Nontheists Applaud 150 U.S. Reps for Votes on Nontheistic Military Chaplains

Washington, DC--The Secular Coalition for America today applauded the 150 member of Congress who voted in support of an amendment to allow nontheistic chaplains in the U.S. Armed Forces.  The amendment, which was voted on today by the full House was sponsored by Congressman Jared Polis (D-CO).

Polis' amendment was defeated today in a 150-274 vote. All House Republicans voted against it, as did 44 Democrats.

Secular Coalition for America Executive Director, Edwina Rogers said that while nontheists still have a long way to go in issues of full equality, the community is continuing to make significant inroads.

“We are thankful to allof the Congress members who voted in support of nontheist military chaplains, especially Rep. Polis and Andrews, who sponsored the amendments,” said Rogers. “Despite that the amendment failed, we were heartened to see that a full third of the House voted in support—and are pleased that our issues are being more widely supported and are being seriously addressed.”

Rep. Polis offered his amendment to the full House today after a similar amendment, sponsored by Rep. Robert Andrews (D-NJ) to allow nontheistic chaplains in the U.S. Armed Forces was defeated last week in the House Armed Services Committee in a 43-18 vote.

Andrews’ sponsored the amendment at the Secular Coalition’s suggestion and helped the representative’s office draft the bill.

“Chaplains for nontheistic military service members are absolutely crucial for so many men and women who are serving our country,” said Edwina Rogers, executive director of the Secular Coalition for America. “Religious chaplains are ill equipped to handle the problems of nontheistic service members and unfortunately, seeking psychiatric help can stigmatize a service member for the rest of their career.”

Atheists and the “nones” in the military face the same emotional and ethical challenges that the chaplaincy program exists to mollify. Nontheists deal with the same questions about life and death, and fear, and loss the same as a religious individual, and can benefit from discussing such topics with a chaplain who understands their perspective the same as a religious individual can.

Military psychiatrists and counselors are an inadequate substitution for chaplains:

  • Information discussed in sessions with a counselor or a psychiatrist can be shared with military personnel and possibly harm a service member’s future military career.
  • The chaplain patient relationship enjoys more confidentiality then the psychiatrist or counselor relationship does.
  • Studies indicate that service men and women fail to seek help from psychiatrists and counselors because of the stigma that doing so makes them weak.
  • There is no stigma attached to seeking counsel from a chaplain.

The religious make-up of the military chaplaincy is drastically different then the religious demographics of the military. Although only 18 percent of all Department of Defense personnel are evangelistic, nearly 63 percent of all chaplains are evangelistic. Additionally, the proportion of Jewish chaplains in the military is over three times the proportion of Jewish member of the military.

While atheists outnumber Hindus, Muslims and Jews in the armed services, all of whom have chaplains for their respected religions, atheists do not have a single chaplain.  

 “Military members sacrifice for all Americans—they fight of all of us regardless of our personal religious beliefs or lack thereof,” Rogers said. “So why then should they be discriminated against on the basis of their beliefs? All they are asking for are the same accommodations made to other service members and they absolutely deserve it.”

 

CONTACT: Lauren Anderson Youngblood, SCA Communications Manager at [email protected] or (202)299-1091 ext. 205, cell (202)630-9725

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