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?