U.S.

Congress Bars ‘Atheist’ From Serving As Navy Chaplain

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U.S. Navy Chaplin Gordon Klingenschmitt holds his Bible as he prays on the 19th and final day of his hunger strike in front of the White House on January 7, 2006, in Washington, D.C. Joshua Roberts/Getty Images

The Navy appeared on its way to accepting a non-theist as its chaplain—until Congress stepped in.

A Navy board determined that Jason Heap, a secular “humanist” who does not believe in a god and is widely considered an atheist, was qualified for the chaplain corps, the Navy Times reported on Monday. Heap’s credentials include a theological history degree from Oxford University and a master’s degree in divinity from Texas Christian University.

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But when lawmakers got wind that Heap’s application had advanced, they acted to get it rejected. Forty-five Republican representatives signed a March 9 letter to the chief of naval personnel stating, “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.”

Three days later, 22 senators sent a letter of similar sentiment to the secretary of the Navy and the chief of naval operations.

Heap was denied the chaplain position for the second time. After his first application was denied in 2013, Heap sued the Navy for discrimination, but not much has changed.

Jason Torpy, president of the Military Association of Atheists & Freethinkers, said in an email to Newsweek on Wednesday that Heap was “not available for interviews.”

Navy spokesman Lieutenant Ben Anderson told the Navy Times the sea service could not disclose details on Heap’s application “due to Privacy Act restrictions.”

Secular Coalition for America spokesman Casey Brescia said members of Congress “needlessly inserted themselves and took extraordinary steps to halt the confirmation of what would have been the military’s first humanist chaplain.”

“It is absolutely reprehensible that members of Congress would expend so much energy just to ensure that non-theist service members, wearing the uniform of the United States Navy, are denied access to a humanist chaplain,” he told the Navy Times.

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