International humanist congress advocates for humanist chaplains

HRH The Crown Prince of Norway addresses the IHEU World Congress

Delegates to the International Humanist & Ethical Union World Congress recently adopted a resolution in support of humanist chaplains for military service.  The World Congress was held in mid-August in Oslo, Norway and featured local and state Humanist organizations from around the world, including the Military Association of Atheists & Freethinkers.  Their purpose was to come together to discuss global issues, shape the direction of humanism as a global movement, and to focus on the key theme of the congress:  Peace.

Military chaplains from the Dutch Humanist Association initiated action for a resolution in support of military chaplains. The Military Association of Atheists & Freethinkers represented the US perspective and provided key structuring and wording for the resolution.  In conjunction with the IHEU resolutions committee delegates from the US, Norway, the Netherlands, and the UK (UK Armed Forces Humanist Association) co-sponsored the chaplain resolution.  The final text identified the importance of equal treatment by chaplains of “non-religious” personnel and equal opportunity in chaplain hiring (humanist chaplains).  The resolution also accounted for international differences, in particular that the terms chaplain and counselor are sometimes used interchangeably in English-speaking countries. The term “non-religious” was the generally-preferred IHEU term for atheists, humanists, and other nontheists. This wasn’t intended to exclude the American Ethical Union, Society for Humanistic Judaism, or other nontheistic humanists that use the term religion. It also wasn’t intended to convey a different concept than the more specific “nontheistic” term. In international discussions, the term non-religious is generally preferred to atheist, humanist, nontheistic, or other terms that might be used in the US. It is hoped that this international resolution will provide for greater legitimacy and acceptance of humanist chaplaincy within the US as well as the general effort of the Military Association of Atheists & Freethinkers in reforming the character of the US military, its chaplains, and its chaplain policies.

The full text is below:

Resolution on the pastoral support of non-religious military personnel

The 2011 World Humanist Congress, gathered in Oslo, Norway, on 12-14 August 2011 adopts the following resolution on the pastoral support of non-religious military personnel.

The 2011 World Humanist Congress notes that:

1. Military chaplains and counsellors can play an important part in the moral and emotional support of military personnel.

2. Some countries such as the Netherlands and Belgium have Humanist counsellors working alongside religious chaplains to support non-religious personnel. In many other countries military personnel, veterans, and their families have religious chaplains available to support them but no analogous Humanist counsellors available to support the non-religious; elsewhere, counsellors or chaplains are employed by the military in order to support all personnel but the opportunity to apply for these jobs is limited to applicants either of only certain religions or of only one religion.

3. Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights guarantees every human being ‘the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.’

The 2011 World Humanist Congress believes that:

1. Where religious military chaplains are provided, but analogous support from Humanist equivalents is not, states are not respecting the human rights of non-religious personnel.

2. Where military chaplains have a duty to provide referrals or other services to religious personnel not sharing their religion or belief, but no analogous duty to refer or provide services to non-religious personnel exists, states are not respecting the human rights of non-religious personnel.

3. Where counsellors or chaplains are employed by the military in order to support all personnel, regardless of religion or belief, but the opportunity to apply for these jobs is limited to people of one particular religion or a number of particular religions, states are not respecting principles of equal treatment.

In consequence of which:

1. We call upon states that provide support for religious personnel, veterans, and their families through the provision of chaplains to make Humanist equivalents available to non-religious personnel, veterans, and their families.

2. We call upon states that provide counsellors or chaplains to support all personnel, regardless of religion or belief, but that limit the opportunity to apply for these jobs to religious applicants, to end such restrictions and open all such roles to all qualified people.

3. We urge national Humanist groups to seek ways that they can ensure that non-religious service personnel are not discriminated against in their national armed forces and that all service personnel have full enjoyment of their guaranteed human rights.

The military was a key topic of conversation, especially considering the theme of the conference was “Humanism and Peace.” There were several speakers in attendance promoting a more pacifistic view of humanism.  Two of the primary advocates for pacifism, Richard Norman and Pierre Roy both gave well-received talks with a strong pacifist stance. Neither explicitly disavowed humanist service in the military or international military action for humanitarian reasons. The Congress passed a resolution on Peace that reflects this general consensus that peace should be supported, promoted, and enforced through diplomatic means to avoid the horrors of war. The resolution recognizes that peace on a personal level is fundamental to peace on an international level. Proliferation of arms by governments and poverty are identified as the two primary detractors to peace. The resolution does not however assert that humanists should not serve, that militaries should be dismantled altogether, or that international action should never include a military component.

The third and final resolution passed by the Congress was a resolution against Corruption by governments and multinational corporations. The resolution was put forth by Peter Eigen of who also gave a talk in general session. The resolution on transparency encourages transparency in government and international dealings as the best path to accountability and reform. Mr Eigen provided a specific example of the bribery expected by officials of many governments. He suggested that these bribes be published to avoid waste, misunderstandings, and discrimination. Bribes are not inherently bad so long as they are public; a public bribe is more of a fee although it does inure to the individual rather than the agency. The resolution called directly on the UN to create a working group on corruption that would focus on more detailed international law regarding bribery and other corrupt practices.

2 Responses to International humanist congress advocates for humanist chaplains

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