Last month an atheist airman at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada was denied reenlistment for refusing to take an oath containing “so help me God.” After crossing out the last four words, he was told his only options were to either 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 Air Force used to allow airmen to omit the phrase “so help me God” if they so chose. But an Oct. 30, 2013, update to Air Force Instruction 36-2606, which spells out the active-duty oath of enlistment, dropped that option. Since that quiet update, airmen have been required to swear an oath to a deity when they enlist or re-enlist.
In a letter to the Air Force General Inspector American Humanist Association (AHA) attorney Monica Miller said the airman should be given the choice to re-enlist by swearing a secular oath. She said the AHA will sue if the airman is not allowed to re-enlist. The AHA concluded that it is unconstitutional and unacceptable that the airman be required to say an oath swearing allegiance to a deity and that Article VI of the Constitution prohibits requiring religious tests to hold an office or public trust.
The Department of Defense recently informed the U.S. Air Force that it must allow the Airman to reenlist without including the religious language in his contract. A press release from the Pentagon can be viewed here.
The Air Force will be updating the instructions for both enlisted and commissioned Airmen to reflect these changes in the coming weeks, but the policy change is effective now. Airmen who choose to omit the words ‘So help me God’ from enlistment and officer appointment oaths may do so.