An atheist airman was denied re-enlistment to the Air Force last month after he refused to dishonestly invoke the name of God in his oath, according to the American Humanist Organization (AHA).
According to USA Today,
Air Force Instruction 36-2606 spells out the active-duty oath of enlistment, which all airmen must take when they enlist or re-enlist and ends with “so help me God.” The old version of that AFI included an exception: “Note: Airmen may omit the words ‘so help me God,’ if desired for personal reasons.”
That language was dropped in an Oct. 30, 2013, update to the AFI. 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.
“Reciting ‘So help me God’ in the re-enlistment and commissioning oaths is a statutory requirement under Title 10 USC 502,” Air Force spokeswoman Rose Richeson said 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 that it cannot change its AFI without Congressional involvement. The AHA said in a September 2 letter to the inspectors general for the Air Force and Creech Air Force Base that the airman should be permitted to re-enlist without falsely invoking a deity.
The AHA says that 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.” He was informed that he was required to recite the religious oath section with no alterations, or leave the air force.
“The government cannot compel a nonbeliever to take an oath that affirms the existence of a supreme being,” attorney Monica Miller of the Apignani Humanist Legal Center said. “Numerous cases affirm that atheists have the right to omit theistic language from enlistment or re-enlistment contracts.”
Miller pointed out that Article IV of the Constitution prohibits requiring religious tests if one wishes to hold an office or public trust. “Forcing (the airman) to swear to a supreme being as a condition of his re-enlistment is tantamount to a ‘religious test’ and is therefore violative of this constitutional provision as well,” Miller said.
An AHA board member and president of the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers, Jason Torpy, also pointed out that it would be dishonest of the airman if he were to swear an oath based on something upon which he does not believe.
“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,” said Torpy. Miller added that the airman should be commended for his honesty in refusing to recite an oath that would have been dishonest.