WASHINGTON — There are no atheists in foxholes, the saying goes. Republicans in Congress don’t want them in the military chaplain corps, either.
That’s after New Jersey Democratic Rep. Rob Andrews offered an amendment to the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act Wednesday that would allow humanists or members of ethical culture groups to join the chaplain corps. Andrews’ idea was to help members of the military who don’t believe in God, but want someone to talk to about problems without having to seek a medical professional.
But Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee objected mightily, saying that atheists can’t offer spiritual counseling and would likely offend dying soldiers or their families.
“They don’t believe anything,” said Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas) “I can’t imagine an atheist accompanying a notification team as they go into some family’s home to let them have the worst news of their life and this guy says, ‘You know, that’s it — your son’s just worms, I mean, worm food.’”
“This I think would make a mockery of the chaplaincy,” said Rep. John Fleming (R-La.). “The last thing in the world we would want to see was a young soldier who may be dying and they’re at a field hospital and the chaplain is standing over that person saying to them, ‘If you die here, there is no hope for you in the future.’”
Rep. Adam Smith (Wash.), the top Democrat on the committee, responded that atheists and humanists do in fact have strong belief systems that they value just as much as Christians value theirs. And he pointed out that there are many atheists in the military, famously the late NFL star Pat Tillman, who died in friendly fire in Afghanistan.
“To say that an atheist or a humanist doesn’t believe anything is just ignorant,” said Smith. “The response to the gentleman’s amendment makes me feel all the more the necessity of it.”
The amendment appeared to lack the votes needed to pass on the GOP-majority committee.
Watch the exchange above.
Michael McAuliff covers Congress and politics for The Huffington Post. Talk to him on Facebook.