Magazine article Church & State

U.S. House Votes to Say No to Atheist Chaplains in Foxholes

Magazine article Church & State

U.S. House Votes to Say No to Atheist Chaplains in Foxholes

Article excerpt

The U.S. House of Representatives has passed a bill that reportedly includes a ban on non-religious chaplains in the armed forces, although one critic says the measure is mostly symbolic.

As part of a defense spending bill, the House voted 253-173 on July 23 to include an amendment offered by U.S. Rep. John C. Fleming, (R-La.) that prohibits federal funding of chaplains that have not been endorsed by a qualified religious organization.

"The amendment holds the military to its current standards on endorsing agencies, which must be recognized religious and faith-based organizations," said Fleming's spokesman, Doug Sachtleben, according to Religion News Service (RNS).

The controversy over this issue was fueled in part by an inflammatory report by the Family Research Council (FRC), a Religious Right organization based in Washington, D.C. In the report, FRC claimed erroneously that religious freedom is "under attack" in the military, thanks mostly to an "anti-religious culture on our nation's military services [that has] intensified tremendously during the Obama Administration."

Based on the FRC report and other fallacious claims from the Religious Right and its allies, Congress jumped to attack atheism in the military. But Jason Torpy, president of the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers, noted that Fleming's amendment doesn't actually do much to keep non-theistic chaplains out of the armed forces.

"The language [of the amendment] only requires adherence to the applicable instruction, which in no way restricts chaplains to only those who believe in some higher power," Torpy told RNS. …

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