A year after an airman at Maxwell Air Force Base was allowed to take an oath without saying “so help me God,” the Air Force has quietly reversed course and once again made the phrase mandatory.
“Reciting ‘So help me God’ in the reenlistment and commissioning oaths is a statutory requirement under Title 10 U.S.C. §502,” Air Force spokesperson Rose Richeson told Military.com, adding that Air Force Instruction on the oath is consistent with the language mandated in the law.
“Airmen are no longer authorized to omit the words ‘So help me God’,” she said.
The issue first came up last year when an officer candidate at Maxwell threatened to sue if made to say “so help me God” as part of graduation events. Airman Jonathan Bise was later allowed to take a secular oath and was reissued a new version of the written oath with any reference to God removed. At the time, Maxwell officials said they had operated under the mistaken assumption the phrase was required.
Air Force: Congress would have to change oath
The Air Force’s instruction spells out the active-duty oath of enlistment and ends with the phrase “so help me God.” The old version included an exception: “Note: Airmen may omit the words ‘so help me God,’ if desired for personal reasons.” That section now only lists the active-duty oath of enlistment without any options to leave out “so help me God.”
The Air Force told Air Force Times it cannot change the oath unless Congress takes action to mandate such an alteration.
Use of the phrase came up again this month when an airman at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada was told he would not be allowed to continue unless he recited the oath that referenced God.
The airman’s attorney, Monica Miller, said the Air Force’s decision was “unbelievable.”
“The government cannot compel a nonbeliever to take an oath that affirms the existence of a supreme being,” Miller told Military.com. “Numerous cases affirm that atheists have the right to omit theistic language from enlistment or reenlistment contracts.”
Miller is part of the American Humanist Association’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center in Washington, which also handled the Maxwell case.
She said she has given the Air Force two weeks to allow the airman to reenlist using an alternative oath or face further legal action.