- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The American military might reflect the diversity of society, but its chaplains are falling short when it comes to representing nontheistic believers in the ranks, the American Humanist Association told a Capitol Hill briefing Tuesday.

Humanism stresses the value of human beings rather than a divine being and bases its beliefs on critical thinking rather than faith.

“The lack of belief in a god should not be a disqualifier to access to chaplaincy and support,” said Jason Torpy, president of the Military Association of Atheists & Freethinkers. It was the first time the group had staged such a briefing on the Hill.


SEE ALSO: Humanists seek support from Congress on military chaplains


Until the Armed Forces Chaplains Board sees otherwise, he continued, “they’re saying as loudly as they can that they are absolutely opposed to anyone who does not believe in a god.”

The military currently has no chaplains or lay leaders who are humanist, although there have been candidates for both.

The chaplains board, according to its mission, handles the recruitment, professional standards, requirements, training and assignment of military chaplains.

In June, the Navy rejected an application for the first humanist chaplain in its ranks.

Rev. Stephen Boyd, a retired colonel and minister for chaplains and specialized ministers with the United Church of Christ, said in his more than 30 years of service, he’d seen the end of the draft, the introduction of women into combat, and the repeal of the don’t ask-don’t tell policy on gays in the military.

“We’ve seen that the military is beginning to start to more accurately reflect our society,” he said. “However, the military chaplaincy is not reflecting the diversity we’re seeing in military ranks.”

In an email to The Washington Times, Navy Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen, a Pentagon spokesman, said the Defense Department “does not endorse religion or any one religion or religious organization.”

“The mission of the Chaplain Corps is to provide care and the opportunity for service members, their families and other authorized personnel to exercise their constitutional right to the free exercise of religion or to have no religious beliefs at all,” he continued.

According to Department of Defense numbers compiled by the Military Association of Atheists & Freethinkers in 2012, about 97 percent of military chaplains were Christian. While Christians of all denominations made up nearly 69 percent of the general population of the military, according to the survey, 23 percent listed that they had no religious preference. Other religions such as Judaism, Hinduism and Buddhism, as well as atheism and agnosticism, represented less than 1 percent each of the general military population. Atheists had the highest percentage of non-Christian followers at 0.55 percent, while agnostics represented 0.12 percent of the military population.

Major Ryan Jean, a certified Humanist Celebrant, said he was honored to have served his country, but “saddened that the nation truly has not come to terms with accepting who I am.”

“I am living proof there’s an active population of humanists in the military service,” said Mr. Jean, who said he was berated by a chaplain for being an atheist while he was deployed in Kuwait.

Mr. Jean said the military needs to provide accommodations for humanists, including a formal meeting space and access to confidential counseling that doesn’t just involve mental health providers.

Story Continues →