- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 6, 2013

Lawmakers on Wednesday defeated a Democratic-sponsored amendment that would have created chaplains for atheists who are serving in the nation’s military.

Democratic New Jersey Rep. Robert Andrews proposed an amendment to the 2014 defense bill that would add atheists, humanists and “ethical culturalists” to the corps of chaplains. Their mission: To serve as guidance counselors to military members. House Armed Service Committee members shot it down, however, 43-18, the Marine Times reported.

Mr. Andrews said he never meant his proposal to be controversial. He just wanted to give atheists the same opportunity to visit with counselors and obtain the same personalized guidance as those of the faith.

“I don’t offer this to be provocative,” he said, the Marine Times reported. “I don’t offer this to be an attack on anyone else’s faith.”

The military spells out the duties of its chaplain corps members to offer prayer, spiritual counseling and religious instruction, Breitbart reported.

Mr. Andrews’ amendment had been supported by the Secular Coalition for America, which puts out that 23 percent of those serving in the military have no religious preference, or claim outright atheism, the Marine Times reported. The group said, in a statement, that counselors and psychiatrists are “inadequate substitution[s]” for chaplains because their discussions with military members aren’t confidential, under military law.

“The chaplain-patient relationship enjoys more confidentiality that the psychiatrist or counselor relationship does,” the group said in a statement.

• Cheryl K. Chumley can be reached at cchumley@washingtontimes.com.

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