He Shouldn’t Have to Say ‘So Help Me God’ At His Graduation Today

***Update***: Jason Torpy of the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers tells me that the situation has been resolved and Bise will receive both a secular written form and take a secular oath. More information on “So Help Me God” oath issues can be found here.

The American Humanist Association responds:

Air Force officials have agreed to administer a secular oath and to allow a revision of the written oath the Officer Trainee was required to sign to remove the “so help me God” reference. Maj. Stewart L. Rountree has written attorneys for the American Humanist Association and the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers that the entire graduating class will be informed of the option to take a secular oath and apologized for the error. “Our previous legal advisors were mistaken in advising us that it was required,” Maj. Roundtree wrote. “Our current legal advisors made me aware and we will ensure it reaches all corners of our program.”

Today, Jonathan Bise will become an officer in the United States Air Force. However, he’s been told he will have to say an oath with the phrase “so help me God” in order to graduate — no substitutions allowed. As a non-religious person, the government can’t make anyone take a pledge like that, and the American Humanist Association’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center is trying to put a stop to it before it’s too late:

Jonathan Bise (via Facebook)

“A non-religious person cannot be forced to affirm the existence of a God,” said Appignani Humanist Legal Center Coordinator Bill Burgess. “The law is clear that such demands violate the constitutional mandate of church-state separation and the right to freedom of conscience. This officer-to-be must be allowed to omit theistic language from his commissioning oath.

Just last week, Bise was required to sign a written oath with the same theistic language.

He should be allowed to omit the phrase or substitute it with something else, but Air Force officials are being stubborn. They don’t understand the law.

The fact that 5 U.S.C. 3331 includes the surplus phrase “so help me God” does not mean that the Air Force must require officer candidates to state those words. To the contrary, as applied to an objector, that portion of the statute is unconstitutional and therefore without effect. The right to omit these words is not only recognized by the courts, but by the Air Force itself.

No one would force a Christian soldier to pledge an oath stating “God doesn’t exist” and no one should force an atheist to do the opposite.

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.

  • Jasper

    This is a Christian nation. Your argument is invalid.

    • ShoeUnited

      Not sure if clever POE or if not clever.

      For that, you get a point.

      • Ryan Jean

        Look at Jasper’s history. Less of a Poe; more of a satirist.

    • DesertSun59

      No. This is a Christian majority nation, but the nation has never been Christian. I have proof.

      “As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense,
      founded on the Christian religion,—as it has in itself no character of
      enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Mussulmen [Muslims],—and as the said States never entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mahometan [Mohammedan]
      nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from
      religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony
      existing between the two countries.”

      Sorry, pal. That’s a Founding Father there in 1797. He knows better. You simply lied.

      • EvolutionKills

        I agree with you and what you’ve said is accurate. But just to let you know, I’m almost positive Jasper ins’t being serious. Check out his post history, he’s pretty firmly in our camp. No hard feelings though, just thought I’d give you a friendly heads up.

    • Guest

      8/10 for getting people to reply to you.

    • Greg G.

      Kudos! You have people taking the comment seriously without a single misspelling or random capitalization.

    • Jasper

      Yeah, sorry, I wasn’t meaning to troll. I underestimated how well the sarcasm would come through.

      • just somebody

        You could add ” /s ” to the end of your statement to indicate the sarcasm we would have seen dripping from your lips and snarking from your eyes IRL.

  • Ryan Jean

    I have personally administered oaths to others with an affirmation instead of a swearing and omitting the last four words. I know of several cases where the words have been crossed out on Enlisted and Officer’s oaths of office, and it does not affect the legal standing of the oath. If the oath is administered in a group, as mine was a decade ago, he can simply stay quiet during those last few words. If it is administered individually, he can insist the words be left out entirely (and if the person persists, he can file an Equal Opportunity and/or Inspector General complaint against them) and still not be required to say the words.

    I’ve seen half a dozen reports on this in the last week, and I have the feeling that in the end it’s a non-issue. The case law is extremely firmly established, and the individual insisting it has to be that way is either wholly ignorant of the law or is unfit to be in the service. Hold his ground, and he will carry the day.

    • Kevorkian Fan

      The guy has already signed up to Kill On Government Command.
      So he already has submitted to his god.

      • http://confessionsfromthepeanutgallery.blogspot.com/ YankeeCynic

        My oh my, aren’t you edgy?

      • http://www.intentionallyoutside.blogspot.com TravelingBiker

        What a retard!

    • John Gills

      So far as I know, Quakers have been able to ‘affirm’ instead of swear since colonial times….

  • ShoeUnited

    Minor nitpick I think the phrase is “… so help me God.”

    Grammar Asshole Away!
    *flies off*

    • ShoeUnited

      I forgot a comma after the word “nitpick”.
      Also, it’d be a spelling nitpick not a grammar issue.

      *flies off again*

      • Trickster Goddess

        A nitpicker nitpicking their own nitpick. How meta.

        • EvolutionKills

          Mind = Blown

      • http://abb3w.livejournal.com/ abb3w

        But should it be a comma, or instead a colon or semicolon?

    • UWIR

      It’s good to quote what you’re correcting. I get the feeling that the error to which you are referring has been edited to the correct version, making your correction befuddling.

      • ShoeUnited

        In the original article, Hemant accidentally wrote ‘”so held me God.”‘

        As far as commas, semicolons, and colons are concerned: Colons are for lists or groups; semicolons are used interchangeably with commas, but the period denotes the reader/speaker take a slightly longer breath and are usually substituted when commas are too commonplace; and commas of course have their whole rules set that will take too long to explain.

        As for correcting my own corrections: It’s no good correcting something if you yourself are incorrect. I read my own comment, and saw it horribly written. I believe if you’re going to call something out, you best damn well be right in totality. Anything else just makes you an asshole.

        • UWIR

          Semicolons and commas are not used interchangeably. Commas are for dependent clauses, while semicolons are for independent clauses. The correct punctuation after “Minor nitpick” is a colon, since what follows is appositive.

  • Michael

    I would really love to see this situations with atheists saying it twice, arguing that swearing an oath you believe to be false is invalid and repeating the oath with the last lines missed out makes it valid again.

  • EvolutionKills

    It’s my understanding that the Air Force is super pro-Christian, even above and beyond the other branches. It kind of freaked me out when my younger brother wanted to enlist with them, but he was rejected because of ‘bad knees’ and his feet being too flat…

    Oh well, he was bummed out about it. I was afraid what kind of harassment he’d receive at the hands of Christian instructors and recruits, on account of his agnosticism. None of my sibling believe, but I’m the only one that’s really studied and been vocal about it; I’m also the only one that self identifies as ‘atheist’. So in my family, the adage that ‘an agnostic is only an atheist that hasn’t really thought about it’ is kinda apt. Not that the distinction probably would have mattered in boot had it came up with my brother…

    • Stev84

      It’s because the Air Force Academy is in Colorado Springs, which is literally the headquarters of evangelical Christianity in America.

      • EvolutionKills

        That would explain a lot.

        • Machintelligence

          Clolrado Springs is also the home of Evolvefish, as atheistic a bunch of humanists as you could ask for. Shameless plug:

          http://www.evolvefish.com/

          • EvolutionKills

            I’m Commander Shepard, and this is my favorite shameless plug on the Citadel!

  • http://confessionsfromthepeanutgallery.blogspot.com/ YankeeCynic

    Good on him. I intend to do this in a few years if and when I make my next rank. It’s the right thing the do, if only to make it more acceptable for people to be more open about their religious beliefs while serving their country.

  • Brian Westley

    The Air Force has agreed they were wrong:

    http://americanhumanist.org/news/details/2013-08-humanists-challenge-forced-so-help-me-god-in-air-for

    Update: Air Force officials have agreed to administer a secular oath and to allow a revision of the written oath the Officer Trainee was required to sign to remove the “so help me God” reference. Maj. Stewart L. Rountree has written attorneys for the American Humanist Association and the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers that the entire graduating class will be informed of the option to take a secular oath and apologized for the error. “Our previous legal advisors were mistaken in advising us that it was required,” Maj. Roundtree wrote. “Our current legal advisors made me aware and we will ensure it reaches all corners of our program.”

  • http://atheistlutheran.blogspot.com/ MargueriteF

    I’m pleased to hear the situation has been resolved. Not only is it insulting to nonbelievers to be forced to take an oath in the name of God, but it makes no sense from the other perspective either. Why have someone take an oath on something they don’t believe in? What’s the point? It becomes a meaningless phrase at that point.

  • C Peterson

    Glad he stood up to this. Hopefully he hasn’t torpedoed his career in the Air Force, which by all accounts is basically a Christian cult.

    • http://www.intentionallyoutside.blogspot.com TravelingBiker

      You’re right about that. If you’re an officer and not in the “in” crowd (read that as “in church on sunday” crowd) your career is going nowhere.

  • http://www.intentionallyoutside.blogspot.com TravelingBiker

    I’ve been there and done that. They can’t require him to take a religious oath. I’ve taken many of those oaths in the military, always secular.

  • http://bit.ly/glUAR7 Calladus

    Weird. I joined the Air Force back in 1985, and even then, in the MEPS center in South Texas, during my oath of enlistment we were allowed to say either “So help me God” or “I so affirm”.

    The guy giving the oath didn’t make a big deal out of it, and as we were all reciting the oath together, it got a little blurry at the end as some people said one thing and others said another.

  • Nora

    Every time I have been promoted, it was in a group setting and I just did not say the “so help me God” part because I know it is not legally required. The page that I am required to sign says it, however, and while I considered one-lining that part of it, I decided it wasn’t worth the potential hassle. The phrase is absolutely not required and I wish we made it the default to *not* have the religious language, and allow people to add it if they wish.

  • EvolutionKills

    They finally got themselves a hold of some legal advisers that have actually read the Constitution, good on you Air Force.

  • Georgina

    Just mumble … so help me mum (or dad) … praising his creator.

  • PNW

    Good to hear the update. I’m trying to go here and definitely don’t want to swear an oath, only affirm it

  • Jerry S

    What the hell is the difference? If you don’t believe in God what is the meaning in saying it? It’d be the same as saying so help Homer Simpson. I think people just like to be offended or bitch about something.


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