Jason Heap has been denied the opportunity to join the Chaplain Corps. Despite receiving a recommendation from the Navy Chaplain Appointment and Retention Eligibility Advisory Board, the Navy rejected the application amid strong pushback from congressional Republicans. In early March, the United States Navy received a letter written by Senator Roger Wicker (RMS) and 22 other Senators voicing their opinions on the matter.
In a statement, the U.S. Navy wrote: “The appointment of an atheist to an undeniably religious position is fundamentally incompatible with atheism’s secularism. This decision preserves the distinct role that our chaplains carry out.” According to U.S. Military guidelines, a chaplain must be a religious professional in order to serve as a chaplain. Following the announcement, Senator Wicker issued a statement regarding the idea that the secular humanist worldview contradicts the purpose of the Chaplain Corps.
However, the United States Navy’s website cites the requirements of a Navy Chaplain: the individual must hold a bachelor’s degree, a graduate degree in theological studies from an accredited educational institution, and two years of full-time religious leadership experience. Jason Heap has the necessary experience and applied in order to provide counseling services to non-religious members of the U.S. Armed forces.
In his statement, Wicker refers to Heap as an atheist applying for a religious position; Heap, however, is a Humanist—an important distinction. In 2017, the Department of Defense added Humanism to its list of “Faith and Belief” groups, which should have made the case for Heap’s inclusion in the chaplaincy even stronger.
This rejection hurts the growing number of non-religious members of the Navy, who will continue to see religious chaplains to meet their personal and emotional needs.