Airmen Ceremony
Airmen during an award ceremony earlier this month at Creech Air Force Base. © Creech Air Force Base

An airman has been denied reenlistment into the Air Force because he crossed out the phrase “so help me God” on his oath. The AHA threatens to sue.

After clarifying with officials that he would also be refusing to speak the words “so help me God” at the ceremony, the airman was told that due to this choice, he would not be permitted to re-join the Air Force.

Nevada’s Creech Air Force Base, where the airman is attempting to re-join, is now at the centre of a potential human rights battle. Technically, the Constitution of the United States declares that there should be no religious test for entering public office or a position of public trust, the Armed Forces included. However, for the wording to become optional on the oath, a spokeswoman for the Air Force stated that an act of Congress would have to be completed, which is odd considering the Air Force allowed the omission of the phrase as recently as last year and many other branches of the military do have secular versions of their oaths.

The Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers is a group that aims to support the rights of those that have no religious belief that serve in the military, and will continue to campaign to change rules and regulations to make it easier for non-believers to enter the military. Moreover, representatives from the American Humanist Association (AHA) have declared the Air Forces’ actions to be unconstitutional and have threatened to sue if the airman is not allowed to re-enlist. The AHA have written a letter demanding that the use of a secular oath be authorized.

The United States of America is considered by many to be a Christian country – albeit unofficially – but that certainly does not mean that every single citizen holds fast to the Christian faith. In fact, it does not even mean that every single citizen holds fast to any faith. The freedom to hold any religious belief, even if that belief is that there is no deity to believe in, is very important for a country that prides itself on being a world-leading democracy. However, key institutions throughout the land were built by those who had a very strong Christian faith, and such a history and culture is starting to conflict with the increasing nontheist population.

UPDATED 9/17/14: The American Humanist Association is reporting the U.S. Air Force has reversed their decision and is allowing the airman to reenlist with a secular affirmation.

Monica Miller, attorney with the American Humanist Association’s legal center says, “We are pleased that the U.S. Department of Defense has confirmed our client has a First Amendment right to omit the reference to a supreme being in his reenlistment oath. We hope the Air Force will respect the constitutional rights of Atheists in the future.”

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