Push for Humanist chaplains in the military

The military has broadened its views quite a bit when it comes to accommodating a wide variety of religions, including the choice of what religious symbols are allowed to be put on tombstones in their cemeteries. Yet when it comes to chaplains, the catch is that atheists, humanists, and other non-believers are not yet fully included because of the requirement that chaplains be endorsed by at least one of about 200 recognized groups, and non-believers (and Wiccans) are not among them. An army chaplain who wanted to change from Pentecostal to Wiccan (his would an interesting story to hear!) lost his position and some other chaplains who have become humanists are fearful of revealing their change for fear of meeting the same fate.

Now the American Humanist Association is urging that it be included in that list so that Humanist chaplains could also be allowed to serve in the military.

An ‘atheist chaplain’ seems like an oxymoron but is not really. Much of a chaplain’s work is not religious but consists of being someone that people can confide in confidentially and get advice and guidance and atheists can need those services as much as anyone. We need to rid the term ‘chaplain’ of its religious overtones because there does not seem to be a good word to replace it.

The need is surely there.

They note that when soldiers seek mental health counseling it is noted in their record and reported up the chain of command. But consultations with chaplains are confidential, making them a safe place to discuss the problems soldiers routinely face — loneliness, fear, anxiety and other personal issues.

There are an estimated 13,000 active duty servicemen and women that identify as atheists or agnostics — more than the number of Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus combined — all of which have their own chaplains. Add to that a significant number — more than 276,000 — who say they have “no religious preference.”

My university recently tried to revamp its chaplaincy structure and as part of that I suggested that a humanist chaplain be included for the same reasons as above. The various types of freethinking students need an identifiable someone to confide in about the many issues that young people face in college. The entire process has however stalled.


  1. priscilla parker says

    And this is why organizations such as the AHA are not taken seriously. Counselors in the military don’t even record sessions with service members (no notes or names are recorded) or dependents so there is nothing to put in their records and the meetings are confidential, meaning no one in the service members Command or unit knows about it unless 1) the member them-selves makes it know or 2) they admit that they are going to physically harm them-selves or someone else or if there is abuse going on, either in the workplace or at home. If they talk to behavior health, their information is kept confidential under HIPPA, it is not reported to their Command. Misconstruing the situation to try and make a case for why humanists should be included in the Chaplaincy isn’t helping their case at all. Fort Bragg supported the idea of a humanist Distinguished Faith Group Leader (DFGL) and the AHA, it was the candidate they took issue with.

    If AHA or any other secular group wants to make any progress with this issue they have to demonstrate the difference between what an Atheist/Secular Humanist and a Christian/Jewish/Buddhist/etc. humanist is. What are the tenets of secular humanism and how do they practice those tenets? The closest thing there is is the Unitarian Church and they are already recognized as an official endorsing agency through the military. There are also Christian Chaplains who are humanists and belong to humanist organizations, same with Jewish and Catholic chaplains, they just aren’t atheist/secular. See the issue.

    According to Military Association of Atheists & Freethinkers, less than 1% of service members identify as atheist/agnostic. Around 22% identify as NO religious preference, that includes humanism. Yet the false claim is made to try and make atheist/sec. humanists look greater than they are to justify a humanist Chaplain. Another reason why they are not taken seriously.

    Why should the military or any organization for that matter, work with organizations that aren’t working with them? Look at the lies that have been spread, mostly throughout the atheist/secular community, about this issue and confront that first. I fully support the idea of Secular Humanist DFGL’s but unfortunately it’s the behavior of these organizations and the atheist community that is hinder progress.

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