Secular group wants humanist chaplain for the U.S. Navy

No branches of the military have nontheistic chaplains.

U.S. Navy Petty Officers, Washington, D.C. (April 27, 2006)U.S. Navy

A secular advocacy organization asked the U.S. Navy in a June 10 letter to reconsider hiring Jason Heap—a humanist—as chaplain.

Openly Secular wrote to the U.S. Navy's Chaplain Chief, Rear Adm. Mark Tidd, describing the duties that chaplains fulfill outside of spiritual advisement.

"[Military chaplains] handle moral and ethical dilemmas, and enhance morale and unit cohesion," the group's chairman, Todd Stiefel wrote.

"If a service member needs bereavement leave to attend a funeral of a loved one at home, the chaplain is the point of contact.

"Nonreligious service members face the same questions about life and death, fear and loss as any other person in the military."


Openly Secular is an umbrella organization that draws attention to issues that atheists, humanists, and other nontheistic persons face.

The U.S. Navy declined to specify why Heap's application was denied.

The 39-year-old was a minister in various Methodist and Baptist churches in the United States before becoming a humanist and moving to Europe. He has a Master's degree in religious history from Oxford University, and teaches religion in schools across Europe.

Heap, who has never served in the military, expressed sadness in his application rejection.

"I am exceptionally disappointed and aggrieved by the Navy's initial rejection of my application," he wrote in a statement. "I will continue to seek acceptance. I hope military leaders will open their hearts to humanists."

Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty Executive Director Ron Crews applauded the Navy's decision to reject a humanist applicant for the chaplain position.

"Chaplains, historically and by definition, are people of faith," Crews said in a statement.

"You can't have an 'atheist chaplain' any more than you can have a 'tiny giant' or a 'poor millionaire.' . . . I am grateful that, in this decision, the Navy has honored our long tradition of providing for the spiritual needs of the men and women who serve our nation in the military."

More News in Society