Atheist airman in US refused reenlistment
Last October, The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) – an organisation dedicated “to the concept that freedom and liberty are universal, God-given and inalienable rights that must be protected” – claimed that:
The ACLJ was reacting to a letter written by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation’s Mikey Weinstein, above, to the Air Force Academy demanding that the words “so help me God” be stricken from the cadet Honour Code.
He claimed that the phrase violated the Constitution as an establishment of religion and the imposition of a religious test to hold office.
The ACLJ accused Weinstein of “anti-Christian proselytising”.
Then things changed. The Air Force snuck an update into its rules governing reenlistments, which now require all airmen to swear an oath to the Almighty.
Air Force Instruction 36-2606 spells out the active-duty oath of enlistment, which all airmen must take when they enlist or reenlist and ends with “so help me God.” The old version of that AFI included the exception:
Note: Airmen may omit the words ‘so help me God,’ if desired for personal reasons.
That exception was dropped in an October 30, 2013. The relevant section of that AFI now only lists the active-duty oath of enlistment, without giving airmen any option to choose not to swear an oath to a deity.
This sneaky move came to light yesterday when Air Force Times reported that an atheist airman at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada was denied reenlistment in August for refusing to take an oath containing the words “so help me God”.
The American Humanist Association then became involved. In a September 2 letter to the inspectors general for the Air Force and Creech, Monica Miller, an attorney with the AHA’s Apignani Humanist Legal Center, said the airman should be allowed to reenlist without having to swear to a deity, and instead given a secular oath.
Miller said the AHA is prepared to sue if the airman is not allowed to reenlist.
According to the AHA, the unnamed airman was told on August 25 that the Air Force would not accept his contract because he had crossed out the phrase “so help me God.” The airman was told his only options were to sign the religious oath section of the contract without adjustment and recite an oath concluding with “so help me God,” or leave the Air Force, the AHA said.
That is unconstitutional and unacceptable, the AHA said.
The government cannot compel a nonbeliever to take an oath that affirms the existence of a supreme being. Numerous cases affirm that atheists have the right to omit theistic language from enlistment or reenlistment contracts.
Air Force spokeswoman Rose Richeson said:
Reciting ‘So help me God’ in the reenlistment and commissioning oaths is a statutory requirement under Title 10 USC 502.
Is consistent with the language mandated in 10 USC 502. Paragraph 5.6 [and] was changed in October 2013 to reflect the aforementioned statutory requirement and airmen are no longer authorized to omit the words ‘So help me God.’
The Air Force said it cannot change its AFI to make “so help me God” optional unless Congress changes the statute mandating it.
Miller pointed out that Article VI of the Constitution prohibits requiring religious tests to hold an office or public trust.
Forcing [the airman] to swear to a supreme being as a condition of his reenlistment is tantamount to a ‘religious test’ and is therefore violative of this constitutional provision as well.
Miller also said that swearing an oath the airman does not believe in would be dishonest.
Said Jason Torpy, President of the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers and a board member of the AHA:
This airman shows integrity, commitment to the nation, and respect for religion in standing firm for a secular oath that reflects his true values and intentions.