Wicker leads effort opposing atheist chaplain in the Navy

Published 7:00 am Thursday, March 22, 2018

By Roger Wicker 

Decision Would Directly Challenge Religious Mission of the Chaplain Corps

Even before America became an independent nation, chaplains were valued members of our troops.  The first military chaplains were there when Gen. George Washington led the Continental Army, and tens of thousands of chaplains have followed in their example since.

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Some chaplains have made the ultimate sacrifice, putting their lives on the line for their fellow man.  One particularly famous story involved the 1943 sinking of the U.S.A.T. Dorchester, when four military chaplains – a Methodist minister, Jewish rabbi, Dutch Reformed minister, and Catholic priest – gave their life vests to others, linked arms together, and said prayers as the ship went down.  Congress created a new Chaplain’s Medal for Heroism to honor them posthumously.

This history reminds us of how revered the Chaplain Corps is to our nation and to our troops.  These religious leaders live out the sacred duty of their motto, “For God and country.”

Atheist Application Could Invite Other Non-Religious Applications

You can imagine, then, my disappointment to learn that an application for an atheist chaplain could soon be approved by the Navy.  The Navy Chaplain advisory board has moved the application forward in the process, leaving the possibility of an imminent final approval.  Such a decision would be completely out of step with the Chaplain Corps’s religious mission.  An atheist or “secular humanist” has adopted a worldview defined by the absence of a belief in God. Such a worldview contradicts the purpose of the Chaplain Corps and the service of those in it.

In addition, the Navy’s appointment of an atheist chaplain would counter Department of Defense guidelines. 

The guidelines state that those in a religious ministry profession are “endorsed to represent a religious organization and to conduct its religious observances or ceremonies.”

Beyond the mismatch of atheism and the Chaplain Corps in principle, an atheist chaplain could also fundamentally alter the role of the Corps in practice.  Other “chaplains” with non-religious or philosophical worldviews could petition the military to be included.  These inclusions would erode the specifically religious bedrock that has grounded the Chaplain Corps for 243 years.

My request for the Navy to reject the application of a “secular-humanist” chaplain is in no way an attempt to curb the constitutional rights of any service members.  The Navy has the authority to create separate programs for non-religious expression. 

My effort stems from the need to protect the Chaplain Corps from politically correct inclusions that would erode its very identity.

I am joined in this effort by 22 of my Republican colleagues in the U.S. Senate.  These Senators have signed my letter to Navy leadership opposing the atheist chaplain under consideration.  Like me, they recognize the value that the Chaplain Corps brings to our military and our nation.

The future of the Chaplain Corps and its integrity as a religious organization should not be put at risk by a shortsighted decision from the Navy regarding the application of an atheist chaplain. 

Our military chaplains, representing a variety of faiths, are a reminder that those who serve in our armed forces need not check their religious freedoms when they put on their uniform.