With the recent dismissal of the House Chaplain, Patrick Conroy, there has been some discussion of who should be offered the job along with the appointment of a search committee. And with most things in Washington the next appointment has become political.
But this also creates an opportunity for the House to move in a slightly different direction.
The position of House and Senate Chaplains goes back to 1789.
All 60 House Chaplains and the 62 Senate Chaplains have represented a denomination of Christianity. The first three House Chaplains were Presbyterian while the first eight Senate Chaplains were Episcopalian. Since then at least 10 Christian denominations have been represented.
The practice of appointing a chaplain is related to the ability of the House and Senate to elect their own officers. However, besides tradition there isn’t anything mandating that the office be held by a single person representing a Christian denomination.
Rather than appointing a new chaplain the House should elect spiritual advisers from various backgrounds to serve on an interfaith council. The council can be comprised of 20 to 30 women and men representing different faith traditions. Each member could come in for a week to help open the legislative day. Furthermore, Members of the House could call on them for advice.
The United States has a long history of fostering a competition religious ideas. The growth in the diversity of religious thought and practice has largely been the result of an extremely limited regulatory environment and freedom of assembly.
When this competition produces differences in opinions on how to conduct oneself and live a good life, the only reasonable outcome is for the government to protect the freedom of thought by removing itself, or staying removed, from differences on disputed subjects. At the same time, when different traditions arrive at the same conclusion, perhaps policymakers should take note.