Atheist Chaplain A Military First, But Is It A Good Idea?

An atheist chaplain is the center of debate, with some saying the military shouldn’t provide jobs for any secular humanist or atheist chaplains.

As previously reported by The Inquisitr, Jason Heap wants to be the Navy’s first atheist chaplain.

Atheists have the same religious protections under United States law as do other religions. Secular humanism was declared a religion by the Supreme Court, and various atheists have won lawsuits where they specifically requested atheism be identified as a religion for legal purposes. But the question remains for how an atheist chaplain would fit into the military.

Atheists tend to share a limited common set of beliefs, but besides general counseling what would an atheist chaplain do? Supporters of the atheist chaplain concept claim the “the point is to give atheists in the military someone who will pro-actively reach out to them and facilitate meetings.” What that exactly this consists of has not been defined. Since atheists are a small percentage of the population it’s possible the atheist chaplains would essentially be overseeing support groups. But military chaplains can serve a large number of functions related to mental and personal health.

For example, the so-called army spiritual fitness test inherently caused atheists to automatically fail because the phrasing of the questions did not take into non-theistic religions. If atheists go to psychiatrists this would be listed in their military record, but if they are counseled by by an atheist chaplain the event should be kept confidential.

Even among Christians in the military there can be conflicts when it comes to military chaplains. There are cases where a Christian from one denomination would go to a military chaplain from another denomination and friction would result, usually pertaining to attempts to “convert” to the “right type of Christian.” For example, when I lived on Rammstein Air Base years ago the main military chaplain position was switched to a Mormon and all the Christians didn’t want to have anything to do with him. In the same way, it would be awkward for an atheist to go to a military chaplain of another religion.

Despite the documented cases of religious prosecution of atheists in the military, some people are motivated to not allow atheist chaplains to be funded by the military because they are concerned atheist chaplains might use their positions to focus on “negative outreach” instead of positive projects. Unfortunately, the majority of atheist organizations tend to focus on attacking other religions. The recent atheist monument debacle is a prime example of this. The builders of the atheist monument were very blunt in saying their motivation was to attack the Ten Commandments monument.

But we might hope atheist chaplains wouldn’t use their platform to attack. After all, atheists claim religious proselytizing in the US military is like rape. Section 533 of the National Defense Authorization Act says, “No member of the Armed Forces may — require a chaplain to perform any rite, ritual, or ceremony that is contrary to the conscience, moral principles, or religious beliefs of the chaplain; or discriminate or take any adverse personnel action against a chaplain.”

Religious people in the military are complaining they are “afraid of going to church,” “afraid to be seen praying,” and afraid their religious activities “would hurt our careers, our promotions.” Religious proselytizing in general means sharing your beliefs, but President Mikey Weinstein of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation believes this military law means religious believes cannot force their faith or beliefs on others. Although there is a debate on how this might be enforced in the military, you would assume there would not be a double standard and the same rule would apply to any atheist chaplain.

Do you think atheist chaplains in the military are a good idea?

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