Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Cong. Republicans Twice Reject Amendment to End Chaplain Support Discrimination


In June, the House Armed Services Committee and the US House of Representatives both rejected efforts to provide military chaplain support for non-religious military servicemembers in its debate and passage of the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act.

According to the Military Leadership Diversity Commission, 23% of US military members identify as atheist or non-theistic. Yet all US military chaplains have to be associated with a particular religious sect in order to qualify as chaplains. Atheists and nontheists do not have representation in the military chaplaincy.

On the other end of the spectrum, the same source identified above, Christian Evangelicals make up almost 2/3 of the Chaplain Corps across all of the military branches. Yet less than 20% of military servicemembers consider themselves as Christian Evangelicals.

Aside from the obvious issue of Congress and the US military clearly violating both Article VI, paragraph 3 and the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment in its establishment of a religious requirement for chaplains, it would also seem obvious that if chaplains provide important support to members of their own faith in the military, then the 23% of servicemembers that profess no religious beliefs are being denied such support by not having their own chaplains.  With these statistics, an amendment to the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act was made last month during deliberations in the House Armed Services Committee, chaired by local Congressman “Buck” McKeon (R-CA25CD), to allow humanist, ethical culturist, or atheist chaplains be accepted to the military chaplaincy program.

The amendment was overwhelmingly voted down by the majority Republicans on the Committee. Several of those Representatives mocked and ridiculed the amendment as well as the nontheistic, claiming that atheist chaplains would be incapable of offering solace and compassion to servicemembers because they “don’t believe [in] anything”.

Despite the defeat, the amendment was raised again as the bill was being considered on the House floor as H. Amdt. 169, introduced by Colorado Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO2CD). Again, Congressional Republicans mocked and ridiculed the amendment and overwhelmingly voted against it before passing the final Defense budget bill in mid-June.

10 JULY UPDATE: In addition to the rejection of the above amendment, it appears that HASC Chair Rep. McKeon clandestinely accepted an amendment to the NDAA bill from Rep. John Fleming of Lousiana (R-LA4CD) to actually prohibit military leaders from restraining or limiting religious proselytization by US servicemembers or their chaplains in any way! This amendment was buried and combined by Chairman McKeon with 19 other amendments and introduced as H. Amdt. 146, passed on the floor of the House by voice vote.  (This insertion would have gone unnoticed if Rep. Fleming had not held a public rally on 9 July to boast about his successful efforts in inserting his amendment into the bill to turn the US military into a theocratic institution.)

This amendment has been included in both the House and Senate versions of the NDAA bill, despite President Obama's objections as to its constitutionality.  It is likely to be included in the final version passed by Congress if constituents do not contact their representatives to speak out about this blatant abuse of religious privileging in our military.

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