheist Military Chaplains: Activist Confronts Congressman About Vote [Video]

Are atheist military chaplains a good idea? A Texas congressman (along with most of his colleagues) doesn’t think so.

Rep. Michael Burgess voted twice against a proposal for atheist chaplains in the U.S. military, and he was recently confronted about his vote by Daniel Moran at a public meeting.

Moran, described as an atheist activist, is a junior at the University of North Texas majoring in political science.

Moran respectfully asked the Republican lawmaker — who is also a medical doctor — how he planned to represent his secular, atheist, humanist, and non-religious constituents given his recent vote. Burgess responded that he represented all his constituents regardless of whether they voted for him or believe as he does.

As far as the vote against the atheist chaplains idea (which went down to defeat in the House), Burgess responded matter-of-factly to thunderous applause that “yeah, I thought it was a dumb idea. I’ll do it again.”

The two men then disagreed over whether there are atheists in foxholes, after which Rep. Burgess commented that “look… if you’re going to have a chaplain, you gotta start somewhere, and that stars at the top with a belief in God.” Moran disagreed that serving as a chaplain required a belief in God (watch the whole exchange embedded above).

Servicemembers of course do have access to counselors and mental health professionals without regard to religion.

That being said, according to Dictionary.com, a chaplain is defined as “an ecclesiastic attached to the chapel of a royal court, college, etc., or to a military unit.”

Ecclesiastic is defined as “a member of the clergy or other person in religious orders.”

So even if you are an atheist or agnostic, wouldn’t it thus seem logical that religious belief is indeed a prerequisite to serving as a military chaplain?

Congressman Burgess, who is an obstetrician by training, got into some hot water in June for that whole “masturbating fetus” comment. He was elected to Congress in 2002 and has represented the 26th district of Texas ever since.

Putting aside your own religious faith, if any, do you think that there should be chaplains serving in the military who are atheists?

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6 Responses to “Atheist Military Chaplains: Activist Confronts Congressman About Vote [Video]”

  1. Brian Westley

    "Putting aside your own religious faith, if any, do you think that there should be chaplains serving in the military who are atheists?"

    Yes. Atheist soldiers deserve equal treatment, not inferior treatment. Servicemembers do have access to counselors and mental health professionals without regard to religion — and religious soldier get, in addition, chaplains with similar religious views. Atheists get unequal treatment.

  2. DeeCee Fish

    It's quite simple, actually. If chaplains do not serve a secular purpose, they are unconstitutional, as per the supreme court's ruling in Lemon v. Kurtzman. If they do serve a secular purpose (which they do, in this case–visits to counselors are part of one's official record, whereas visits to chaplains which serve the same purpose are confidential and thus cannot influence promotion decisions), then it is clearly in the best interest of the Armed Forces to make sure that this service is available in its best form to all members.

    There have been complaints–not just from atheists–that evangelical chaplains have been putting their religious ideologies ahead of their support duties. There is good reason that there are chaplains from other faith communities–Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist, for instance (each of which groups is smaller in number than the number of enlisted atheists).

    The above article cites a dictionary definition of chaplain; in practice, the definition is not nearly so important as the *function*. The Army Chaplain Corps has as their function to "care for the living, comfort the wounded, and honor the dead". There is nothing in that description that precludes atheist chaplains.

  3. Lowell Skelton

    Rep. Burgess shows his ignorance and contempt for the Constitution. Article VI, 3rd clause: "…no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States." There WILL be atheist chaplains; the law demands it.