by Andrew Tilghman
Jason Heap was a 38-year-old former youth minister with a master’s degree in divinity from Texas Christian University when he applied to become a Navy chaplain.
But the sea service rejected his application last year after he revealed plans to affiliate with the Humanist Society and the American Humanist Association, which espouses a “progressive philosophy of life that, without theism and other supernatural beliefs, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives,” according to the group’s website.
The Navy’s decision to reject an “atheist chaplain” is under scrutiny by a federal judge overseeing Heap’s lawsuit, in which he claims the Navy violated his constitutional rights through discrimination and denial of his right to religious freedom.
The matter was argued in detail for the first time in a federal courtroom in Alexandria, Virginia, on Thursday, as a team of attorneys representing the Navy sought a summary judgment and urged District Judge James Chacheris to declare the lawsuit without merit.
The Navy claims Heap was turned away in part because of his limited experience as a religious leader, which raised questions about his ability to handle the role of providing spiritual care for thousands of sailors aboard ships at sea.
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