At Urging of Humanist Groups, UK Air Cadets Will Soon Be Able to Recite a Godless Oath

If you want to join the Air Cadet Organisation (in the UK), you will have to say this oath at your graduation ceremony:

I, Cadet [Full Name], hereby solemnly promise on my honour to serve my Unit loyally and to be faithful to my obligations as a member of the Air Training Corps. I further promise to be a good citizen and to do my duty to God and the Queen, my Country and my Flag.

However. thanks to a campaign from the British Humanist Association and the United Kingdom Armed Forces Humanist Association, there will soon be another option:

One of the UK’s largest and most respected youth organisations will no longer compel its new members to take a religious oath.

… the Air Cadet Organisation, which was formed in 1938 and played a key role in the second world war, [will] offer future cadets the option of a non-religious oath.

Both of the Humanist organizations are thrilled — and they have a right to be; they’ve earned it:

UKAFHA General Secretary David Brittain, welcoming the news, said: ‘The Air Training Corps is a significant youth organisation with 35,000 young people across the UK involved in its 1009 squadrons. According to repeated surveys 65% or more of teenagers state they are not religious, and by failing to provide a non-religious oath the organisation has excluded a significant number of young people of good conscience who do not believe in any god and are not willing to lie by saying words they don’t believe.

‘While we welcome this news from the ATC there is still work to be done in ensuring that all Ministry of Defence sponsored youth organisations provide a similar promise. To not offer an alternative to the religious promises is divisive, unfair, and deeply sad.’

BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson also welcomed the news, saying, ‘British society is changing dramatically: over two-thirds of young people have a non-religious identity and that proportion is growing all the time. The institutions of our society need to catch up with this demographic fact if they are going to remain relevant and build cohesion between young people of different beliefs. As well as supporting armed forces humanists in ensuring that forces youth organisations do not discriminate, we are engaging directly with both the Scouts and Guides on this issue and hope for progressive change on every front.’

As you might expect, local Christian leaders are freaking out:

“I’d like to see everyone following Christ and taking the pledge,” said a spokesman for the Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Scripture Readers Association. “I can’t see a truly Christian organisation dropping a pledge to Christ. It’s a hollow pledge if they don’t believe the words they are saying. You can’t tell people what to believe.”

Andy Tilsley, a spokesman for ChristChurch London, said the decision raised broader questions. “Should we change the words of the national anthem because they include ‘God save our gracious Queen’? What are people threatened by?”

I didn’t know the Air Cadet Organisation was a Christian group. Based on their website, neither did they.

What the complaining Christians don’t get is that this isn’t about being threatened or offended. This is about not wanting to lie when you’re serving your country. There’s no reason atheists should be barred from joining the Air Cadet Organisation and the oath was a theoretical barrier. Now, there’s at least an alternative. The original oath will not be changed — there will just be an alternative for those who wish to use it.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • Quintin van Zuijlen

    “It’s a hollow pledge if they don’t believe the words they are saying. You can’t tell people what to believe.”
    How ironic.

  • http://twitter.com/docslacker MD

    That spokesman apparently isn’t aware that there are Britons who are Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, even Jedi according to one census. Add a healthy number of non-believers to that. Or perhaps he hasn’t noticed the empty pews at church?

    Edit:
    How can I forget the Pagans?

  • Sindigo

    “Should we change the words of the national anthem because they include ‘God save our gracious Queen’?”

    Yes. Yes we should.

    “This is about not wanting to lie when you’re serving your country.”

    Joining the Air cadets isn’t really serving your country; it’s a youth group. I went to one meeting when I was a kid. They had me stand in line and march. “Screw this”, I thought and never went back.

  • http://www.facebook.com/MilitaryAtheist Justin Griffith

    That’s outstanding progress. I hadn’t heard of this particular struggle, but the victory is inspirational.

    I love seeing stuff like this in my twitter feed.

  • iqbalselvanblog

    Awesome News, if the western countries are truly
    secular it should indeed remove the references of god to include non-believers
    in the society. I see many western nations are ready to admit Islamic
    references in many part of the life, but hesitant to include atheistic view of point.
    But the move made by Air Force is indeed welcoming one, but we should go a long
    way to remove the references of god in the public life. Especially Canadian
    National Anthem still use the word God, but a large portion of Canadian
    Population are indeed non-believers.

    • EricBoucher

      and the Canadians have a heavy dose of the queen bits too.

  • EricBoucher

    I think they should remove that part about duty to the queen too. But I suppose that why I live in this country.

  • pagansister

    Good. Should be done in this country too. Never have figured out just why everyone has to recognize a divine being in any oath. (except of course when those are for a certain religion0>

  • Marco Conti

    Why do they hate the baby Jesus?

  • Alan Bloor

    I went to Air Cadets for 5 years and I’m glad I did. I honestly believe that this was probably just an oversight, I can’t think of any cadet or officer I know who would argue against it. My officer allowed me to omit the God bit, he just knew it wasn’t important

  • pete084

    This is a military sponsored youth organisation, not to be confused with the armed forces. In 1985 I was sworn into the Air Force and took the option of the godless version available at that time.
    This change falls in line with other youth organisations, such as scouts and guides, dropping the need to swear to a god.

  • Ian

    I lived in a country for 2 years that had no reference to God anywhere, the people knew nothing of the ten commandments too. It was Godless. It truly weirded me out so I left (oh, so you want an example? How about a friends maid was executed for stealing coffee from the family). But maybe you folk would thrive in China.

    God does not disappear if we ignore him guys, come on? Ask yourself why Homo sapiens arrived 5 billion years too early according to evolutionary processes.

    - An ex-atheist.


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