In a move that is sure to make heads explode all over the religious right, the Navy has appointed Chief Petty Officer Martin Healey as the first atheist lay leader in the military.
The concept is not a new one. Several years ago, Capt. (now Major) Ryan Jean applied to the Army to become a Humanist Lay Leader and was rejected because a military lay leader must be a member of a recognized religion and humanism does not qualify as such.
Jean was inspired to attempt to create the position after he answered questions on an Army psychological evaluation honestly and as a result, found himself being referred to the base chaplain who berated him for his lack of a belief in God.
“He basically told me that if I don’t get right with God, then I’m worthless,” said Jean, an officer at Fort Meade. “That if I don’t believe in Jesus, why am I in uniform, because this is God’s army, and that I should resign my commission in order to stop disgracing the military.”
It wasn’t just the military and its chaplains who objected to allowing atheist lay leaders, Congress got into the act as well. In June of 2013 Rep. Rob Andrews (D-NJ) proposed an amendment to the 2014 NDAA that would authorize Humanist, ethical culturalist, or atheist chaplains in the military:
“The Secretary of Defense shall provide for the appointment, as officers in the Chaplain Corps of the Armed Forces, of persons who are certified or ordained by non-theistic organizations and institutions, such as humanist, ethical culturalist, or atheist.”
Of course, Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee objected strenuously saying that a secular humanist chaplain would make a mockery of the chaplaincy and denigrate religious soldiers and their families.
Nothing could be further from the truth. These lay leaders would serve not religious soldiers, but those who are non-religious. It also ignores the denigration of those non-religious soldiers by religious lay leaders and chaplains.
CPO Healey serves on the USS Makin Island and has already held a meeting with 5 other atheist members of the crew where they discussed their beliefs and the history of atheism.
“I would compare it to if a Methodist, Baptist, Lutheran, Mormon and a Catholic were to sit down together, they too would have differences. The discussions are thoughtful and professional and have really helped some of our younger Sailors find their own way,” said one of the participants.
Paul Loebe of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation praised the move and he and the MRFF are providing guidance and support to Healey and his group. In a statement, the MRFF said:
“It’s time to set aside semantic barriers and recognize that many military personnel are good without a god.”
h/t: World Religion News