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  • Jessica Dapson, Chaplain

Atheist Chaplain? Really? (Yes, Really)


Feeling alone at times, or lacking a sense of belonging, is an issue some Agnostics, Atheists, and Humanists may face

A year ago this month, I was endorsed as a Humanist Chaplain by The Humanist Society. Since then, I have been working to define what this role will mean for me. Initially, I reached out to my local jail to see if there may be a place for me working with inmates who didn't identify as religious, but perhaps saw themselves as non-religious but spiritual. My inquiry was immediately shut down when I was contacted by an administrator at the jail who told me that they "already have a priest, an imam, and a rabbi," so they didn't really need me. I was disappointed, so I decided to write to humanist inmates to see if I could make an impact that way. Some may be surprised that there are humanist inmates, but some facilities actually have humanist groups for inmates, such as the Fort Dodge Correctional Facility in Iowa. Ben O'Donnell, who I had the pleasure of corresponding with a few times, has made quite a name for himself and Humanism. This week, and next, I plan to write out some cards that will be mailed to humanist inmates this holiday season. In addition to these small steps, I have my eyes on a different, particular setting: the university campus. Many universities proudly serve students of various religious backgrounds; the non-religious, non-religious but spiritual, and humanist students also deserve an outlet and support system. While Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, and other students who identify as religious may seek and find solace on campus when meeting with their respective chaplains, it is the agnostic, atheist, and humanist students who may find that they have no one to turn to when faced with tragedy and grief. And this should not be the case. Whether experiencing something heartbreaking such as the loss of a parent or struggling with the after-effects of a break-up, all students deserve a safe space where they may find comfort and one's belief in God (or not) should not be the determining factor in finding just that. The role of Humanist Chaplains in our military branches, for example, would be both important and useful. As for me, I am fortunate to live in the Central New York area, where there are several universities and colleges where I may serve a purpose. Perhaps 2020 delivers a place for me as a secular humanist chaplain on campus, where I may fulfill a role that I find both necessary and useful. Follow me on Facebook for additional posts and atheist/humanist-related articles and op-ed's.


Here are numerous humanist resources for those looking for assistance:


Appiginani Humanist Legal Center, where Humanists may report violations and seek legal advice


Black Humanist Alliance


Feminist Humanist Alliance


LGBTQ Humanist Alliance


Kids Without God


Freedom From Religion Foundation


Secular Student Alliance


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© Last updated: 20 June 2019