SHJ Endorses Humanist Chaplains in the Military and Beyond

SHJ Endorses Humanist Chaplains in the Military and Beyond


Farmington Hills, MI, July 26, 2013 – As Humanistic Jews, we recognize the importance of community, and of clergy that can offer comfort, solace, celebration, and counsel that is meaningful to non-theists and others, in times of joy, sorrow, and need. Humanistic rabbis and clergy, ordained by the International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism, are now meeting the needs of those within Humanistic Jewish congregations and communities, as well as on campuses and in hospitals, where they serve as Humanist chaplains. Prime examples are Humanistic Rabbi Greg Epstein, who is Humanist Chaplain at Harvard University in Cambridge, MA, Humanistic Rabbi Binyamin Biber, who is Humanist Chaplain at American University in Washington, D.C., and Humanistic Judaism founder Rabbi Sherwin Wine, who served as a Jewish chaplain during the Korean War. Yet, the acceptance of Humanist chaplains remains limited, and has not yet reached the United States military, where there are more self-identified humanists, atheists, and non-theists than any other non-Christian religion.


Jason Heap has applied to be a Humanist Navy chaplain. He meets the requirements, with one exception: he carries the endorsement of the Humanist Society, an on organization that is not on the Department of Defense’s (DoD) list of approximately 200 groups allowed to endorse chaplains. The Humanist Society has submitted its application to be added to the list of endorsers. This process is straightforward, and both the applicant and the Humanist Society meet all the requirements called for in military regulations. The DoD and Navy must now decide whether to open themselves to diversity or whether to create a new barrier to nontheistic beliefs.


Humanistic Jews believe that, by permitting only theistic religions to endorse chaplains, the military is failing to uphold the Constitution’s Establishment Clause and provide equal rights and access to humanist and other non-theist service men and women. Therefore, the SHJ is joining with other organizations, including the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers, in asking that the military change their policy and accept Humanist chaplains to meet the needs not only of humanists, atheists and non-theists, but also of all members of the armed services. SHJ has issued a statement supporting Humanist chaplains that reads in part:


… the Society for Humanistic Judaism supports the inclusion of humanist services and humanist chaplains in all institutional chaplaincy settings;


[and] encourages the US military and other institutional employers to not only accept humanist chaplains but to ensure a healthy representation of humanist chaplains as part of a diverse and effective institutional chaplaincy program and to ensure that chaplains of all beliefs provide informed and equal support to those professing humanist beliefs.


The Society for Humanistic Judaism (SHJ) is the national umbrella organization for Humanistic congregations in North America. The SHJ offers a nontheistic alternative within Judaism. Embracing a human-centered philosophy of life that combines the celebration of Jewish culture and identity with an adherence to humanistic values and ideas, the Society creates an inclusive, nurturing environment for families with children and empty nesters, pre-schoolers and teens, university students, young adults and seniors, single parents, intercultural families, and the GLBTQ community. Providing a meaningful Jewish alternative for cultural Jews, Humanistic Judaism embraces the belief in the human capacity to create a better world rather than in reliance on a supernatural power or an omniscient deity. Humanistic Jews value their Jewish identity and the aspects of Jewish culture that offer a genuine expression of their contemporary way of life.


For more information, contact the Society for Humanistic Judaism.