Rep. Michael Burgess (R-TX) on Atheist Chaplains in the Military: ‘That Was a Dumb Idea’

Dr. Michael Burgess (R-TX) — the guy who believes fetuses can masturbate — is one of the representatives who voted (twice) to deny non-religious people like Jason Heap from joining the military chaplaincy.

Daniel Moran attended a town hall event with Burgess yesterday and asked him about those votes.

Instead of offering a rational explanation as to why he voted that way, Burgess essentially dismissed the idea of non-religious chaplains, showing in the process a complete lack of understanding as to why they’re needed:

Daniel Moran: Good evening, Rep. Burgess. My name is Daniel Moran. I’m a junior at the University of North Texas. I’m a political science major.

Rep. Michael Burgess: Good for you.

Daniel Moran: I hope one day to possibly be in politics…

Rep. Michael Burgess: You have my deepest sympathy.

[Laughter]

Daniel Moran: Sorry?

Rep. Michael Burgess: I said you have my deepest sympathy. I hope you get help with that compulsion.

[Laughter]

Daniel Moran: I love politics; that’s why I’m a major… but, anyway, I’m an atheist and I was wondering how you plan to represent your secular, atheist, Humanist, and non-religious constituents.

Rep. Michael Burgess: Well, you may have heard my comment a moment ago. I mean, I’m in Washington, D.C. fighting for you every day of the week, whether you vote for me or not, whether you believe as I do or not.

Daniel Moran: Well, I know I don’t believe as you, but I do know that you recently voted against — twice! — to include atheist and Humanist chaplains into the armed services.

Rep. Michael Burgess: Yeah, I thought that was a dumb idea. I’ll do it again.

[Cheers and applause]

Someone in crowd: There are no atheists in foxholes.

Daniel Moran (to crowd member): Actually, there are many [atheists] in foxholes. Some of them are my best friends. Some of them work, or not work, but go to school at the Air Force ROTC at the University of North Texas. So there are atheists in foxholes.

Rep. Michael Burgess: Well, good for them. I appreciate their willingness to serve the country. Look, I mean, if you’re going to have a chaplain, you gotta start somewhere. And that starts at the top with a belief in God.

[Cheers and applause]

Daniel Moran: Why does it require a belief in God?

Rep. Michael Burgess: That every chaplain I’ve ever had has started with that point.

Daniel Moran: I… simply fail to see why it requires a belief in God. It’s basically being a friend… to your…

Someone in crowd: Throw him out! Throw him out!

Rep. Michael Burgess: Let’s not… I will just say that, you know… I’m open to all… anyone who wants to come and talk with me about any issue at any time as you’re doing now is fine to do that, but when I go put [in] that voting card, if someone says to vote against your fundamental core beliefs, you got the wrong kid…

[Applause]

What Burgess doesn’t understand is that atheist soldiers struggle just as religious soldiers do, but there’s no outlet for non-religious people to get the sort of counseling and help they need. The only options available, including seeing a psychiatrist, comes with its own stigma.

Atheist chaplains would go through the same sort of training as religious ones, but they would be able to speak in the same godless language as those atheists in foxholes, something that’s not happening right now.

It was a bad vote, and Burgess’ quick dismissal of the concept just shows his lack of sympathy for and understanding of an entire class of soldiers.

If you’d like to contact Burgess, especially if you live in his district, you can do so here. If you’re an atheist in the military, it would be great if you could schedule an in-person meeting with him to explain why a like-minded chaplain would be helpful to you and your colleagues.

(Thanks to Shayrah for the link)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.


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