AHA Has to Defend Airman’s Right to Omit ‘So Help Me God’

Last year the Air Force Academy made it optional for cadets to finish their officer’s oath with the phrase “so help me God,” but it seems there are still pockets of the Air Force that haven’t gotten a clue on the matter. The American Humanist Association has had to send a letter to the Air Force after an airman was told he could not reenlist if he didn’t swear an oath to God.

The American Humanist Association’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center recently sent a letter to United States Air Force officials on behalf of a service member at the Creech Air Force Base in Indian Springs, Nevada, who has been denied reenlistment for omitting the phrase “so help me God” from his contract. This matter was brought to the American Humanist Association’s attention by the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers (MAAF), an organization that builds community for the thousands of nontheist service members contending every day with overt religiosity in the military.

According to the letter, on August 25, 2014, the member of the U.S. Air Force opted for a secular affirmation in his reenlistment contract. He was told by his superiors that he must swear to God or leave the Air Force. The letter demands that the service member be permitted to reenlist using a secular affirmation.

“The government cannot compel a nonbeliever to take an oath that affirms the existence of a supreme being,” said Monica Miller, an attorney with the Appignani Humanist Legal Center. “Numerous cases affirm that atheists have the right to omit theistic language from enlistment or reenlistment contracts.”

The government cannot require anyone to swear an oath to any gods under any circumstances for any reason. This is a clear violation of the Article 6 No Religious Tests clause. But the Air Force actually removed the ability to omit those words in its last update to the rules:

Air Force Instruction 36-2606 spells out the active-duty oath of enlistment, which all airmen must take when they enlist or reenlist and ends with “so help me God.” The old version of that AFI included an exception: “Note: Airmen may omit the words ‘so help me God,’ if desired for personal reasons.”

That language was dropped in an Oct. 30, 2013, update to the AFI. The relevant section of that AFI now only lists the active-duty oath of enlistment, without giving airmen any option to choose not to swear an oath to a deity.

“Reciting ‘So help me God’ in the reenlistment and commissioning oaths is a statutory requirement under Title 10 USC 502,” Air Force spokeswoman Rose Richeson said Thursday. AFI 36-2606 “is consistent with the language mandated in 10 USC 502. Paragraph 5.6 [and] was changed in October 2013 to reflect the aforementioned statutory requirement and airmen are no longer authorized to omit the words ‘So help me God.’ ”

The Air Force said it cannot change its AFI to make “so help me God” optional unless Congress changes the statute mandating it.

And yet it did that at the Air Force Academy. I see a lawsuit coming and a big loss for the Air Force. The Constitution could not be more clear on this. And I’m baffled that anyone could possibly think that doing so would not violate the First Amendment or that it would be a good idea even if it wouldn’t. If you believed in God, wouldn’t you demand that a non-believer not swear oaths to a god they don’t believe in?

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  • D. C. Sessions

    Looks like Congress gets a big win for Standing Up For Jesus.

    And, of course, another opportunity to run against Liberal Activist Judges (who Hate God and Puppies.)

  • Alverant

    ” If you believed in God, wouldn’t you demand that a non-believer not swear oaths to a god they don’t believe in?”

    Yes because if you lie when taking an oath you can be kicked out with a dishonorable discharge. Plus forcing people to participate in your religion is the first step to converting them.

  • http://howlandbolton.com richardelguru

    And I thought there was some sort of commandment thingy about not taking the name of the Lord thy God in vain?

  • Morgan

    Aside from what Alverant says at #2, there’s also the angle of keeping principled people from outside your tribe out of the Air Force (or selecting for those willing to swear false oaths, but you can’t expect people to think that far ahead).

  • kantalope

    Just of grins and giggles 10 usc 502: http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/USCODE-2011-title10/pdf/USCODE-2011-title10-subtitleA-partII-chap31-sec502.pdf

    The god part was added in 1962. It looks like the text of the oath never included any mention of omission. So, one has to wonder why the update to the rules in 2013 (51 years later) decides that the god part is no longer optional.

  • Sastra

    If you believed in God, wouldn’t you demand that a non-believer not swear oaths to a god they don’t believe in?

    I’m going to guess that anyone who is in favor of requiring an oath of allegiance to God doesn’t believe in atheists. That is, they think that everyone knows that God exists and recognizes, deep down, their responsibility to this Higher Authority … but there are “atheists” who pretend (to themselves and/or others) that they don’t believe. So let’s stop this nonsense, soldier! You’re not fooling God and you’re not fooling the Air Force. Say it. Obey.

    I always imagine them imagining an atheist as like a sullen, rebellious teenager who pretends they didn’t hear their father calling them to do a chore.

    Many theists — both traditional and non-traditional, conservative and liberal — seem to think there is something so nice and warm about insisting that “all people” have an inner Spiritual Wisdom and know in their heart of hearts that God is. It’s like they feel this spreads approval to everyone and is a mark of sweetness and light. But it’s actually a very dark view, when you examine it.

  • Michael Heath

    Monica Miller:

    The government cannot compel a nonbeliever to take an oath that affirms the existence of a supreme being . . .

    This wildly misses the point. Ms. Miller establishes the false premise that theists are fine submitting to government power to take an oath to their god as administrated by the government. That’s not necessarily true. The framers of religious freedom protections were largely theists whose primary objection was government power infringing on the religious freedom rights of every individual, even those who believed the dogma the government was promoting.

    Liberals fail here when they frame this issue as a Christian v. Atheist controversy. Instead it’s a controversy regarding government tyranny vs. the liberty rights of an individual. That our government’s powers are limited relative to the rights of each individual. And not only that, in this case the Air Force has the constitutional obligation to also protect the religious freedom rights of its personnel. This is a premise that even most Christianists [falsely] claim to support.

    We’ll win on this particular transaction of course. But we fail to exploit this opportunity to promote the compelling argument we enjoy while our opponents have nothing. So once again we see liberals snatching defeat out of the jaws of victory; at least from a strategic perspective given my confidence in a tactical victory.

  • katzenklavier

    Mikey Weinstein (MRFF) also wrote a — uncharacteristically for him — persuasive, nonrant-filled article on the subject for Alternet (reprinted at Truthout): http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/26037-todays-air-force-would-have-rejected-pat-tillman-and-jesus

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1159674804 robertbaden

    You don’t even have to be a non xtian to refuse to swear oaths. Though most of those who do that tend to be pacifists.

    Quakers and the like.

  • Artor

    Can the superior officers involved be court-martialed for violating their oaths to uphold the US Constitution? Probably not, but they should.

  • busterggi

    Has no one ever shouted, “OOOOODDIIINNN!” after the oath?

    Damned Christian pussys.

  • http://en.uncyclopedia.co/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    To be fair, you do get to swear the oath to God while the Top Gun theme plays. Or is that just a navy thing?

  • http://www.facebook.com/den.wilson d.c.wilson

    kantalope @5:

    So, one has to wonder why the update to the rules in 2013 (51 years later) decides that the god part is no longer optional.

    Because in recent years, the Air Force, moreso than the other branches, has become infested with religious zealots who beleive gathering converts is an more important mission than defending the nation.

  • eric

    The spokesperson’s argument is just silly. You changed the requirement via a change in instruction, of course you can change the requirement back to what it was via another change in instruction.

    Either your October 2013 removal of the clause was illegal, or it was legal in which case putting the claus back in is legal. Which of those do you want to pick?

  • dhall

    So, if the USAF top brass believe that they are not bound by the US Constitution, does that mean they’re seceding from the Union to establish a theocracy? And if so, does that mean our tax dollars no longer have to go toward supporting this breakaway theocracy? Yeah, I know. Silly.

    But I agree with Artor #10: These officers swore an oath to uphold the Constitution, even the parts that offend their evangelical sensibilities, and court martials might be mentioned at least as a threat to get that claus returned to the instructions. Someone in the DOD ought to coming down on them like the cliched ton of bricks.

  • schweinhundt

    The Army’s pertinent regulation (AR 601-280, 2006/2011) allows the phrase to be omitted. I couldn’t find where any other services do so but the Navy apparently adds an additional line: “I swear (or affirm) that I am fully aware and fully understand the conditions under which I am enlisting.” So, it appears the services have some latitude in how the oath is administered.

  • steve84

    >”And I’m baffled that anyone could possibly think that doing so would not violate the First Amendment or that it would be a good idea even if it wouldn’t.”

    If you are at the AFA and drowning in ultra-conservative Dominionism 24/7 anything is possible