***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:
“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.