Today is Veterans Day here in the U.S., which means (among other things) that I’ll usually get a lot of email from local polticians about supporting veterans. That poses no problem for me, but one from Derek Kilmer, who represents Congressional District 6 gnawed at me a bit. The text of his letter his hardly suprising given that he is a Democrat, and very far away from controversial.
What does bother me is something that happened almost a year ago, when he voted down the creation of non-theistic chaplains in the armed forces. So I decided to say something about it. Given that this is local politics, a little of my personal politics outside of atheism may shine through here, but I think this is important enough to the show that it’s worth a minor infraction of our usual editorial policy. Anyway, here’s the letter:
First and foremost, congratulations on your reelection.
I recently received an email from your election offices regarding Veterans Day, and the way Americans can more fully support them. While I agree that more could be done, I find your own support of the men and women who choose to serve our nation is somewhat lacking.
I would like to bring your attention back to an Armed Services Committee vote in July of last year. Specifically, an amendment to the 2014 National Defence Authorization Act which would have provided for non-theistic chaplains. The debate was– to put it mildly– incredibly insulting to atheists and secular humanists who serve in the armed forces. It came as no shock to me or to many others who think as I do when all of the Republicans on the committee voted the amendment down.
On the other hand, to find my representative– who I had previously supported– voting it down came as a blow. To me, and to millions of others, this is a cut-and-dried issue of rights. Specifically, the rights recognized in the establishment clause of the 1st Amendment of the Constitution.
Perhaps you don’t see the purpose of a non-theistic Chaplain, but frankly, that should be irrelevant. Even a cursory glance at organizations like the Military Association of Atheists & Freethinkers would show that atheists and freethinkers themselves see the need, and that need is repeatedly ignored.
It leaves me with the distinct impression that you believe that only some servicemembers are worthy of our support. I can’t imagine that this is an impression you would feel comfortable with– I certainly am not, which is why you have since lost my support as a voter.
I ask you to reconsider, and take positive steps to show you understand your previous error, and stand for the rights of all people who have chosen to be part of the military. Consider starting a dialog with the MAAF about the best way to proceed.
Thank you for your time.
I asked for a response, and if/when I get one from his office, I’ll be sure to share it with you. For completeness, here’s a copy of the email I received:
Today we celebrate the men and women who have served and are currently serving our nation. Our nation is stronger, our freedoms more secure, and our futures brighter because of the sacrifices made by the men and women who serve and their families.
On this day, we do more than celebrate and recognize that service – we say thank you.
But our words of thanks are not enough. Today is important, but it is our actions the rest of the year that will truly give meaning to our words of thanks.
Great challenges exist.
No veteran who has fought for this country should have to fight for a job when he or she returns.
No service member should have to worry about having someplace to sleep and a roof overhead.
All veterans must receive the benefits that they have earned. Backlogs at the Veterans Administration are inexcusable.
We live in a great nation, made greater by the men and women who serve our country. Let’s all take a moment to say thank you to all those who have served and to their families. And let’s all commit to rising to the challenges we face, together.