INDIAN SPRINGS, N.V. — The United States Air Force has decided to allow an atheist airman to omit the phrase ‘So help me God’ from the reenlistment oath after a prominent humanist organization threatened to file a lawsuit about the matter.
As previously reported, according to the American Humanist Association (AHA), the unidentified serviceman stationed at Creech Air Force Base recently crossed out the phrase on the Armed Forces reenlistment form, DD 4.
“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,” it reads.
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.”
AHA also 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.”
While Air Force officials originally stated that the airman had until November to comply, that is, the date when his contract expired, statements have now been released advising that the military will accommodate the serviceman.
“We take any instance in which airmen report concerns regarding religious freedom seriously,” Secretary Deborah Lee James wrote this week. “We are making the appropriate adjustments to ensure our airmen’s rights are protected.”
AHA said that it is satisfied with the outcome in the matter.
“We are pleased that the US Department of Defense has confirmed our client has a First Amendment right to omit the reference to a supreme being in his reenlistment oath,” remarked attorney Monica Miller. “We hope the Air Force will respect the constitutional rights of atheists in the future.”
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?”