INDIAN SPRINGS, N.V. — A nationally-recognized humanist organization is threatening to sue military officials after an atheist airman stationed at an Air Force base in Nevada was told that he must accept ‘so help me God’ in the reenlistment oath or his application will not be accepted.
According to the American Humanist Association (AHA), the unidentified serviceman stationed at Creech Air Force Base crossed out the phrase on the Armed Forces reenlistment form, DD 4, which reads, “I, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the president of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.”
The airman was advised that officials could not accept the document with the statement crossed out, and was told to sign the oath without any adjustment. He refused.
The American Humanist Association then sent a letter to officials at Creech Air Force Base demanding that the airman be permitted to reenlist without including “so help me God” in the oath. It asserted that the requirement violated the Establishment Clause of the United States Constitution, which reads, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
“The Establishment Clause specifically prohibits the government from requiring a non-believer to take an oath that affirms the existence of God,” the letter, written by attorney Monica Miller, asserts. “Naturally, the Constitution trumps any statutory or regulatory language or requirements to the contrary.”
It threatened that the “commanding officers may be sued in federal court for injunctive and declaratory relief,” and may be “personally liable for damages along with attorney’s fees.”
Air Force spokesperson Rose Richeson told the Air Force Times on Friday that the serviceman has until November to comply.
“The airman’s term of service expires in November 2014,” Richeson said. “He has until this time to complete the Department of Defense Form 4 in compliance with the Title 10 USC 502.”
The Air Force has also advised that the requirement cannot be amended unless Congress changes the law.
In George Washington’s 1796 farewell address, the general and commander-in-chief of the United States military stated, “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness–these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens.”
“The mere politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them,” he continued. “A volume could not trace all their connections with private and public felicity. Let it simply be asked, Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths which are the instruments of investigation in courts of justice?”
“And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion,” Washington advised. “Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.”