This week SCA’s executive director Steven Emmert and I attended a briefing for Members of Congress and government affairs staff from secular organizations on the issue of humanist chaplains in the military, or the lack of them. The briefing was organized by our coalition member the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers (MAAF) and their government affairs staff at Secular Strategies.
We heard compelling stories from former military personnel about the active support for Christianity in the services as well as the obstacles faced by anyone who wants to become a humanist chaplain or to simply organize a humanist gathering on a base or a navy vessel. The demand for such gatherings is in some cases extraordinary but most military officials are tolerant at best.
We will continue to support MAAF’s efforts to advocate for the protection of atheists, humanists and nonreligious service members from discrimination in the military, and to ensure they have equal access to the services and support that is available to service members of faith.
I’m keeping an eye on a bill recently introduced by Congressman Dan Bishop, Republican from North Carolina, that in theory supports freedom of speech. The Censorship Accountability Act would allow any federal employee to be sued by someone who thinks that employee’s official actions led to “the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the First Amendment.” It’s a short bill. According to Congressman Bishop the goal here is to protect freedom of speech including social media posts from “the Censorship Industrial Complex.”
First, I’m seeing more and more bills where the solution to some problem is letting people sue other people, like for helping someone get an abortion. The lawyers must be thrilled.
More importantly, the First Amendment covers a lot of ground, including the prohibition on the government supporting “an establishment of religion.” To cite one example of how this could backfire on Congressman Bishop, the Biden Administration approved regulations that say if a faith-based nonprofit such as a food bank is receiving federal funds to provide social services, it can’t proselytize the people it serves. The next Administration might reverse that regulation. It sounds like you could then sue the federal employee responsible for allowing someone to push religion on you at the food bank. The Law of Unintended Consequences says take the time to think your bill through and make sure it does what you want it to, and only what you want it to.
The Member of Congress most likely to give you an accurate account of what’s going on in Congress is one who is retiring. Not pandering to the voters anymore gives you a lot of freedom of speech. You can say things like “A very large portion of my party [the Republicans] really doesn’t believe in the Constitution.” Don’t read this article if you don’t want to be disillusioned.