Air Force Backs Down From Forcing Atheist Sergeant To Take Religious Oath


air force

AP/John L. Mone

The US Air Force is backing off its requirement that airmen say "so help me God" in their enlistment oath following a challenge from an atheist sergeant who refused to recite the phrase.


"We take any instance in which Airmen report concerns regarding religious freedom seriously," Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James said in a statement. "We are making the appropriate adjustments to ensure our Airmen's rights are protected."

On Aug. 25, a sergeant at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada was told he could not reenlist after he struck out the words "so help me God" from his reenlistment contract and refused to say them in his verbal oath. The Appignani Humanist Legal Center later sent two letters and threatened to file suit if the airman was not allowed to omit the phrase.

The Washington Post has more:

The issue drew attention to a previously unnoticed rule change: The rules governing the Air Force's enlistment oaths used to include a note stating that "Airmen may omit the words 'so help me God,' if desired for personal reasons." That exception quietly disappeared in October 2013, after which the Air Force required the inclusion of the full oath for any enlistment or reenlistment.


Monica Miller, an attorney with the American Humanist Association, told Air Force Times the requirement was in violation of the U.S. Constitution, which does not allow religious tests to serve in government positions. "The government cannot compel a nonbeliever to take an oath that affirms the existence of a supreme being," she said.

After requesting a review from the Pentagon's general counsel, the Air Force announced the rule was being changed immediately. The phrase is still in the oath, but is no longer a requirement for airmen if they prefer not to say it.