Navy lawyers defend rejection of atheist chaplain

Jun 24, 2015

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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15 comments on “Navy lawyers defend rejection of atheist chaplain

  • Of course, they want the soldiers to have something to fall back on when the going gets tough (and it will) even if that something is a big giant fabrication. They can’t have the soldiers questioning religion or that could lead to questioning orders. It could lead to questing war. No, too many questions. Let God deal with it all. That way no one has to think too hard about what they are doing.



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  • Military establishments need sheeples who take orders without asking moral questions. They also need clergy who preach “god on our side”, as part of the propaganda machine which redefines moral questions!



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  • What a dilemma ! How to make an organised killing organisation, ( only for defence of course ), into a moral agent for good in the world. For that, apparently, the US Navy requires Jesus. He who came “not in peace but with a sword” !

    No doubt the US Navy will have their ships patrolling the fiery lake where the condemned have to swim forever in agony ?



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  • To me, a chaplain in the most immoral of occupations. His job is to tell lies to convince people to kill innocents and to ignore their own self interest. I am glad there are no atheist chaplains.



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  • That’s an interesting image; I wonder how many of those soldiers are bowing their heads purely as a result of conditioning.

    When ever I hear those deathly words “let us pray” I enjoy holding my head high and watching those around me; I am often surprised to see how many of the people I’ve known for years automatically respond to the call, individuals who I’d had no idea were in the least bit religious.

    It seems that when they’re in that environment they can’t resist the order; I find it a bit frightening.



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  • can’t resist the order

    Minimum: politeness for the person / situation.

    Maximum: fear of being odd person out – head put upon a spike, literally or metaphorically.

    Lettuce prey



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  • Perhaps in an ironic way I support the Navy over Jason Heap because I support the position that Secular Humanism is not a religion. Military chaplains are charged with providing religious-spiritual support to
    the troops. We secular humanists don’t do religion. Chaplains do religion.



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  • Religious freedom has to include the choice to not follow a religion, but the role of supporting stressed out service personnel is valid, and can (and should be) open to Humanists or persons of any other set of values. The things that religion claims to provide — ‘comfort’, ‘community’, identity and reassurance — are human needs, and atheists should be encouraged to provide them. Standing back and allowing the god-botherers to monopolise the opportunity is short sighted.
    Atheists are not ‘people without values’, although this is the lie that the goddists peddle. The reassurance that any particular course of action is valid, necessary, worthwhile, a benefit to society and fellow humans, that the squaddie’s fears are real and understood and that their bravery is valued is a real need and this is the role of a chaplain.



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  • The Military Chaplaincy is a traditional institution going back centuries and has roots in ancient civilizations. Chaplains are clergy who serve the religious or spiritual needs of troops and their families either within a sectarian or within an interfaith frame of reference. Chaplains work with other service providers in fields such as counseling, psychiatry, housing, and child care to meet the needs of military personnel. The chaplain enjoys strong majority support from the ranks on up in a sub-culture more deeply religious than the wider civilian population.

    I believe you have a vision that may materialize as the secularization process reaches deeper into military populations, but I cannot envision a secular-humanist counterpart to the chaplain whose position and role requires religious belief or at least belief, modified as needed for some constituents, in a higher supernatural-spiritual power. My imagination is at a loss to come up with a job title for such a non-equivalent post. Perhaps secular counselor or humanist counselor would be viable candidates, or combining the two, secular humanist counselor.



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  • Atheist chaplain does not compute. It is an obvious contradiction in terms and should be placed in the “obserd” basket immediately.



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  • Melvin
    Jun 29, 2015 at 8:17 pm

    Chaplains are clergy who serve the religious or spiritual needs of troops and their families either within a sectarian or within an interfaith frame of reference.

    Or more accurately … Chaplains serve the propagandist needs of the political commanders.

    Chaplains work with other service providers in fields such as counseling, psychiatry, housing, and child care to meet the needs of military personnel.

    Jobs which could be done better and woo-free, by psychological councillors and social support workers. Chaplaincy simply means that access to these services is given priority to those who are complicit in the spreading the woo and political sheeple-follower thinking. (- Even Stalin had commissars!)



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