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Humanist Sues To Become An Irreligious Chaplain In The Navy

The Navy has recently rejected the application of Jason Heap to become an atheist chaplain without explanation, but that hasn’t stopped Heap from filing a lawsuit in response, Stars and Stripes reports.

Former youth minister Jason Heap holds degrees from Texas Christian University and Oxford University and sent in his application in the summer of 2013 to become a chaplain, but Navy officials were in for a surprise when they realized that Heap intends to occupy the position of chaplain while rejecting religion. Heap claims he was originally encouraged by Navy recruiters to apply, but when the Navy learned that he was endorsed by the Humanist Society, all contact ceased.

Heap intends to use the position of chaplain to espouse his belief in goodness, even in the absence of God’s existence or any other underlying religious principles.

“The notion of an atheist chaplain is nonsensical; it’s an oxymoron,” said Republican Rep. John Fleming of Louisiana, who sponsored an amendment to reject outright chaplains who are irreligious.

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Virginia, alleges that 3.6 percent of the military identifies as humanists, and states that the absence of a humanist chaplain impairs their ability to properly exercise their religious rights. Heap is asking for the Humanist Society to be listed as the official agent for humanist chaplains and to be instated as a chaplain immediately. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and others in the Defense Department and Navy are listed as defendants in the suit.

But with Republicans now in control of the Senate, the hope for advocates of exclusively religious chaplains is that the National Defense Authorization Act will be amended to keep chaplains religious.

“Historically, that word has meant someone who represents a spiritual, faith-based denomination and/or religious group, who provides ministry from a faith-based perspective to members of the armed forces,” Ron Crews, executive director of Chaplains Alliance for Religious Liberty said. “That’s what chaplains have done since our founding in 1775. A humanist does not meet the criteria.”

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