US Air Force Forcing Atheist to say “So Help Me God”

USAF Enlistment Oath
USAF Enlistment Oath

This is the oath of enlistment for the United States Air Force as presented on the Air Force recruiting website. The Air Force recently “corrected” the required oath to align with Title 10 of the United States Code (USC), which is public law written by Congress. You can read more about this at several Air Force Times articles: Atheist airman must swear ‘so help me God’ or get out in November (9 Sep 2014) and Air Force stands alone in requiring atheists to say ‘so help me God’ (10 Sep 2014).

The General Counsel at the DoD level is reviewing the matter and I’m sure they’ll have to reverse this back to an optional requirement. It violates the constitutional prohibition on religious tests as well as other laws in the USC concerning discriminatory hiring practices based on a person’s religion. The laws of the US are as imperfect and conflicted as the people that wrote them. Hmm, that sounds like another set of writings I struggled with as a child.

God should be optional in the oath and nobody should be forced to say it. God signifies a singular deity so this doesn’t work with several religions and obviously doesn’t work with the lack of religion. A real irony of this oath situation is it serves as a perfect example of how the US isn’t an exclusively Christian nation even though a majority of it’s citizens are Christian.

The oath doesn’t function with god in it and it makes the oath internally inconsistent. I swear to support and defend the Constitution which includes the freedom of religion. I can write tons about the superiority of the Bill of Rights over the 10 Commandments including the first amendment trumping the first commandment. Freedom of religion is superior to the command to not have any other gods before the jealous Judeo-Christian god. Oh wait, the defenders of the “so help me God” phrase say it isn’t that specific god. Well, if the oath god isn’t that God then the phrase is non-specific and unnecessary as a mandatory statement. It still wouldn’t jive with an overall freedom of religion we guarantee ourselves in our Constitution. The first amendment is obviously not derived from biblical origins because it defies the bible’s first commandment. Which one do you want to keep?

I don’t bring much of my personal life into what is really a personal blog here, but this story hits home for me. I’m retired Air Force and started this blog while on active duty as my own little non-religious outlet on the Internet. My dog tags evolved from an initial enlistment where I said “I guess so” for putting Roman Catholic as my religion. I just couldn’t think of an alternative at that time to my family’s religion and didn’t give it any thought. Later, as I began to explore religions, I switched to “No Religious Preference” until I finally settled on and requested Atheist. Soon after that I switched to the more accurate Agnostic and that’s what my record said when I retired. I see myself as an atheistic agnostic with emphasis on the agnostic side of the non-religious belief/knowledge coin.

I never had any issues in the military and flew well under the radar with my lack of religion. Only the few personnelists recording my preference and making my dog tags really knew and they didn’t say anything about it. When it came to taking the oath, I would say “so help me god” or not depending on if I could just quietly slip out of it in a private ceremony. I trusted the few officers that gave me a godless oath and they didn’t have a problem with it. I have said the phrase when the ceremony was more public just to not draw attention to myself. Personally, I had no issue with playing along because it had the same impact on my oath as “so help me Santa Claus” would have on it. I just didn’t feel strongly enough to publicly fight it even though I fully support others that do.

I never bowed my head in prayer during group events and nobody had an issue with it. They weren’t paying attention to me anyway and it was only other nonbelievers that ever noticed me with a knowing wink and a smile. Trust me, there are plenty of us around just quietly standing by as people exercise their freedom of religion. We’re not all out to stop the faithful from believing in an unproven supernatural deity even though we don’t want to join in their godly games.

This is to the people that would try to force us to take an oath to a god we don’t believe in. Why can’t you just make it optional and extend us the same courtesy we give you to leave it in as an option? The oath with an optional ending is really what freedom of religion looks like. We could even go one step further and change it to “Optional: So help me, —insert deity/deities here—” Now wouldn’t that really be freedom of religion?

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