Atheist, Christian Debate: Air Force Sergeant Refuses Oath, Facing Sanctions

The debate over atheism and Christianity is alive and well.

An admitted atheist, who is a sergeant in the U.S. Air Force, is facing a discharge for not adhering to the branch’s religious mandate that requires service personnel to say “so help me God” when taking an oath.

The airman is considering a lawsuit against the federal government for denying his religious freedom, and a backlash and heated debate on social media ensued.

According to the Air Force Times, last month an atheist airman at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada was told his request for re-enlistment was denied after he explained swearing to God conflicted with his belief in a Supreme Being or deity.

Note: Although the name of the airman is not mentioned, he is assumed to be male due to the source’s reference to “him.”

A letter from the serviceman’s representative outlined the airman’s belief in atheism, and that he may be forced to file a lawsuit over his inherent right to be free of religious tests that define a person’s right to enlist in the U.S. Air Force.

In her letter to officials, Monica Miller, an attorney with the AHA’s Apignani Humanist Legal Center, says the atheist Air Force sergeant should be allowed the right to pray a secular prayer without the need to profess a belief in God or a Higher Power.

“We have not received word from the Air Force regarding our letter. It has not indicated a willingness to settle out of court,” Miller said.

The attorney received an email dated September 5 from Rose Richeson, which affirmed the Air Force’s position in the atheist case.

“The airman’s term of service expires in November 2014. He has until this time to complete the Department of Defense Form 4 in compliance with the Title 10 USC 502.”

An attachment with a four-page DD Form 4 was included titled “Enlistment/Reenlistment Document, Armed Forces of the United States,”the form contains a “confirmation of enlistment or reenlistment” 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.”

Faced with an unwillingness to change its policy, the technical sergeant may be forced to sue the U.S. Air Force over its lack of religious accommodation and bias towards atheist practitioners.

Records show the Air Force allowed an alternative phrase or prayer in place of “so help me God” in the past. That all changed in October of last year.

Critics of the current policy say the debate is focused on superiors who force their Christian beliefs onto subordinates.

Supporters say the policy against atheism prevents radicalized extremists from injecting their beliefs into the minds of men and women who promote liberty and Democracy.

Officials say the atheist versus Christian debate is a pragmatic issue, and the recent change brings the Air Force in compliance to Title 10 USC 502. Moreover, the atheist airman can only re-enlist if Congress passes supporting legislation.

Should military enlistees be allowed to practice atheism or agnostic beliefs, while not being forced to acknowledge the existence of God? Finally, is the federal government becoming a Christian theocracy?

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