Navy Approves Atheist Lay Leader

allmiIn a great leap forward for diversity of belief, commanders on the USS Makin Island have approved an Atheist Lay Leader. Chief Petty Officer Martin Healey completed lay leader training, got assistance and an endorsement by way of Paul Loebe of American Atheists, and was approved.

The lay leader convened a meeting of 5 others on the vessel and members discussed their atheist principles and history. The group has convened as an atheist group, so they express a common world view but sometimes different values, like a general Protestant service. One member said, “I would compare it to if a Methodist, Baptist, Lutheran, Mormon and a Catholic were to sit down together, they too would have differences. The discussions are thoughtful and professional and have really helped some of our younger Sailors find their own way.” They plan to watch an episode of Cosmos next week and continue to discuss their values within the context of their shared atheist world view. Upon request from CTTC Healey, MAAF has shared curriculum ideas that have been used by others throughout the international network of local military atheist and humanist groups.

Major Ryan Jean has been denied similar lay leader recognition from the Army for over two years. Hopefully this new precedent and the recent recognition of Humanist by the Army will change policy. Major Jean, speaking only from his personal experience and not on behalf of any government agency, had this to say: “Recognition of CTTC Healey as a lay leader, whether under the banner of atheism or humanism, represents a positive step forward for the Navy. It remains to be seen whether that respect and inclusiveness will be honored by the other services… Every service has values that they hold dear; it’s well past time they started living up to them when it comes to the equal and unbiased treatment of non-religious service members.”

The Military Association of Atheists & Freethinkers and the Humanist Society have sponsored lay leaders for endorsement in all branches, in addition to a still-open candidacy for Humanist Chaplain Jason Heap. A few groups have been recognized to various extents, but chaplains have declined to approve requests for recognition at many locations including Ft Bragg, Ft Meade, the Air Force Academy, Air Force Basic Training at Lackland, and even on the USS Makin Island in 2012. However, the local leaders have been successful in working around chaplain opposition, and there are local groups and points of contact around the world.

In support of Healey’s application, Loebe referenced the 2014 publication of Department of Defense Instruction 1300.17 on Religious Accommodation which states in part: “The DoD places a high value on the rights of members of the Military Services to observe the tenets of their respective religions or to observe no religion at all.” The Instruction continues with the requirement that requests for accommodation “will” be approved so long as there is not a compelling reason for denial and denial will only be carried about by the “least restrictive means.” This Instruction may be the justification military leaders need to open their hearts to atheists, humanists, and other nontheists. It’s time to set aside semantic barriers and recognize that many military personnel are good without a god and that they’ll be better with equal accommodation. That means chaplain services, lay leaders, and Humanist chaplains, not just the right to sit in a corner alone while others pray.

Other potential lay leaders seeking recognition

MAAF Network – Other potential lay leaders seeking recognition