The U.S. Navy is considering allowing atheists into the Chaplain Corps, a move that even the Obama administration opposed and that Christian conservatives say would squander precious resources and open the corps to almost anything in the years ahead.
“I do think it would be really deleterious,” said Family Research Council Senior Fellow Chris Gacek.
This is not the first round of this fight. In 2015, Jason Heap filed suit to become a Navy chaplain after the Defense Department rejected his request because he sought to affiliate with a pair of humanist groups instead of a religious denomination. The Obama administration fought Heap’s lawsuit and won but Heap is making the push again.
This time, the U.S. Navy seems more open to the idea.
“The Defense Department won all the cases against Jason Heap so you would think that they would leave well enough alone and, therefore, there wouldn’t be a problem in the future. But there is a board called the Chaplain Appointment and Retention Eligibility Advisory Group that is recommending that the Navy accept him as a chaplain.
“So even though he couldn’t get it through the courts or through other processes, there’s another group of faceless bureaucrats that have an agenda and are trying to push it through,” said Gacek.
Gacek argues that if the Navy allows an atheist chaplain there’s no telling where that decision could lead.
“What’s the limit? There’s no reason to think it would just be stuck at one or that you wouldn’t have more of them or all sorts of people coming in here who are just basically yoga instructors,” said Gacek.
“It’s like saying the pastors and priests division has to accept atheists. A does not equal B here. It’s like having square wheels or something. It’s kind of hard to imagine you even have to have this debate.
“It’s important I think to maintain the integrity of the institution. We’ve had chaplains since 1775, when George Washington himself had Congress establish the chaplains,” said Gacek.
While the Navy considers and possibly advances this idea, Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., 22 other senators and 40 House members are pushing back. Gacek says that pressure and possible appropriations riders on funding could force the Navy’s hand on this.
Gacek says he’s surprised this idea has any oxygen at all in a Republican administration.
“If you had a sensible Secretary of Defense and they were in charge of these things, this would be taken care of. It’s sort of amazing that this is happening in the Trump administration,” said Gacek.
In addition to pointing out the logical inconsistency of an atheist chaplain, Gacek says scarce resources for the Chaplain Corps would stretched even thinner for those identifying with a specific faith or denomination. He says those chaplains are vital in ministering to people far from home.
The Chaplain Corps is already strained. Gacek says eight years of Obama’s cultural agenda took a heavy toll.
“In the Obama administration, you had certain social agendas being pushed. There were people who wouldn’t accede to the idea of same-sex marriage. I can imagine it’s only getting worse with all these new gender categories they’re trying to cram down everybody’s throat.
“Since the Bible has a set idea about sex, there being only two of them, and there being only two genders, this isn’t really going to fly for a lot of people,” said Gacek.