Rep. Robert Andrews on Friday (D-NJ) implored his fellow lawmakers to support an amendment to the annual defense spending bill that would allow nontheistic chaplains in the U.S. Armed Forces.
"Nothing in this amendment in any way impairs the relationship between a Christian or Jewish or other soldier or service member and his or her faith leader," Andrews, an Episcopalian, said on the House floor. "Nothing."
Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) offered the amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act of 2014. The amendment would have allowed humanists and other nonbelievers join the Chaplain Corps. Polis noted that Buddhists were already allowed to become chaplains, though Buddhism was generally considered a nontheistic religion.
"What this amendment does is to show respect to the choices made by our service members," Andrews continued. "My Christianity is an important part of who I am and how I see my life. I don't think that same right should be denied to a service member who does not share my beliefs. What this amendment says is for the thousands of service members who choose a humanist or atheistic philosophy system of life, that they should be able to confide in an adviser who is not a mental health professional."
Both Polis and Andrews argued it was unfair that nonbelievers in need of spiritual or philosophical advice were forced to visit psychiatrists or psychologists, while believers could seek out a chaplain who represented their faith.
"Going to a mental health professional is a choice that is laden with risk and some controversy for a member of the service," Andrews explained. "Going to a faith adviser is not. Depriving those who share the view Mr. Polis outlined of the chance to go to such an adviser is unequal treatment -- it is unworthy of the way we operate. Nothing in this amendment disrupts the chaplain corps, but everything in this amendment respects the rights of our service members."
Republican lawmakers, however, balked at the notion of atheist chaplains. They argued it was absurd for an irreligious person to be given an overtly religious position. The amendment was defeated in a 150-274 vote.
Watch video, courtesy of CSPAN, below: