For Atheists-Humanists, a Loss That's a Win

Though it didn’t make many headlines, a legislative showdown on Capitol Hill last week can be seen as the latest development in the so-called culture wars.  On the surface it would appear that this particular battle was won by religious conservatives, but a closer look shows otherwise.

The legislation in question would have allowed nonreligious chaplains in the military, a proposal that sponsor Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) said was designed to serve the large segment of America’s military (almost 25%) that is nonreligious. Currently, chaplains must be appointed by religious organizations such as the Catholic Church, but Polis said this unnecessarily excludes those who are "secular humanists and ethical culturists or atheists" and that nonreligious chaplains are needed to support the "brave (nonreligious) men and women who serve in the military."

Some have suggested that secular military personnel in need of chaplain services should opt instead for secular counseling services, but Polis pointed out that the chaplaincy option has definite advantages. “When someone (in the military) sees a psychologist, psychiatrist, or counselor, it has a certain stigma that can be attached to it that doesn’t exists when you’re seeing a chaplain,” he said. “It doesn’t enjoy the same confidentiality that a chaplain visit does.”

The Polis bill was defeated, 150-274, with every House Republican voting against it. This may seem like a defeat for seculars, but such a view would be shortsighted. The fact that a bill specifically recognizing and benefiting atheists-humanists was put forward at all, and then garnered the support of 150 members of Congress, is itself significant, something that would have been highly unlikely just a few years ago, and it demonstrates the progress that the secular movement has made.

Continue reading at Psychology Today.

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