News By Wes O'Donnell. Opinion by Mike Weisbecker.
Last month an airman serving at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada was told he was unable to reenlist because of his refusal to recite “so help me God” at the conclusion of his reenlistment oath. After having crossed out that line in the reenlistment contract, the contract was rejected. He was then informed that his only options were to sign the contract as is with the religious oath in tact or to leave the Air Force.
At this point the American Humanist Association became involve and stated they were prepared to sue if the airman was not allowed to reenlist. The AHA said the airman should be given the option of a secular oath as a suitable replacement for one involving a deity or holy book if that is what the airman requests. The AHA attorney stated the limited option the airman was given was both unacceptable and unconstitutional; further saying that the government should not be allowed to force a nonbeliever into taking an oath that affirms the existence of an entity that goes against their beliefs. In the past there have been several documented cases where theistic verbiage has been removed from enlistment and reenlistment contracts.
Inquiries have been sent to Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada. In response, questions have been posed to the Air Force public affairs officers at the Pentagon. The AHA has also requested officials to look into the “quiet” update to Air Force reenlistment rules that was made last year which required all reenlisting airmen to swear an oath to God upon reenlistment. The previous version included the exception stating “Airmen may omit the words ‘so help me God,’ if desired for personal reasons.” That additional statement was dropped on October 30, 2013 when the update was put into effect taking away the airman’s right to omit the phrase.
Air Force officials have responded by stating they cannot make changes to the current version of the enlistment contract without Congress making changes to the statute mandating it.
The American Humanist Association brought to attention that Article VI of the Constitution prohibits the requirement of religious tests in order to hold office or public trust. This oath is, in essence, a form of a “religious test” and should not be required for reenlistment. Furthermore, if an airman takes an oath swearing to something he or she does not believe in is an act of dishonesty. Honesty and integrity are two core values of military members.
This past week a story came out that an Airman was given a choice to say the oath of enlistment as written or separate from the Air Force at the end of his current enlistment. So what was the hangup? This Airman felt that saying “so help me God” at the end of the oath would be forcing him to go against his atheism.
When I first enlisted in 1984 and then reenlisted several times after that to take up thru my retirement in 2009 I had the option to not have to say God. The option was there to swear or affirm and to just say “so help me” at the end.
I posted the link to the article on my Facebook page and also commented on it on a link on another friend’s page. The reactions were stunning to me. The title of this piece is one of the comments from one of my friends that was left on my page. Another broke it down to numbers stating that well there are x number of Atheists and since they are in the single digit minority they should just shut up and color.
I am a firm believer that the Constitution is the most important thing this country has. Warrior Lodge Founder, Wes O'Donnell, gave me a desk copy as a going away gift when I PCS’ed to Germany in 2005 and it has been on my desk at workplaces ever since. It is the basis for all laws in this country. That is what the oaths we take in federal service (whether military or civilian) are sworn or affirmed to. To prevent religious oaths from being forced on citizens, the framers of this document added verbiage to keep that from happening in Article VI of the document.
This Airman got caught up by what I believe is an illegal change to a federal statute. Air Force spokespersons are saying that they are complying with this statute which was stated as being changed in November 2013. This country is made up of over 300 million people from all walks of life. Everything from Atheism to Zoroastrianism. The First Amendment protects the right of worshipping as you wish (or not as the case may be). I have served alongside fellow Americans and our common thread was we believed in the Constitution and the defense of what it stands for.
So now you have an Airman who has served honorably (I make this assumption as his chain of command signed off on them being allowed to reenlist) suddenly being told unless you go against your beliefs, you can’t reenlist. Kinda flies in the face of one of Big Blue’s core values, that “Integrity First” thingy. Since this contradicts the higher precedent Article VI, this simple fact should make the current enforcement of the oath as unconstitutional.
I don’t care what your faith or belief system is. If you are willing to serve to defend and protect the ideas that make this country great, I want you at my side. This needs to get fixed ASAP.What some folks don’t understand is you agree to give up some of your rights when you join the military so you can defend the rights of those who don’t serve. The oath is to affirm that you will protect and defend the Constitution. Not a deity or deities or no deities. Not a specific person. If you defend the ideas we know as the Constitution, the rest falls into place.