House Refuses to Fund ‘Atheist Chaplains’ at Defense Department

Shannon Quick | July 25, 2013 | 5:49pm EDT
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Rep. John Fleming (R-La.)

( – House members voted Tuesday to bar the use of federal funds to hire “atheist chaplains” at the Department of Defense after Rep. John Fleming (R-La.) reminded his colleagues that the concept didn’t make any sense.

“It’s just total nonsense, the idea of having a chaplain who is an atheist,” Fleming told fellow House members. “When it comes to the idea of an atheist chaplain, which is an oxymoron – it’s self-contradictory – what you’re really doing is now saying that we’re going to replace the true chaplains with non-chaplain chaplains.”

Speaking about the current DOD rules for chaplains on the House floor, Fleming said“Chaplains must possess appropriate education credentials, two years of religious leadership experience, and more importantly, must receive an endorsement from a qualified religious organization attesting to the tenants of the endorser’s faith…In June this body twice affirmed that the military is not permitted to appoint atheist chaplains.”

The House voted Tuesday to approve Fleming’s amendment to the 2014 DOD Appropriations Act  (See H.R. 2397.pdf) which he said was an effort to “…define what a chaplain is. A chaplain is a minister of the faith -- someone who believes in a deity of a spiritual life who is assigned to a secular organization.”

The amendment passed with 227 Republicans and 26 Democrats voting in favor of passage.

Fleming introduced the amendment in response to an earlier proposal by Rep. Rob Andrews (D–NJ) that stated: “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.”

“Basically, the standard is to be recognized as a church by the Internal Revenue Service,” Jason Torpy, president of the Military Association of Atheists and Free Thinkers explained.

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