High ranking chaplain leaves out ‘so help me god’ (awesome video)

High ranking chaplain leaves out ‘so help me god’ (awesome video) November 3, 2011

Amazingly, this just happened.


I already typed this into YouTube’s description, so forgive the 3rd person narrative.

The Chaplain respectfully leaves off “so help me god” for the deployed atheist soldier’s re-enlistment ceremony.

Chaplain (Colonel) Strohm is overseeing Sergeant Justin Griffith’s re-enlistment ceremony. The Chaplain is a devout Christian with decades of active-duty service.

Sergeant Griffith is the Military Director for American Atheists, and is also spear-heading the groundbreaking atheist-themed festival ‘Rock Beyond Belief’ featuring Richard Dawkins at Fort Bragg, NC in 2012. He even coined the phrase “There are no chaplains in foxholes.”

Despite all of this, these two are staunch allies – friends, even – and serve proudly as such.

This is an unheard of situation for many reasons. Not the least of which is the fact that a chaplain of such high rank is enthusiastically building this bridge. There are only a few chaplains with higher rank in the entire military.

This moment is potentially historic. The military’s long-standing climate of hostility towards atheists is beginning to change. Foxhole atheists like Griffith are slamming the ‘atheist closet’ door shut behind them.

There are plenty of evangelical Christians inside and outside of the chaplaincy that are vocally opposed to equal treatment for atheists. But this video demonstrates the silent majority of Chaplains who really do ‘get it’.

The constitution that SGT Griffith affirms an oath to serve and defend


1) A religion can’t be favored over another…


2) religion can’t be favored over non-religion.

So even though these atheists aren’t a religion, they still deserve equal treatment, opportunities, and access to resources.

Currently atheist groups are officially banned from meeting anywhere on post until the DoD-level Chaplaincy approves their groups (as of Nov of 2011, it’s been an 11 month waiting game already, and with much hostility and interference.)

The atheists just want to meet in buildings (off-duty) and put their schedule out with the same visibility afforded to the religious groups. However, they are banned from even meeting in some gazebo until their packet is approved. They have met all obligations for such approval and are simply waiting. And waiting…

But this video is living proof that the atheist community *can* work in harmony with the chaplaincy – fulfilling the atheist’s meager ‘needs’ with ease. Perhaps this type of progress will be mirrored across the Department of Defense.

Military atheists wont burn down the chapel after their meetings, or go out to find neighborhood babies to eat. They simply want to identify and ‘fellowship’ with their community. Like Christian / Buddhist / Muslim / Jewish / Mormon / Wiccan soldiers already get, the atheists just want the same level of respect.

[pro-tip: this does not mean ‘atheism will be a religion’ or any such nonsense. Atheism IS non-religion, and nothing can change that. It is, however, a ‘religious preference’ (an Army term) and the Chaplaincy *must* support all religious preferences.]

This was an important moment in my life for so many reasons. It meant a lot to me to have such a powerful ally standing up there.

Colonel Strohm oversees Foxhole Atheist, Sergeant Justin Griffith's re-enlistment ceremony

I really love to write about positive developments in our struggle for acceptance, and this is one of the strongest examples in my book.

It’s hard to tell if I’m too close to the situation, but this felt big. But I had the same reaction watching this as I did a few weeks ago for Megan Hurwitt’s ceremony. I actually got goosebumps watching her begin her military career with an ‘out and proud’ bang like that. Check it out.

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  • fastlane

    The military version of Barry Lynn? It’s good that some religious people can see the benefit to being tolerant to all (non)religious beliefs.

    This chaplain deserves as many kudos as the others deserve derision.

    Well done.

    • Chief K

      Hey troops, let’s just omit the Oath of Enlistment altogether then. Just sign the papers, collect your money, and drive on. Or let’s have soldiers around the world modify the Oath to suit whatever they feel like on that day…sort of like tailored wedding vows. What next, US Army?

      And I don’t care that this Sergeant may believe the universe magically happened by itself. That’s pretty much between the Sergeant and the cosmic dust he may believe in. He’s free to believe whatever. I truly, truly don’t care.

      Using your God-given intellect to deny the existence of God. There’s a bit of irony for you.

      Atheists were put on earth for a reason. And that reason is not lost on me.

      May God continue to richly bless you.

      • Eric

        Maybe you’re an idiot. The important parts of the oath were left in. The only thing left out is a reference to a nonexistent bronze age deity that has no place in our modern society. I didn’t say “god” at my enlistment, and I won’t say it when I reenlist. I don’t care if it makes stupid evangelicals struggle to deal with the rage coursing through their tiny little lizard brains.

      • Delcyer

        Really? Omitting the God part of the oath invalidates the entire thing? That doesn’t make a lot of sense, throwing the baby out with the bathwater, but OK.

        And if your “God given intellect,” as you put it, leads you to ask more questions with more skepticism when you’re buying a used car than you do when you make the most important decisions of your life, then more power to you but that seems backward to me.

        It’s OK, though–I was in the Marines and I swore to protect your right to think whatever you want. Although I did it for my own reasons/morality, not because God told me to. Don’t cheapen Sgt. Griffith’s very real oath to safeguard our freedom with his life–in fact, leave the Stone and Iron Age morality out of it altogether, if you don’t mind.

      • FitsMan

        Nice one chief. You’ve shown the level of your intellect by using the word “magic” to describe the beginning of the universe. Why not supplement some beside bible readings with some actual scientific literature for a change.

        God is a subjective reality. God is an internal experience.

        God is a psychological phenomenon. God is real in this sense,

        but it’s disastrous to confuse your internal world with your external, objective realities.

      • Len

        The oath of enlistment, in any army is a >BIG DEAL< it really is. It marks the start, not of your "career", but of your commitment put put the needs of your nation above your own even at the cost of your life. This commitment to ones nation SHOULD be publicly recognized and afforded the attention and respect it deserves.


        21 years service Canadian Forces

      • adam caper

        Oh! My! God!

        Could one possibly be more insultingly patronizing to both man and god than to insist that one of god’s children giving his OWN word is insufficient to demonstrate full faith and commitment? That’s the ONLY standard by which one can offer up one’s honor?

        I don’t happen to share your Christ-y little origins story, but even a godless agnostic such as myself can see that claiming that even though man is supposedly created in god’s image he’s incapable of making a promise without invoking the supposed deity amounts to a refutation of the big guy’s work. You might as well just walk up and spit his eye…I mean, you’re essentially accusing him of being unable to create people whose word has any value!

        The recursive loop of ignorance is always amusing to those of us who have gone to the trouble of developing our god-given intelligence into something which is actually useful for…thinking!

        Or, as they say with a rueful smile in places like Fort Bragg: “god bless you”

  • Woooot!

  • benjdm

    Awesome! Thank you very much, Colonel Strohm!

  • Congratulations! And, good job soldier!

  • Wait, no chapel-burning and baby-eating? There go my plans for this Sunday.

    Oh, wait, I’m not in the military. *phew*

    • Aliasalpha

      Well the no chapel burning kind of precludes the baby eating, how else are you going to cook them if not on burning church fire?

      • Jon

        Fresh and raw? :3?

  • Paul Weaver

    Congratulations, SGT Griffith, and well-done, CH (COL) Strohm!

    Keep up the good work!

    Paul Weaver


  • lobotomy

    I served in the Air Force for almost twelve years. I knew a number of chaplains and generally had no problem with them in that they were serving a community of people that often found themselves in strange places around the world. I always thought that it made sense for the military to provide the troops with services that they could not easily get when deployed. That means everything from the commisary and base exchange to chaplains.

    However, what did annoy me were the (mostly) non-chaplains who insisted in injecting their religion into the workplace or favoring religious members over non-religious members. I saw that from the time I was in ROTC through Desert Storm. There were a few annoying chaplains as well.

    Therefore, I applaud (perhaps salute would be more apporpriate) both Colonel Strohm and Sergeant Griffith for being the adults in the room. They give me hope for the future of our armed forces.

  • Hooah!

    Congrats Sgt. Griffith and a sincere thank you to CH (Col.) Strohm for being an awesome example for other chaplains to follow. Thank you for showing that not everyone who believes in God in the military is willing to shove it down an atheists throat and segregate a growing population in the ranks.

  • Congratulations, Justin – that’s amazing. And well done Chaplain Strohm for supporting equality within the military.

    • fastlane

      While this is a good thing, it’s rather sad that such a simple showing of respect for nonbelief is considered so worthy of such accolades.

      Good on the Col, but we still have a long way to go.

      • I agree, fastlane. I think of it as positive reinforcement.

  • Congrats 🙂

  • ShantiClaire

    Thank you for your sacrifice, Justin. As American atheist I found this video to be moving because it was handled smoothly, efficiently and routinely…as should be the case. As lobotomy pointed out, it’s good to see two adults acting as such. Now everyone help support Justin and his cause by helping YOUR friends to get out of the atheist closet. We need to be seen and heard everywhere!!

  • Wendy

    Is it dusty in here?

    • F

      You mean, like, Gesundheit dusty? I don’t thinks so. That’s just a sort of Army battlecry, greeting, show of respect, keop, etc.

  • F

    Thank you both, Colonel Strohm and Sergeant Griffith. Thank you both.

  • Nikki

    I personally have a reenlistment coming up soon and you have given me the strength to request that ‘so help me god’ be removed from the Oath I will take. I am an out atheist in my unit and everyone at my reenlistment ceremony would know that for me to say those words would be a lie, I love to US Air Force way to much for my first act as a new Airmen to be a lie. I did not have the testicular fortitude of Megan Hurwitt at my time of enlistment but I shall rectify that mistake now. It seemed to cheapen the whole oath for me to say something I did not think was true. Thank you both so very much for being a lighthouse to me and a source of wisdom and inspiration!

  • Not that “historical”…I’ve been asking my re-enlisting officers to leave that out for years. Usually they have no problem and if they do it’s as simple as not repeating the last line.

    • Justin Griffith

      1) Were any of these officers Chaplains?

      2) Did you realize that the number of Chaplains that outrank this man is in the single digits?

      3) Are you aware that I’ve posted about my experience with officers taking my testimony (recently) who refused to omit the last line?

      I kept saying “No” when the guy said “So help you god?” We played that game about 3 times until I interrupted him just before he blurted out that line. He wasn’t expecting it and he stopped and couldn’t help but smile at my tenacity and will power. He gave up 🙂

      • I re-read my comment and it probably sounded like I was trivializing you re-enlistment. That’s not how I meant for it to sound. I really should have started with, “Congratulations!” I’ll try to be a little less cynical in the future:)

        All of my re-enlistments have conducted by whomever was my OIC at the time. I’ve never had a chaplain in my chain-of-command.

        I’ve been following your work ever since the first concert was cancelled and I have nothing short of admiration for your efforts in providing fair and equal treatment for non-theists in the military. As one of the senior enlisted “outs” in my unit I am very familiar with frustrations you have faced. I sincerely look forward to seeing you succeed in your endeavors.

        • Justin Griffith

          Yeah, I didn’t take offense to it. Had a few similar comments on reddit (that I upvoted, and made similar replies to).

          Thanks for the support.

          FYI, I asked specifically for this service from CH Strohm. It was his first time too. He is not in my chain of command (directly), as I work in a G-6 shop at a theater-level command. I was told that it was my right to have any (willing) officer to perform my re-enlistment. So he was my first choice. I wasn’t sure if he was going to do it. So glad he did! He didn’t even hesitate to answer “I’d be honored… how do you want it done?”

          Awesome Chaplain is Awesome.

  • Don’t get pissed, re-enlist!

    Grats on the reup.

  • me

    15. jasonzuehlke

    Were any of then chaplains?

  • Andrew

    Bravo to all involved!

  • adam caper

    I’ll admit that I’m a stranger to both the Southern American Protestant and the armed services sub-cultures, and that perhaps that’s the reason that I’m so surprised to hear the word “out” used in conjunction with atheism in the services.

    But BOY am I surprised!

    I gather from what I read here that being un-religious is actually seen as not just on a par with, but actually somehow worse, than being gay? That people consider acknowledging that their conscience doesn’t take them to religion is somehow “coming out”? WOW!

    I wonder if these people realize how un-American it is to discriminate against those who don’t share your religious beliefs? How can they take an oath to defend the country — and presumably part of doing so is defending the US Constitution — without understanding something as basic as the First Amendment?

    I am honestly in shock.

  • Hey. Thank you for writing this article. It helped me very-much.