WASHINGTON, D.C. — In the wake of a decision by the U.S. Navy to reject the application of a 38-year-old atheist man to become a military chaplain, the newly-formed Openly Secular coalition is calling on military leaders and the Department of Defense to overturn the ruling.
There are more atheists and other nontheists in our armed forces than any other non-Christian denomination, yet there are currently no chaplains exclusively representing nontheistic beliefs.
Jason Heap is uniquely qualified for the chaplaincy with masters' degrees in Divinity and Religious History from Texas Christian University and Oxford, respectively. He also taught Religious Education and Philosophy for five years. He was endorsed by the Humanist Society and otherwise met all physical and security requirements of the U.S. Navy.
"This is illegal religious-based employment discrimination, plain and simple," said Todd Stiefel, Chair of Openly Secular. "If a church rejected a humanist chaplain, that would be fine, but the federal government cannot use tax dollars to hire Christian, Hindu and Buddhist chaplains, but refuse to employ any openly secular chaplains. Humanists and atheists serve honorably and deserve the same moral support provided to other minorities."
Key facts about chaplains in the military:
- Nearly 25% of service members indicate "no religious preference"
- There are no chaplains who exclusively represent nontheistic members
- 18% of service members identify as evangelical
- Nearly 63% of chaplains are evangelical
Nonreligious service members face the same questions about life and death, fear, and loss as any other person in the military. These brave men and women should not have to face challenges alone, while their religious counterparts receive support and guidance. Humanist chaplains are recognized as valued members in the most respected institutions, including nearly a dozen top universities as well as the militaries in the Netherlands and Belgium.
"Organizations like the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty are celebrating the Navy's rejection on grounds of his atheist beliefs, and that is open discrimination," said Jason Torpy, President of the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers, a partner organization to Openly Secular. "The Navy claims many candidates were turned down, but Heap has advanced educational qualifications and a special ability to serve an unrepresented community. By this decision, the chaplaincy seems to have turned its back on many sailors. We hope non-chaplain military leaders swiftly overturn this discriminatory decision."