Navy atheist’s epic win against “so help me god”

Navy atheist’s epic win against “so help me god” July 18, 2012

I’ve been privately asked a few times how to deal with re-enlistment oaths, and that tricky “so help me god.”

This is how.

I had a run-in with an E9 who worked at Reserve Forces Command for my last reenlistment. 

MY command was very understanding of atheism and accepted my wishes to change “So Help Me God” to “On My Honor” not only for the spoken oath, but also when I crossed out “so help me god” on the form and changed it to what I wanted.

A couple of weeks after submission it made it all the way up to Commander, Navy Reserve Force Command  (CNRFC) but one of the senior enlisted personnel managers got a hold of it and shot it back to my Chief. I was informed that an E9 denied my paperwork because (according to him) you are not allowed to change CNRFC forms in any way and that I also HAD too say the oath as intended. He then asked me if I wanted to fight it or just do as CNRFC had said.

Well, I did submit a new package, but it was not reenlistment paperwork. It was a memo with attachments including verse from the constitution “no religious test for public office”, copies of several Federal court cases dealing with scenarios like mine and an accommodation clause for Navy paperwork form the Navy MILPERSMAN. My reply was simply:

The guidance that stipulates no one can change CNRFC Navy forms except CNRFC does not trump the military’s obligation to FAIRLY accommodate all religious beliefs. The reenlistment form I am REQUIRED too sign and return to continue my affiliation with the US military is biased towards monotheistic religions and does not meet the requirement to fair treatment. I refuse to sign a document giving any oath to ANYONE’S god and forcing me to do so too retain my employment will result in a legal battle.

As far as saying the Oath as directed? I refer you to the attached court cases.

Very respectfully,


No reply was ever given, but 2 weeks later my reenlistment paperwork showed up in my Online Service Record complete with the Navy enlistment form with “so help me god” crossed out. “Pics or it didn’t happen” attached.


I would like to add that if not for you, Justin, I would have NEVER had the gull to stand up too my superiors like this. These people see us as “no big deal” or tell us to “just shut up and go along with dance”. You and your story are not only an inspiration, but a solid stepping stone to the attitudes and drive we need to develop as people and a community to reach our fair and rightful place as Military Atheists not second class citizens.

God Bless wait, I mean Rock On!

Joseph, US Navy

Most of us know that we don’t have to say “so help me god”. But did you know you can also cross it out on your official contract before you sign it, too? Just cross it out, make changes as needed, and sign your initials by the change. This is a legal document, and that’s simply how it works. I’ve been meaning to publicly post this advice for some time.

To my atheist brothers and sisters in the military, every re-enlistment we take is an opportunity to mirror this epic win. If you are met with opposition, I’ve got your back – as do a plethora of lawyers. You will win this argument.

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  • YYZatcboy

    What a wonderful story. I wish we had the same protection here in Canada. Justin, I WILL be writing you an email sometime tonight or tomorrow about my experiences up north.

    Joe from Canada

    • Concerned

      Hi, I’m in the process of joining the Canadian forces right now. I am an atheist but I haven’t experienced anything so far, is there something I should be prepared for?

    • dblake

      Not sure if it’s changed in the last twenty years, but CF members used to be able to “solemnly affirm” instead of “swear to gad” in oaths.

  • Are you certain of that? I seem to recall section 2 of the Canadian charter of rights and freedoms:

    Fundamental Freedoms

    2. Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms:

    (a) freedom of conscience and religion;

    (b) freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication;

    (c) freedom of peaceful assembly; and

    (d) freedom of association.”

    Combined with the human rights act


    Marginal note:Purpose

    2. The purpose of this Act is to extend the laws in Canada to give effect, within the purview of matters coming within the legislative authority of Parliament, to the principle that all individuals should have an opportunity equal with other individuals to make for themselves the lives that they are able and wish to have and to have their needs accommodated, consistent with their duties and obligations as members of society, without being hindered in or prevented from doing so by discriminatory practices based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, family status, disability or conviction for an offence for which a pardon has been granted or in respect of which a record suspension has been ordered.

    R.S., 1985, c. H-6, s. 2;

    1996, c. 14, s. 1;

    1998, c. 9, s. 9;

    2012, c. 1, s. 137(E).

    Would seem to indicate that you do in fact have the same protections.

  • That took guts. Congratulations are due.

  • vel

    excellent. This story shows that one can cause change by standing up and giving others the courage to stand up with you.

  • This is one great story.

    So many of us just go along with religious oaths or pledges whenever they come up in our lives, but when they refer to a deity, how can an atheist faithfully abide by such oaths?

    It is far more than semantics, it really is about honor and keeping one’s word.

    Thanks for setting a wonderful example.


  • mary

    I also live in Canada. I am not military, nor have I had any need to make/sign an oath that includes ‘so help me god’ in the recent past. Years ago, that would not have been a problem. However, now it would be a concern for me.

    When signing ‘O Canada’ now I quietly substitute ‘we’ll’ for ‘god’ in the ‘god keep our land glorious and free’ line.

    Naturally, most posts in FTBs are related to U.S. experiences. I would be interested to know how these things are handled in Canada. If any Canadian feels comfortable posting their experiences or their knowledge of the legal implications here, that would be great. Or, maybe someone knows of a site where these issues are discussed with Canadian situations.

    • Amanda

      I am part of the Canadian Forces and I was automatically offered either swearing on a bible or “affirming.” The very first time I asked, “What is the difference?” And she said, “Nothing, but some people don’t like swearing on a bible.”

      When filing papers in a civil court I was also offered the option before I could ask.

  • RW Ahrens

    In the world of baby steps we must endure in this fight, this one is bigger than most!

    Congratulations to that brave sailor. He’s the kind of guy I’d like to have at MY back…

    • Sage

      What a valiant & noble battle.

  • Robert B.

    Nice! Way to stand up for his rights! And props to this sailor’s immediate command for their correct handling of the situation.

  • ROCK ON! Congratulations on your reenlistment and thank you for standing up for yourself, and others, in the process.

  • Sage

    His honor is not worthy of swearing upon.