Nontheists Urge House Committee to Support Nontheist Military Chaplains

WASHINGTON, D.C.—The Secular Coalition for America today urged members of the House Armed Services Committee to vote in favor of an amendment that would allow nontheistic chaplains in the in the Chaplain Corps of the Armed Forces.

The amendment to H.R. 1960—which would fund the military for fiscal year 2014—is crucial to the roughly 23 percent of men and women in the armed services who are religiously unaffiliated “nones” or atheists. The official amendment language has not yet been made available, but is expected to be voted on Wednesday.

“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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