There is an interesting case of religious freedom that has arisen at Creech Air Force base in Nevada where an unnamed airman has been told that he will not be allowed to re-enlist because he does not want to take an oath including the words “so help me God.” He is an atheist and, for obvious reasons, finds the words objectionable. Curiously, despite that fact that he clearly does not believe in God, the Air Force wants him to swear to God as a condition for his serving his country. It is not only a violation of this constitutional rights under the First Amendment but an offense to the many atheists who have served and continue to serve our country.
The American Humanist Association has complained to the Air Force Inspector General that the rule not only violates First Amendment but also Article VI, which bars using a religious test as qualification to any office or public trust of the United States.
The Air Force insists that they have no leeway because the oath is contained in a statute. Notably, however, the Air Force used to allow airmen to omit the words but changed the policy during the Obama Administration. The old version of Air Force Instruction 36-2606 included an exception: “Note: Airmen may omit the words ‘so help me God,’ if desired for personal reasons.” The change in 2013 requires that even atheist be forced to swear to God as a condition for service.
In this case, the airman simply crossed out the phrase “so help me God.” He was told that who have to both sign a statement swearing to God and then recite those words.
The statute, 10 U.S.C. 502, states:
§502. Enlistment oath: who may administer
(a) Enlistment Oath.—Each person enlisting in an armed force shall take the following oath:
“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.”
Notably, if this goes to court, the airman would not be required to swear to God on a bible as an atheist. Instead, he is allowed to attest that his testimony will be true under an alternative to the religious oath:
If any person of whom an oath is required shall claim religious scruples against taking the same, the word “swear” and the words “so help you God” may be omitted from the foregoing forms, and the word “affirm” and the words “and this you do under the penalties of perjury” shall be substituted therefor, respectively, and such person shall be considered, for all purposes, as having been duly sworn.
The refusal to accommodate the religious beliefs of this service member is deeply disturbing and contravenes core American values. He should challenge the rule under the Declaratory Judgment Act in federal court. He will then doubly serve his country in standing against not just enemies from without but those within our country who refuse to respect the religious or non-religious views of all citizens.