“So help me God” are words that have long accompanied oaths taken by members of the United States Armed Forces, but one branch has revised their guidelines to make the phrase optional.
The change stems from an Air Force airman not being able to complete his reenlistment due to his refusal to say the words. As a result, the Air Force took action, thanks in part to a review conducted by the Department of Defense General Counsel.
The change, Air Force officials stated in a press release (via Washington Post), is “effective immediately.”
“We take any instance in which Airmen report concerns regarding religious freedom seriously,” Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James said in the statement. “We are making the appropriate adjustments to ensure our Airmen’s rights are protected.
“The Air Force will be updating the instructions for both enlisted and commissioned Airmen to reflect these changes in the coming weeks, but the policy change is effective now. Airmen who choose to omit the words ‘So help me God’ from enlistment and officer appointment oaths may do so.”
It’s hard to tell if the situation would have escalated to this point had it not been for the American Humanist Association sending a letter that detailed the incident mentioned above, which occurred on Creech Air Force Base in Nevada.
The AHA said it was prepared to sue on grounds of religious freedom “unless the airman was allowed to reenlist without saying the phrase,” the Washington Post reported. The organization added that the requirement “violated the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution.”
The Air Force must have agreed.
Reaction hasn’t been altogether negative. “Bible-thumpers and other evangelical types have been violating the Constitution’s Establishment Clause in the Air Force and the Academy since 2004,” said one commenter on the Post website.
“Common sense prevailed. Thank God!” added another. “Seriously, though, this issue should have never happened. How was someone idiotic enough to change the long-standing prior policy of tolerance and require instead that everyone mention God in the oath?”
As someone who does go to church, it’s hard to disagree with the Air Force decision. After all, when you live in a country of 300-plus million people, it’s a tad unrealistic to think everyone is to act, speak, and think the same way you do.
I’m just grateful to anyone who wants to serve our country and do things like fight terrorists and Ebola. They keep us safe. What would be the point in forcing them to utter words they don’t believe?
It doesn’t do them any good, and it’s hard to see how it would do God any good.
But what do you think, readers? Did the Air Force go too far in removing “So help me God” from their enlistment oaths, or was it a common sense change?
[Image via Patheos]