An atheist airman is being denied the ability to re-enlist in the US Air Force because he refuses to use the word “God” in his oath of office, according to the American Humanist Association (AHA).
The unnamed member of the Air Force refused to take the oath containing “so help me God,” wanting a secular affirmation instead. So he crossed out the phrase on his contract. The airman was told by his superiors that he must swear to God or leave the Air Force, the AHA said in a press release. The organization learned of the service member through the Military Association of Atheists & Freethinkers, a group that represents atheist and agnostic military members. The airman is a member of that group, along with over 3,500 other current and former military personnel worldwide, the AHA said in its letter.
The AHA’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center recently sent a letter to United States Air Force officials on behalf of the service member at Creech Air Force Base in Indian Springs, Nevada, demanding that the airman be permitted to re-enlist with a contract using secular language.
“The government cannot compel a nonbeliever to take an oath that affirms the existence of a supreme being,” Monica Miller, an attorney with the Appignani Humanist Legal Center, said in the AHA statement. “Numerous cases affirm that atheists have the right to omit theistic language from enlistment or reenlistment contracts.”
In October 2013, the Air Force quietly updated the rules regarding re-enlistments in Air Force Instruction (AFI) 36-2606, its rules governing reenlistments, which all airmen must take when they enlist or reenlist. The new AFI removed the exception: “Note: Airmen may omit the words ‘so help me God,’ if desired for personal reasons,” the Air Force Times reported.
“Reciting ‘So help me God’ in the reenlistment and commissioning oaths is a statutory requirement under Title 10 USC 502,” Air Force spokeswoman Rose Richeson told the AF Times Thursday. 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.