Atheist Group Educates Congress about Humanist Chaplains in the Military

Today the American Humanist Association hosted a congressional briefing to educate U.S. Representatives and their staff members on the growing number of nontheistic soldiers in the military and the crucial need for a humanist chaplain to be included in the armed services.

Expert speakers at the event included Jason Torpy, president of the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers and board treasurer of the American Humanist Association; Rev. Stephen Boyd, a retired colonel and military chaplain from the United Church of Christ; and Major Ryan Jean, an active service member and humanist.

“We are focusing on humanism and the positive beliefs it encompasses to ensure chaplains can provide for theists as well as nontheists,” said Jason Torpy. “We need a chaplaincy that is willing and able to support nontheistic belief.”

Stated Major Ryan Jean, “I am living proof that there is an active population of humanists in the service now. The chaplaincy corps’ purpose is to facilitate the free exercise of all military members.”  

With over 13,000 active duty personnel identifying as atheists or agnostics, nontheist soldiers outnumber all non-Christian faiths in the military. Over 276,000 service members also identify as having no religious preference. Despite the growing number of nontheists in the military, all applications for humanist chaplains have so far been rejected.

“It is imperative that Congress address the unmet needs of humanist soldiers, who endure the stresses of combat and sacrifice so much for their country,” said Maggie Ardiente, director of communications for the American Humanist Association and moderator for the briefing. “These service members would benefit greatly from the confidential guidance and comfort provided by a chaplain who understands humanism and shares their belief.”

Last year, Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) introduced an amendment that would have required the military to provide for the needs of humanist soldiers by allowing for the appointment of humanist chaplains. However, the measure failed to pass. Speakers at the briefing educated staffers about humanist chaplains and the amendment so that if similar legislation is introduced in the future, Congress would be more likely to support its passage.

More information about the American Humanist Association’s network of humanist chaplaincies can be found here.