- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 27, 2018

The U.S. Navy’s second rejection of an application by a “non-theist” for acceptance into the chaplain corps still has lawmakers worried that officials will expand the service “beyond its focused purpose.”

A group of 22 senators and 45 congressmen recently sent a letter to the Navy’s top brass to cheer the rejection of applicant Jason Heap, a humanist with a master’s degree in divinity from Texas Christian University and a theological history degree from Oxford. They did, however, warn that a board’s decision to clear him of an initial qualifications hurdle foreshadows an unacceptable shift in philosophy.

“It is our understanding that the Navy Chaplain Appointment and Retention Eligibility Advisory Group has recommended accepting Dr. Jason Heap to serve as a secular-humanist chaplain,” 45 Republican members of the House of Representatives wrote this month to Vice Adm. Robert P. Burke, the chief of naval personnel, Navy Times reported Monday.

“We are concerned that the Navy is taking steps to expand the chaplain corps beyond its focused purpose … the chaplaincy was designed to facilitate the exercise of religious belief, not philosophical belief — this is the bright line that the Department of Defense must use in defining the boundaries of the chaplain corps.”

The letter was also sent to the Navy’s chief of chaplains, Rear Adm. Margaret G. Kibben.

Sen. Roger Wicker, Mississippi Republican, wrote in a March 15 press release that Navy officials should create new programs “outside of the chaplain corps to serve humanist or atheist service members” instead of considering applicants who do not believe in God.

“Allowing a non-religious worldview to be represented among the chaplain corps would set a dangerous precedent for the military,” he wrote. “What is to stop future demands for other philosophical preferences to be included in the chaplain corps as well?”

Mr. Heap’s first attempt to join the chaplain corps was rejected in 2013.

“The facts speak for themselves — the Navy Chaplain Appointment and Retention Eligibility Advisory Board recommended the approval of a qualified humanist chaplain,” Casey Brescia, spokesman for the Secular Coalition for America, told Navy Times. “Yet despite their recommendation, members of Congress needlessly inserted themselves into the process and took extraordinary steps to halt the confirmation of what would have been the military’s first humanist chaplain.

The humanist organization Center for Inquiry told the newspaper that Mr. Heap was “unavailable for interviews.”

“Our understanding is that Dr. Heap continues to be interested in serving as a chaplain but has not yet decided on his next step,” spokesman Jason Lemieux told the newspaper.

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