Airman denied reenlistment for refusing to say ‘so help me God’

Sep 5, 2014

By Stephen Losey

An atheist airman at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada was denied reenlistment last month for refusing to take an oath containing “so help me God,” the American Humanist Association said Thursday.

And in a Sept. 2 letter to the inspectors general for the Air Force and Creech, Monica Miller, an attorney with the AHA’s Apignani Humanist Legal Center, said the airman should be allowed to reenlist without having to swear to a deity, and instead given a secular oath. Miller said the AHA is prepared to sue if the airman is not allowed to reenlist.

According to the AHA, the unnamed airman was told Aug. 25 that the Air Force would not accept his contract because he had crossed out the phrase “so help me God.” 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 AHA said.

That is unconstitutional and unacceptable, the AHA said.

“The government cannot compel a nonbeliever to take an oath that affirms the existence of a supreme being,” Miller said. “Numerous cases affirm that atheists have the right to omit theistic language from enlistment or reenlistment contracts.”

35 comments on “Airman denied reenlistment for refusing to say ‘so help me God’

  • Why so many problems with the Air Force? Sneaking that phrase, so help me magic man, back into the enlistment/reenlistment oath shows me that there is something from the top on down wrong with the Air Force.

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  • @OP – According to the AHA, the unnamed airman was told Aug. 25 that the Air Force would not accept his contract because he had crossed out the phrase “so help me God.” 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 AHA said.

    Perhaps it’s part of the austerity package designed by “faith-thinkers”.
    If they have deleted the budget for training, spares, and service technicians, then the crew probably have to say, “So help me God”, cross their fingers (and toes), and trust in providence when flying! (Jesus!!! Just look at those red lights!!)

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  • Sue them from Heaven to Hell. Set a precedent in the higher courts that will then flow through out all of US society from top to bottom. Might be the beginning of the renaissance of rational US of A. They’ve kicked an own goal. Press home the advantage.

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  • It is extremely difficult for those of us from outside the U.S. to understand how this can even happen once.

    Americans, from across the U.S. political spectrum, will tell us (in the rest of the World) how important and how great is the U.S. Constitution.

    The United States Constitution says, using what appears to be crystal clear and unambiguous language [Article VI, paragraph 3]:

    The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to ANY OFFICE or public trust under the United States

    (emphasis mine)


    Just tell me how.

    Have we in the rest of the World somehow misunderstood? Maybe the Constitution is … what … optional … conditional … editable … ?

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  • The Constitution is Federal.

    That is why all the constituent parts of our country, and there are a lot of those, tend to go their own merry way until some judge somewhere tells them otherwise.

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  • In a nutshell – head honchos at the Air Force Academy, for years, have been pushing Christianity.

    Right along side, in opposition, has been Mikey Weinstein of Military Religious Freedom. He advocates neutrality for one and all. However, I am surprised, and a tad disappointed, by his recent statement.

    First, referring to Atheism as a “belief”, facepalm. In the same vein, he objects to ‘ask an Atheist day’, as if it would belong in the same group as “ask a Christian or Muslim day” (pushing an agenda on trapped servicepeople). Mikey, if we rename it ‘ask a non-stamp-collector day’, will you calm down? Geesh.

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  • The government mostly picks and chooses what it wants to use out of the Constitution. It’s so old and vague, most of it doesn’t really translate to current affairs. So, if someone tries to use it, the other person can tweak the definition so it’s unusable.
    There’s a secret respect for religious people that no one likes to talk about. Someone can say “The Constitution says this” and everyone just gives them a blank stare. Someone else can say “The Bible says this” and everyone goes with it because you’re supposed to respect it because it’s Christian (it’s mostly just Christianity).
    It gets very annoying…

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  • I’ve reenlisted twice and just signed a paper, it was just filling out some boxes. This ceremony is optional. I don’t know why he volunteered to do it, and then decided to complain about it.

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  • All official institutions are financed with taxpayers’ money, and in turn every taxpayer is entitled to apply for a job in these institutions. A secular and non denominational state cannot force anyone to believe in any god, so the Air Force is making a legal irregularity by denying the enlistment of an airman. The airman in question should sue the Air Force.

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  • Hi Daniel,

    When I look at this particular extract from the Constitution I can’t understand how anyone can say that it might mean one of two or more things?

    Yes the language of the Constitution is old, but that doesn’t mean that it’s always unclear. In addition, I understood that the United States Supreme Court (USSC) is on hand to add clarification.

    In any case, as I think everyone will agree, if you simply read the above extract it needs no interpretation.

    What you and Neodarwinian seem to be saying is that Americans feel free to ignore their Constitution?

    If that’s true, then the Constitution cannot be the “foundational document” that so many people claim it to be – if people are free to interpret the law as they choose there is no law, there is no foundation.

    That would explain why when some citizens ignore the Constitution, the other U.S. citizens don’t seem to mind much, they just seem to shrug their shoulders and say “Oh well … “. The only people who seem to take the Constitution seriously enough to be passionate about it are those who interpret the second amendment as a ‘right to bear arms’ and who then further stretch that interpretation to the maximum.

    The natural conclusion of that thought is that the Constitution is not foundational – it means whatever the most passionate interpreters (and mis-interpreters) want it to mean (and who therefore gather the most advertising dollars). That’s not an indication of a lawful society, but I don’t think it’s constructive to dwell on that fact.

    If what people here are saying is true, this is the reality of the political arena in which the religion-neutral United States that it’s founders very clearly wanted must be defended.

    Another implication of what your saying is that most Americans have more respect for even older texts, written by anonymous authors, which are even less clear than the Constitution and even more open to interpretation and which are supported by ‘authorities’ of far less gravity than the USSC.

    If all of that is even remotely true, then there is a lesson for every American with a minority religious view (and that means all Americans, of course) in this story. Americans won’t get religious freedom until they start supporting the religion-neutral parts of their Constitution the way the Gun Lobby promotes their interpretation.

    A story like this should make you foam at the mouth – call talk shows spitting venom, write letters to generals and politicians by the dozen, meet in public halls, rally, paste flyers on bus stops and electric company poles, and express your views loudly and often and preferably through a Bull Horn every Saturday at your local Mall and for pity’s sake, get some outrage !

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  • An atheist crossed out phrase “so help me god”, but he wanted to become a member of obedient organisation!?
    How stupid! The military is also an brainless organisation as well as religion, they destroy on demand respecting an imbecile authority without any responsibility (“just” following the orders) they nurture state within a state. An soldier is no different from an religious person, infact they are the best recruits because they do not think with their own heads, they do not have an individual oppinion otherwise they would not be able to be so obedient, modeled by their god (authority,general…), and subject to dressage. So it is so paradoxical when an soldier refuse to be obedient. He wants to be a soldier but not obedient, hahaha.
    Anyway, a nice gesture from his part.

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  • When my brother went into the Navy in 1968 ,while at boot camp my mother received a call from the Navy. They said my brother left the “religion” part blank and he had to have something there. My mother said the first one one to come to mind and was told,no,they are anti war. So the guy read off what choices she had and she picked one. So even then right off the bat they are forcing you to lie on an official document to appease the fantasy land people in this country.Yep we want our country so God fearing the religious right wants us to break a commandment to make them look good

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  • My understanding was that it is referred to as the United States Air Force…….not the Louisiana Air Force or the Georgia Air Force, or the Idaho air Force, etc.

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  • The fundamentalist group I was part of, many moons ago, were conscientious objectors. They would enlist if required to do so but refused to carry arms. A member/acquaintance, my age was drafted and went to Viet Nam as a medic. He was shot in the back of the head while tending an injured soldier.

    Don’t understand how the air force can reconcile “So help me God” with “Thou shalt not kill” or the evangelicals who join by choice.

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  • 29
    Daniel says:

    Full disclosure: I’m a Naval Officer with 18 years of service and an Atheist. At this time the Navy instruction still allows a service member to omit “God” from the oath. (And I always have done so.)

    I was outraged when I saw this story a few days ago and believed it had to be a mistake or exaggeration. I was wrong – it’s completely true. It’s also a bit strange that it’s just coming up now, the administrative change was made nearly a year ago so it’s amazing that this is the first issue. I suspect this is merely the first time that the people involved have been stubborn enough on both sides for it to come to light.

    Little history lesson: “So help me God” was added to USC Title X in 1962, and the section has been amended twice since; once in 1989 and again in 2006. Neither change had any bearing on “So help me God.” The Air Force instruction is indeed inline with the law of the land, but clearly the Services lawyers saw fit to add the exemption that the AFI contained until October last year. The Navy’s instruction has not changed in a long time and still contains the language about omitting if desired.

    If this goes to the courts, there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that the language in the USC will have to be revised. The Constitution is crystal clear about religious tests for public service. The USAF – which is overrun with Christian Conservatives – just chose to start enforcing an outdated law leftover from the Cold War.

    For your reading pleasure:
    The USAF instruction on reenlistment:…/afi3…/afi36-2606.pdf
    … and a link to the relevant section of title 10:…/USCODE-2011-title10-subtitleA…
    U.S.C. Title 10 – ARMED FORCES
    “I, ____________________, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and … See More

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  • What's the point of believing in something if you are unwilling to stand up for those beliefs?

    [Edited by moderator to bring within Terms of Use.]

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  • 32
    KillerB says:

    “It’s so old and vague, most of it doesn’t really translate to current affairs. So, if someone tries to use it, the other person can tweak the definition so it’s unusable”

    Is that the constitution or the Bible? 😉

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  • 34
    bonnie says:

    Kind of a harsh line from A > B. Perhaps something more nuanced – patriotism “land of the free!”, such as ‘crew chief’ for the jets. Or file clerk, who knows.

    Your statement does stand, however, in times of war or aggressive action. Everyone is then a cog in the machine, e.g., factory women during WWI making bullets or gas capsules (hey, it puts food on the table!).

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