An atheist member of the U.S. Air Force has been told he must swear “so help me God” as part of his military oath or else he will be forced to leave the service, the Air Force Times reports. The airman, who has not been identified by name, is currently serving in the Air Force at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada until the end of his current term of service in November, but was denied reenlistment last month when he refused to sign a sworn oath that included the religious phrase.
The Department of Defense reenlistment form includes an oath that reads: “I, [insert name], 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.”
The airman crossed out the oath’s final sentence—“So help me God”—when submitting the form. Here’s more from the Air Force Times:
The airman was told his only options were to 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 American Humanist Association [AHA] said. The AHA said that is unconstitutional and unacceptable and that Article VI of the Constitution prohibits requiring religious tests to hold an office or public trust. AHA’s Apignani Humanist Legal Center, said the airman should be given the choice to reenlist by swearing a secular oath. She said the AHA will sue if the airman is not allowed to reenlist.
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 to the AFI, airmen have been required to swear an oath to a deity when they enlist or reenlist… The Air Force said it cannot change its AFI to make “so help me God” optional unless Congress changes the statute mandating the oath.