The Navy Chief of Chaplains has denied the application of a candidate who sought to become the first atheist chaplain in the military.
Jason Heap earned degrees from the University of Oxford and of Brite Divinity School at Texas Christian University. He was licensed as a Christian minister, but ended up abandoning his faith and becoming a secular humanist.
In 2013, Heap filed an application to become the Navy’s first humanist chaplain. He told the Los Angeles Times that he wished to provide philosophical and spiritual aid to both faithful and faithless service members.
“As both a humanist and a scholar of religion, I have a deep knowledge and understanding of world religions,” Heap said. “My purpose and focus as a chaplain will be for holistic well-being of anyone who is in need of pastoral care.”
But his application has been rejected by the Navy.
“Due to the highly competitive nature of the board, less than 50 percent of the applicants could be recommended for a commission in the United States Navy,” LCDR Chris Servello said in a statement to Fox News.
Conservative Christians had been outraged by the notion of atheist chaplains. Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA) accused atheists of trying to undermine the chaplaincy, and Rep. Mike Conaway (R-TX) warned that atheist chaplains would tell the parents of dead soldiers that their children were just “worm food.”
House Republicans pushed for legislation to prohibit the Department of Defense from allowing nonbelievers to serve as chaplains.
“By definition, chaplains minister to the spiritual needs of our men and women in the Armed Services, a vital function that an individual without an inclination towards spirituality would not be able to perform,” said Rep. John Fleming (R-LA), who proposed the legislation.
The Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty praised the Navy’s decision to deny Heap’s application.
“Chaplains, historically and by definition, are people of faith,” Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty chief Ron Crews in a statement published Friday. “You can’t have an ‘atheist chaplain’ any more than you can have a ‘tiny giant’ or a ‘poor millionaire.’ Chaplains have been serving military members since 1775 by bringing God to soldiers, sailors, marines, airmen, and members of the Coast Guard. I am grateful that, in this decision, the Navy has honored our long tradition of providing for the spiritual needs of the men and women who serve our nation in the military.”
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