Air Force seeks DOD ruling on re-enlistment oath
WASHINGTON — The Air Force said Tuesday it was awaiting a legal opinion from the Defense Department’s top lawyer on whether an enlisted airman who’s an atheist can opt out of the phrase “so help me God” in his re-enlistment oath.
The airman, stationed at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada, was told in late August that federal law requires those words in the enlistment oath, attorney Monica Miller of the American Humanist Society said. Air Force policy previously allowed airmen to drop the phrase if they wished, but the policy was changed in 2013.
“The opinion that we’re seeking will help inform future decisions and the latitude that can be taken with the oath,” Air Force spokeswoman Rose Richeson said Tuesday. “But the Air Force has to comply with law.”
The airman’s right to modify the oath to fit his lack of religious belief is not in question outside the Air Force, a defense official who discussed the matter on the condition of anonymity said Tuesday.
“I’ll tell you that there is no legal requirement to say ‘So help me God’ in any federal oath/affirmation by a person taking the oath,” the official, who was not authorized to speak publicly about the matter, said in an email. “That is, saying ‘So help me God’ in any federal oath is optional at the discretion of the person taking the oath (not the person administering the oath).”
I think the Air Force is being silly. “So help me God” is not legally part of any Federal oath and the Constitution provides “oath or affirmation” because some denominations (noatbly Quakers) objected to oath-taking.
Bonus points: who is the only President to affirm rather than swear?