Atheist airman in US refused reenlistment

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:

No US Air Force cadet is compelled to recite the phrase, and failure to recite the phrase results in no penalty. Second, the phrase establishes no religion.

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.

AFI 36-2606

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.

9 responses to “Atheist airman in US refused reenlistment”

  1. Broga says:

    So if the airman is prepared to be an unprincipled liar and take the oath he is welcome. If he is a man of principle, insisting on being honest, he is rejected.

    Christianity is now so obviously nonsense that this is all they have left. They cannot attempt conversion because anyone with intelligence will spot the flaws.

  2. jay says:

    If it’s true that this was (directly or indirectly) mandated by Congress, this is going to provide a really well based court case which could establish strong precedent. As long as it was ambiguous, they had a lot of wiggle room.

  3. Michael Glass says:

    I don’t think this practice will stand. The courts are bound to strike down the requirement for air personnel to include the phrase “so help me God” in their oaths. For one thing, it is not only atheists who might object to this phrase. Quakers also believe that they should not swear oaths, based on Matthew 5:34-37 and James 5:12.

    Quite simply, the requirement has to go!

  4. L.Long says:

    How is he an unprincipled liar by taking the oath??? If he takes the oath, it is totally meaningless as he swore (which is not allowed by the buyBull) by someone else’s imaginary friend. It would be no different then saying ‘by the power of gray skull I will serve’. Big deal!!! And besides which he is an atheist so he has no morals and can lie with no fault!!! I had no problem with the oath thru my 20yrs of re-enlisting, but as stated I have no morals, so did not care.
    Strangely the only person I saw trying to get out by violating the principle of the oath was a xtian!!!!

  5. Norman Paterson says:

    Laz – Yup. He might as well say “abracadabra” at the end.

    Does this not hinge on exactly what the words mean? And if the speaker is atheist, they mean nothing at all. Do they imply anything without an explicit connotation? I would like to see a Supreme Court judgement on exactly what the meaning of the words is, and how to tell whether they actually have any detectable content. How can you tell if God is helping?

    (Completely OT but a hoot – just had one of these scam phone calls wanting to help me “fix” my computer. I googled random english gibberish and kept him on line for 5 minutes. Quite satisfying.)

  6. Broga says:

    He is a liar because he appears to believe that God will help him. The Christians want to hear the words.

    ” he is an atheist so he has no morals and can lie with no fault!!! ” Do you really believe that atheists have no morals?

  7. Adam Tjaavk says:

    “Do you really believe that atheists have no morals?”

    Hmm, there are crooks or fools brainwashed sectarians.

    And surely, some atheists can be as muddleheaded as others.

    But besides, are faith-healing charlatans atheist crooks?



  8. Norman Paterson says:

    Adam – I am having a hard time understanding you. Is English your native language?

  9. Vanity Unfair says:
    It really does say that. Even more surprising is that it has been in this form since 5th. October, 1962. Another surprise is that at the same time that “So help me, God” was added so was a reference to “oath or affirmation” in the description. This was removed in 1982 but the form of the oath still has the option to affirm, howbeit invoking “God” in aid.
    ‘‘I, , do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will…..”
    The Oxford English Dictionary does give a non-religious definition of “oath” but labels it “obsolete” and “rare”:
    1a. A solemn or formal declaration invoking God (or a god, or other object of reverence) as witness to the truth of a statement, or to the binding nature of a promise or undertaking; an act of making such a declaration. Also: the statement or promise made in such a declaration, or the words of such a statement.
    †b. A firm asseveration in the form of an oath but not invoking God or anything sacred. Obs. Rare.
    “oath, n.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, June 2014. Web. 5 September 2014.
    but “affirmation” is resolutely non-religious:
     4. Law. A formal declaration with legal effect similar to that of an oath, made by a person who declines to take an oath for reasons of conscience; the action of making such a declaration.
    “affirmation, n” OED Online. Oxford University Press, June 2014. Web. 5 September 2014.
    It’s a bit of a mess. What it needs is a re-wording to remove the contradiction and bring the oath into line with the Constitution at the same time. Do it properly and there will be no red faces.