The United States Navy Will Not Allow Atheist Chaplains

Image credit: U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Sarah Villegas/Released

If Jason Heap is one thing, it’s persistent. The D.C.-based humanist had already lost his bid to join the Navy chaplaincy under the Obama administration. He had to know that his application was an even longer shot under President Trump. Still, Heap filed again, hoping Navy officials would be more lax the second time around. Thanks two of the Hill’s conservatives, they weren’t.

Heap’s push to become the military’s first atheist chaplain started back in 2013. He made a big splash with the idea, even taking the military to court when they refused to change the tradition that George Washington started more than 240 years ago. “The Defense Department won all the cases against Jason Heap,” FRC’s Chris Gacek told reporters, “so you’d think that they would leave well enough alone and, therefore, there wouldn’t be a problem in the future. But there is a board called the Chaplain Appointment and Retention Eligibility Advisory Group that is recommending that the Navy accept him as a chaplain.” So, he went on, “even though he couldn’t get it through the courts or through other processes, there’s another group of faceless bureaucrats that have an agenda and are trying to push it…”

The news stunned Congressman Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.) and Senator Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), who both serve on their Armed Services Committees. Neither could believe the military was even having this discussion, let alone under a conservative commander-in-chief. To head off a politically correct disaster, they rallied their troops, firing off letters to the Secretary of the Navy and its Chief of Chaplains with dozens of members’ signatures. Not only would it violate the Defense Department’s own guidelines, but it would open the floodgates to the complete erosion of the unique spiritual tradition of our military.

While neither letter mentioned what the two chambers could do — forcing the Navy’s hand through appropriations riders or other pressure points — branch leaders got the message. This week, Lamborn and Wicker got the news they’d been waiting for: Heap’s request was denied. “The very definition of the chaplaincy was at stake here, so I’m relieved to see the Navy’s response,” Lamborn said. “Appointing an atheist to a historically religious role would’ve gone against everything the chaplaincy was created to do. It would open the door to a host of so-called chaplains who represent philosophical worldviews and NOT the distinctly religious role of the Chaplain Corps. I applaud the Navy for upholding the truth.”

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Wicker was just as relieved. “The Navy’s leadership has done the right thing,” he told reporters. “The appointment of an atheist to [a]… religious position is fundamentally incompatible with atheism’s secularism. This decision preserves the distinct religious role that our chaplains carry out.”

If the military wants to create specific programs for atheists or humanists, it can. There’s no need to hijack the Chaplain Corps to serve them — unless, as I suspect, the real goal had nothing to do with service to begin with. Either way, we salute the Navy for protecting the integrity of the chaplaincy, “For God and Country.”

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Barb Wire.

Tony Perkins
Tony Perkins is president of the Washington, D.C.-based Family Research Council. He is a former member of the Louisiana legislature where he served for eight years, and he is recognized as a legislative pioneer for authoring measures like the nation’s first Covenant Marriage law. (Via FRC’s Washington Update. Tony Perkins’ Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.)

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