If you don't think atheists are often considered second class citizens by their fellow Americans and their own government, think again. According to AFP, an unnamed atheist sergeant in the United States Air Force was told that he or she must say the words, "So help me God," as part of an oath, or else the sergeant will not be allowed to reenlist in November. Until October of last year, the USAF allowed oath-takers to omit the phrase, but changed the policy. The sergeant is stationed at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada.
Here's the U.S. Armed Forces Oath of Enlistment:
"I, _____, 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."
How ironic that airmen swear to defend the Constitution by reciting an oath whose "So help me God" excerpt the USAF thinks is mandatory would itself be a violation of the Constitution.
But now, the USAF is seeking the advice of the top attorney at the Department of Defense because apparently it's too hard to read Article VI of the Constitution, which says in part,
"[N]o religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States."
Contrary to popular belief, the "So help me God" at the end of the presidential oath of office isn't mentioned as part of the oath in the Constitution. It was unofficially added at a later time in circumstances that aren't quite clear. What is clear is that the USAF is the only branch of the military that requires these words in the oath of enlistment.
"I’ll tell you that there is no legal requirement to say ‘So help me God’ in any federal oath/affirmation by a person taking the oath," one Department of Defense official told Stars and Stripes on condition of anonymity. "That is, saying ‘So help me God’ in any federal oath is optional at the discretion of the person taking the oath (not the person administering the oath)." Indeed, an attorney for the American Humanist Association says that if the sergeant is not allowed to reenlist without saying the phrase, the group will take the USAF to court.
In all likelihood, the Department of Defense's legal counsel will give the USAF the right advice: Let the sergeant reenlist without having to say, "So help me God."
And some lessons in the document the Air Force swears to defend might not hurt either.
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