Air force soldiers no longer must say “so help me god” in oath.

The Appignani Humanist Legal Center has won another victory.  This time it got the air force to remove “so help me god” as a requisite for the oath a soldier must take upon joining.

Air Force Trainee Jonathan Bise and others will be offered a chance to recite and sign a secular oath as part of their graduation ceremony on Tuesday, after officials noted that they had erred in including the phrase, “So help me God” as mandatory in both written and verbal versions.

“Our previous legal advisors were mistaken in advising us that it was required,” Maj. Stewart L. Rountree wrote in a letter, addressing the planned revision. “Our current legal advisors made me aware and we will ensure it reaches all corners of our program.”

Bill Burgess reduced the simple matter to a single sentence:

A non-religious person cannot be forced to affirm the existence of a God,” said Appignani Humanist Legal Center Coordinator Bill Burgess in a statement. “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.”

Ayup.  Kick ass.

About JT Eberhard

When not defending the planet from inevitable apocalypse at the rotting hands of the undead, JT is a writer and public speaker about atheism, gay rights, and more. He spent two and a half years with the Secular Student Alliance as their first high school organizer. During that time he built the SSA’s high school program and oversaw the development of groups nationwide. JT is also the co-founder of the popular Skepticon conference and served as the events lead organizer during its first three years.

  • Art_Vandelay

    I think you could almost make the argument that they shouldn’t say it despite their faith. I don’t really feel strongly about it but if provoked, I could make that argument.

  • ZenDruid

    Back in my days in the AF, there was the option, when reciting the Oath of Enlistment, to use ‘affirm’ instead of ‘swear’, and Shmg wasn’t required. ['70s-'90s]

    • Stev84

      It still exists. They just like to pretend it doesn’t and don’t tell people.

      I will remain to be seen though whether he hasn’t ruined his career before it started.

  • Sara Sharick

    This is a problem with mass swear ins generally. I’ve done two as an officiating officer while out on recruiting. I always tell my future soldiers during the rehearsal that I will say both swear and affirm and they can say whichever they prefer. If they choose affirm they can drop the last line, but I would still say the last line for those who do want to say it. I’ve never heard other officers do that other than the one at MEPS.

    I had a really small commissioning class, eight people, so they did us individually, not as a group. Before we had our commissioning, we all had to fill out a sheet detailing who we wanted to do our oath, who we wanted to do our first salute, and whether we wanted swear or affirm. I was much less informed then (2005) than now, but I did choose affirm. I’d have to relook my DD4 to see if that line is crossed out though.

    • Ryan Jean

      It hasn’t been made clear whether this was a mass swearing in, at least not from what I saw (please correct me if I’m mistaken), although I agree that the right course of action for group oaths is exactly as you described: alert them to the fact that you’ll say both words, as well as SHMG at the end, and that they can choose from that which version they want to say.

      Every oath I’ve given was to an individual, and I always ask them in advance which version they want to say, and in that case say it in their preferred version. For some that meant saying “swear” and SHMG, even though I didn’t believe, because it was their oath, not mine. For others, including my wife’s reenlistment, that meant “affirm” with no SHMG at the end.

      As an aside, my commissioning class was big — 33 people (at the beginning of the year, we had 68). Of that, I’m one of less than ten still in. From my high-school ROTC I’m one of about a dozen (at least of the ones I knew from years before and after) who sought a commission, and one of only 3 to get it.

      • Sara Sharick

        I have done some individual reenlistments before. I always ask ahead of time if the person prefers swear or affirm. I never make a big deal out of it, I just say what they want. I did have one Soldier who chose affirm, so I made sure the SHMG line was appropriately crossed out and initialed on his paperwork.

        I went back and checked my own commissioning form, and even though I SAID affirm, no one (including me, at the time) seemed to be aware that that line ought to be crossed out. Alas.

  • Joe Pepersack

    People serving in the Air Force are Airmen
    People serving in the Navy are Sailors
    People serving in the Marine Corps are Marines
    People serving in the Army are Soldiers.

    Please show respect to those who are serving and those who have served by addressing them properly.

    • Bruce Martin

      While this is true, I doubt that it was said with any intent of lack of respect. I would also point out that back in WWII, this wasn’t an issue, as everyone serving in the US Air Force was by definition serving in the US Army, because the Air Force was part of the army at that time. But I certainly agree that we should all try to use the most current nomenclature that we can.

    • Gehennah

      I really don’t see that as a form of disrespect at all. It just isn’t something that a lot of people realize.

      I’m a former Marine, and I’ve never seen being called a soldier. When someone says I was in X branch and they get that wrong, I’ll correct them. But its not disrespectful to get that wrong I don’t think.