Secular Americans Applaud 173 U.S. Reps, Stood Up to Anti-Humanist Chaplain Amendment

WASHINGTON, DC-The Secular Coalition for America today applauded the 173 Members of Congress that voted against an amendment to the defense appropriations bill that would "Prevent funds from being used to appoint chaplains without an endorsing agency." 

Amendment 35 to H.R. 2397-aimed at nontheists, who have been working toward establishing a Humanist chaplain for military service members-would also unfairly impact those of other nontheistic religions, such as Buddhists. Twenty three percent of the military does not identify with any religion.

Secular Coalition Executive Director, Edwina Rogers said, although the amendment passed in a 253 to 173 vote, in the span of only weeks an additional 23 representatives voted in favor of nontheist rights. In June, Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) introduced an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that would have allowed nontheistic chaplains in the U.S. Armed Forces. The amendment was voted down in a 150-274 vote.

"The vote yesterday demonstrates a fast-growing consensus in recognizing not only the importance of Humanist chaplains but equal rights for all military members regardless of religious beliefs," Rogers said. "Our service men and women put their lives on the line to protect our rights as Americans, including our rights to believe or not to believe. The least we can do is ensure all service members receive equal treatment."

On the House floor prior to the vote, Rep. Polis said he believes " there is a basic misunderstanding here about the needs of people who lack a particular [faith] tradition" and noted "it's only fair to have their humanism, or outlooks, represented."

 "Almost a quarter of men and women in the armed services either have no religion or are non-believers, yet there are currently no chaplains representative of this community," Rep. Polis said. "I am proud to have worked with Representative Andrews to ensure bipartisan opposition to a harmful amendment proposed by Representative Fleming, which would limit the military's ability to hire humanist chaplains to serve the needs of our men and women in the armed forces."

The Secular Coalition was instrumental in working with Rep. Polis to draft the Humanist chaplain amendment he sponsored in June, and also with Rep. Robert Andrews (D-NJ) who introduced the same amendment in the House Armed Services Committee.  Both Rep. Polis and Andrews spoke against amendment 35.

Rogers reiterated the importance of Humanist chaplains for military members.

"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.

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. Statistically there are three Jewish chaplains for every Jewish service member.

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

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