Republicans Vote Down Atheist Chaplain Amendment


23% of American military personnel classify themselves as having no religious beliefs, but they have been deemed completely irrelevant by every single Republican in the House, which voted down an amendment to the defense appropriations bill to allow atheist/humanist chaplains in the military.

The House on Friday rejected a Democratic proposal to allow nonreligious chaplains to serve nonreligious service members in the military.

Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) said nearly a quarter of people serving in the military are nonreligious, but under current law, spiritual advisers must be appointed by religious organizations, like the Catholic Church. His amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act would have changed that to allow “nontheistic” organizations to appoint people to the military’s chaplain corps.

“What my amendment would simply do is allow chaplains who are certified or ordained, secular humanists and ethical culturalists or atheists, to also be able to support the brave men and women who serve in our military,” Polis said.

Polis said his amendment is needed because the only other counseling option available to nonreligious service members is to see a mental health expert.

“When someone sees a psychologist, psychiatrist or counselor, it has a certain stigma that can be attached to it that doesn’t exist when you’re seeing a chaplain,” he said. “It also doesn’t enjoy the same confidentiality that a chaplain visit does.”

Every single Republican voted against this, along with 44 Democrats. I can think of no reason other than bigotry and Christian privilege. They basically told every soldier who is not religious to go screw themselves.

Comments

  1. psweet says

    How is it that seeing a psychologist doesn’t enjoy the same confidentiality that a chaplain visit does? I had thought that doctor-patient privilege had the same status as a priest’s.

  2. says

    During debate, Republicans rejected Polis’s idea by saying the chaplain corps by definition is run by people with religious beliefs.

    Isn’t this an acknowledgment that it’s unconstitutional?

    …Elsewhere, the House again rejected a proposal to limit government sponsorship of NASCAR or professional wrestling. Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.) proposed a National Guard ban on these sponsorships, but the House rejected it in a 134-289 vote.

    Well, I’m glad to know they’re making the right decisions about the important issues.

    (“Elsewhere”? Were they on a field trip?)

  3. whheydt says

    O)kay…. So the Repbulicans are willing to write off 23% of the future Veteran vote. That’ll have an impact on their ability to win elections…

  4. Randomfactor says

    If this were a school board denying equal treatment to students, FFRF would be all over it. I presume Congress is above having to respond to lawsuits…

  5. says

    How is it that seeing a psychologist doesn’t enjoy the same confidentiality that a chaplain visit does? I had thought that doctor-patient privilege had the same status as a priest’s.

    That doesn’t appear to be the case in the military. Incidentally, there’s a documentary – “Mind Zone” – about mental health workers in the military, which I haven’t seen yet. There are many, many good reasons it can be a problem for people in the military to see them, which makes it even worse that they don’t have access to secular counselors.

  6. Gvlgeologist, FCD says

    I can’t conceive of how this can possibly pass constitutional muster. I dearly hope an atheist in the military sues over this; this is clearly not equal protection under the law, and clearly an endorsement of religion.

  7. madgastronomer says

    Obviously this needs to be changed legally, whether through the legislature or the courts on constitutional grounds, but as a workaround, couldn’t humanists work through things like the Universal Life Church (which has no doctrine at all, ordains anyone, and requires no belief of any kind) to serve nonreligious service members? Or has this been explored and I’ve just missed it?

  8. Gvlgeologist, FCD says

    I would also think that the Xtian majority would be delighted with the implication that atheists needed help too. Another way to look at it is that if atheists don’t need the benefit of chaplains, then why the hell should religious people have them?

  9. Artor says

    I wonder if a soldier who visits a psychologist, and is actually persecuted for it in some way, can sue the military for discrimination? If the legislature won’t do the right thing, could that be a way to get the courts to do it?

  10. Akira MacKenzie says

    Just a quick nitpick: While religious chaplains by their very nature have to be ordained, what should be the qualifications for an atheist/humanist chaplain–beyond the obvious, I mean.

  11. Akira MacKenzie says

    Also…

    “When someone sees a psychologist, psychiatrist or counselor, it has a certain stigma that can be attached to it that doesn’t exist when you’re seeing a chaplain,” he said. “It also doesn’t enjoy the same confidentiality that a chaplain visit does.”

    Having known more than of my fair share of soldiers, especially those who conflate religious zeal with patriotism, I have the sneaking suspicision that seeing one them thar godless, commie, ‘Merica-hatin’ aye-theistic chaplains will carry the same social stigma–if not more–than seeing a psychiatrist or a counselor.

  12. otrame says

    It needs to be said that many chaplains in the military take the counseling part of their job seriously and if the person seeing them is not religious, they make no attempt to impose religiosity into the equation. Since access to a chaplain of your own religion is questionable even for religious people and especially in a combat zone, it has been the practice of chaplains to function outside the confines of their own religions when dealing with those not part of that religion.

    The trouble is that in recent decades some chaplains have gone into the job with the idea of being a warrior for Christ whose main purpose is not support of soldiers and airmen but engendering more warriors for Christ. and while you might get lucky and have an old fashioned chaplain who thinks their job is to help everyone who walks through their doors, you could easily end up with someone who will try to impose his religious beliefs and actively try to sabotage anyone who refuses them.

  13. matty1 says

    “When someone sees a psychologist, psychiatrist or counselor, it has a certain stigma that can be attached to it that doesn’t exist when you’re seeing a chaplain,” he said. “It also doesn’t enjoy the same confidentiality that a chaplain visit does.”

    I see the problem, I’m not convinced by the solution. I mean if you are going to have chaplains who are not qualified mental health professionals providing counselling then of course they shouldn’t all be religious. It would still be a better solution if seeing trained qualified professionals was confidential and stigma free.

  14. Sastra says

    Iirc one of the people against this bill was quoted expressing the fear that an atheist or humanist chaplain would visit a deceased soldier’s grieving family and either bring up — or have nothing else to offer them — but the gloomy insistence that their loved one was dead, dead, dead and nothing more than worm food for all eternity and thus their life never mattered. So looks like the Grandmother’s Gambit* was pulled.

    *Grandmother’s Gambit: a tactic designed to shut up the nonbeliever by pointing out that an atheistic argument which would not be forced on a devoutly religious dying grandmother during her last moments should not be made in the public square at ALL.

  15. dugglebogey says

    Huh..I had no idea that in those old “I Want You” posters Uncle Sam was only pointing at christian males. You learn something new every day.

    Well, the military only “really” wants you if you’re a male and christian. If you’re anything else they will accept you, grudgingly, only because they are required to by law.

  16. wpjoe says

    Well, you know, all them atheists are gonna give up all their high-falutin’ atheist notions as soon as they crawl into the foxhole. So, you know, we don’t need no…

  17. William Troxel says

    As a conservative evangelical pastor and Fire/EMS chaplain, I am deeply disappointed in our elected representatives. Atheists should have the same right to counsel and care that align with their worldview. I have some folks that are non-Christian (various belief/worldviews) that I do my best to serve however I can. Hopefully they feel respected by me. They do in fact treat me with respect and friendship.

  18. jasmyn says

    This offends me on so many levels. The military really stresses that the chaplains are for everyone. Some of them a really wonderful, genuine soldiers who want to help people in spite of faith differences. Even the best intentions, though, can fall short.
    When my husband and I got to Bragg in 2011, I was miserable. The people here are frightfully unfriendly and I felt very lonely. We went to the chaplain just to find out about some local support (I didn’t know about MWR at this point). He was a kind man, but was only able to suggest religious wives clubs. I told him that as an atheist, that didn’t work for me. I walked out feeling more lonely than I did when I walked in. Fortunately, my husband found MASH via the internet. I met some wonderful people that way.
    In addition to not having atheist resources just to help get settled, I can only imagine how livid I’d be if something happened to my husband and I had someone doing his best to comfort me with some “better place” bullshit. I wouldn’t hold that against the chaplain, of course. Most of them are great. It’s not fair though that my needs and those of my husband aren’t’ being met.
    My husband is an exemplary soldier. He was promoted in December with a waiver because he didn’t meet the service time requirements. He’s up for promotion again in August. Again, he’ll need a waiver because 8 months is way less than standard time between promotions. It is absolute bullshit that he works his ass off to be the best soldier he can be (and his superiors see it) and for the government to not give a fuck. It really is that simple. If you only want to be in the US Army and not god’s army, then the government does not give a damn about you.

  19. Hercules Grytpype-Thynne says

    @sastra,

    Mutatis mutandis, that’s also an excellent argument for not allowing fundamentalist Christian chaplains:

    … one of the people against this bill was quoted expressing the fear that an atheist or humanist fundamentalist Christian chaplain would visit a deceased non-Christian soldier’s grieving family and either bring up — or have nothing else to offer them — but the gloomy insistence that their loved one was dead, dead, dead and nothing more than worm food suffering the agonizing tortures of Hell for all eternity…

  20. says

    Just a quick nitpick: While religious chaplains by their very nature have to be ordained, what should be the qualifications for an atheist/humanist chaplain–beyond the obvious, I mean.

    They should have a degree in counseling, psychology, or other such training. If I were a service member, I would want a chaplain that knows how to help people in crises, big or small.

  21. Todd Davis says

    While I understand your story, I’m not sure I find it relevant. As an atheist, I have always found it mind-boggling that people who are in distress are provided with clergy as opposed to a competent, trained mental (and medical) health professional. Clergy have no specific required skills in dealing with trauma and stress, depression, or anything else. To be honest, if I were a soldier struggling my issues, I’d be pretty damn pissed to receive either a priest or even an “atheist representative” instead of a therapist or psychologist. I don’t believe in a soul, and so my soul doesn’t need saving or soothing. It is my mind and my character that needs attention, as if the patient is a soldier, they should get the best we can provide.

  22. Russell Laverty says

    So if the soldiers declared themselves Pastafarians who believe in the Flying Spaghetti Monster, under these rules they would qualify to get a chaplain. But apparently no rational type groups do?

  23. debbaasseerr says

    Shorter #21 – Yes, but who cares?

    Its relevant because the huge chunk of non-religious people who are actually in the military (not hypothetically!) are left with the same shitty options they had before, instead of those shitty choices being amended to include people who are in a better position to help them.

    Far from perfect, in many ways. But it would have been a step in the right direction.

    “As an atheist” – Would you have voted against this, if you were in a position to do so?

  24. davideriksen says

    As an atheist in the Army, I’ve tried to avoid chaplains as much as I can. However, before deploying to Iraq, everyone was forced to meet with the unit’s pastor. He may claim to have had some training as a counselor but he was, first and foremost, a fundamentalist pastor. When I met with him, his first question was what my religious preference was. I was a newly minted buck Sergeant talking to a Major so I was a bit nervous when I responded that I was not at all religious. The very concept of an atheist being in the military didn’t register with him. It just wasn’t a thing that happened. He put me down as a non-denominational Christian, handed me a copy of the new testament and ushered me out the door. It was a pretty disconcerting experience.

    Years later, I attended the NCO Academy at Ft. Sam Houston where the Commandant was the same man who had been the Command Sergeant Major for the unit I deployed with and had been good friends with the chaplain. At the graduation ceremony for the class (which included an invocation, of course), he started speaking about how important chaplains were for maintaining the faith and really said “there are no atheists in foxholes.” it was all I could do not to walk out but I needed the positive evaluation.

    IMHO, that is why we need secular humanist chaplains. We aren’t going to get rid of chaplains any time soon, if ever. The only way people like me and all the other atheists and agnostics that were in that unit will get any support is if an amendment like this finally passes. Personally, I’d like to see the chaplaincy dissolved but I’d accept recognition that non-believing troops exist.

  25. dan4 says

    By very definition, a chaplain is a religious person. Considering that fact, having an atheist, ahem, “chaplain” would just give fuel to the crowd who falsely believe that atheism is a religion. For that reason, I’m glad the amendment was voted down.

  26. says

    Ok, I need to read the actual text of the bill to form my own opinion. Just like any media outlet, I can’t trusts what I read.

    Can anyone provide this? I haven’t been able to google-fu it.

  27. Kaos Mistress says

    The real issue is that chaplains from various religions, whatever they may be, always feel the need to throw god into their spiritual counseling. Even if they know not to, even if they don’t mention “god” in so many words, there is always the underlying message of a “higher power,” “creator,” designer,” SOMETHING *more* than human to whom we should turn for comfort. To an atheist this is at the very least uncomfortable and most often insulting, offensive, and patronizing. If you are here to counsel me, do so without throwing any kind of religiously tinged, mythical dogma into it.

  28. Brandon Combs says

    First off: If you’re not in the military or married to a military member than you have no idea what you’re talking about. I don’t mean any offense by that, it’s just that the military is a whole seperate world. The phrase “we defend democracry, we don’t practice it” comes to mind. I don’t think it’s right but that’s how the military works most of the time. Second: an “atheist chaplain” is an oxymoron and a non religious chaplain who is a certified counselor/psychologist is just a counselor/psychologist. Third: It’s not the christians vs the atheists and everytime atheists try to push political bills like this they’re not helping the cause. The real issue is that it’s the christians vs everyone else. In my time in the military I have seen many christian chaplains, only one jewish chaplain, and that’s it. Additionally most of the MANDATORY ceremonies I’ve had to go to have had christian prayers during them. I have no issue with someone having a prayer during their retirement ceremony or change of command but those events should not be mandatory. Fourth: I can’t account for every chaplain but when I lost a member of my family they wouldn’t let me go back to work until I talked to someone at least once. I chose the chaplain because it didn’t require an appointment. Despite saying multiple times that I wasn’t religious in anyway he kept preaching about heaven to me so I left. Lastly and I’m sorry to making this so long: The reason that certain service members would rather go to the chaplain than a mental health professional is because many service members have security clearances which are not threatened when you talk to a chaplain but the mental health professional can request your clearance be pulled and that you’re discharged from the military. I’ve personally seen it happen. Many service member don’t want to take that chance.

  29. debbaasseerr says

    @25 – So on the one hand you have your narrow, outdated definition of what a chaplain is, and in addition to that, you have the false beliefs people who call atheism a religion.

    On the OTHER hand, are the near 1 in 4 people in the military who currently have no access to anything like non-religious chaplains, could have been given that resource, and now won’t get it.

    And you call that a good thing – you give more weight to your shitty definition and than to the people who would have potentially benefited.

  30. navalatheos says

    Like davideriksen said, talking to a chaplain can be intimidating to a young enlisted person. First and foremost, your training and oath to obey those appointed over you can put you in a very compromising position. The chaplains are all officers. When directly addressed, some become conflicted and will respond with an answer that is expected of them, not necessarily what they are truly feeling.

    The stigma is true, however, with regards to professional medical help. It is no longer a career killer to see a psychologist or psychiatrist, so we have at least moved beyond that in recent years. But there is a certain level of “loss of confidence” in one who seeks it, as it is construed that you are unable to handle your own problems. The hypocrisy being that if you go to a chaplain for the same issue, this is not the case.

  31. says

    The funny thing is that this would go a long way to support Christian’s claims that atheism and humanism are indeed religions. I say, since we live in a country which endorses religious freedom and equality, that we should provide all religions with access to chaplaincy, including atheism and humanism. At at the same time we expose the lie that it is ok to teach atheism and evolution in public schools because they’re not religious beliefs.

  32. Michael Heath says

    Steve Severance writes:

    The funny thing is that this would go a long way to support Christian’s claims that atheism and humanism are indeed religions.

    A long way? Really? I’d say such rhetoric would be effective only within the conservative Christian tribe, who rely almost wholly on fallacious arguments. Smart, reasonable people can and do effectively handle nuance. Here that would merely require their distinguishing why non-religious military personnel might also want some counselor resources that doesn’t open the door to be smeared in regards to their mental health and competency to do the job.

    Steve Severance writes:

    I say, since we live in a country which endorses religious freedom and equality, that we should provide all religions with access to chaplaincy, including atheism and humanism.

    Atheism and humanism are not religions. Atheism isn’t even an ideology, though humanism is. Atheism instead is a continuum of conclusions regarding the existence of a deistic/theistic god or gods. I.e., from agnosticism given the total lack of evidence for god(s), to those who are convinced no such god(s) exist.

    Steve Severance writes:

    . . . at the same time we expose the lie that it is ok to teach atheism and evolution in public schools because they’re not religious beliefs.

    This is incoherent. “[O]k to teach atheism” seems to be presented by you here as if teaching students facts is a promotion of the thing being taught. At 53 I still recall my elementary school teachers teaching me about Naziism; yet somehow I don’t recall any of my classmates becoming Nazis.

    It’s also incoherent that you argue evolution is a religion, it simply isn’t. It’s instead both an observable fact and a scientific theory with not only little if anything in common with religion, but also a rejection of the primary pillars of religion: denial of observable facts, false claims of objective truth which go unscrutinized, dependence on holy dogma even when falsified, and faith in claims of divine revelations. As opposed to scientific theories, which we hold provisionally given the weight of the evidence, the demonstrated performance of the explanation for that evidence, and the performance of competing hypotheses and notions.

    The fact you falsely assert evolution is religion is compelling evidence your grip on reality is extremely tenuous, i.e., you’re in Glenn Beck, Michele Bachmann, Sarah Palin, Victoria Jackson, Benny Hinn, Pat Robertson territory.

  33. says

    “.e., you’re in Glenn Beck, Michele Bachmann, Sarah Palin, Victoria Jackson, Benny Hinn, Pat Robertson territory.”

    Coming soon, to a multiplex near you, “The Village of the Dimmed’.

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