After having quietly re-instated the requirement to say “so help me, God” in enlistment oaths last year, the United States Air Force, on September 17, 2014, notified it’s members that the statement would be voluntary on the part of the person taking the oath (or affirmation, for those whose personal ethics or religious convictions don’t allow oaths) .
The issue came to a head recently when a sergeant at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada was told he would not be allowed to submit re-enlistment documents without “so help me, God” printed on them, and would not be allowed to take his oath without the religious wording. The anonymous sergeant’s current term of enlistment was due to end before November, and the commanders at his base were enforcing Air Force regulations requiring the religious oath. The Air Force was the only branch of the United States military requiring the wording remain on documents and in verbal oaths.
When the sergeant challenged the requirements, with the help of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (staffed mostly by Christians, btw), the chain of command immediately jumped into action, sending the matter up to the Department of Defense General Counsel.
I’m going to assume the following occurred at that office: Someone pulled out a copy of the United States Constitution, and read Article VI, Clause 3, and immediately sent out a memo stating ”that an individual may strike or omit the words “So help me God” from an enlistment or appointment oath if preferred“. I could be wrong, it might have been a bit more complicated than that, but it should not have been.
The Air Force has been for some time dealing with issues of religious fundamentalists trying to impose their dogma. From issues at the Academy to the recent oath fiasco, Christian right wingers have been trying to impose their faith, or at the very least limit membership to people who agree with them, on service members.
This is another blow, where their attempts at turning the US military into a Christian army doing “God’s” work have been stymied by that pesky Constitution. It is the right of every United States citizen to serve in the military if they so desire, and religious affiliation (or non-affiliation, or non-belief) (or sexual orientation, for that matter, another bugaboo of the Christian right) cannot be a determining factor. There are plenty of other reasons someone might be denied the chance to serve, from criminal records to health issues, but adhering to a required religion is not one of them.
It’s important that the mightiest military in the world remain secular, and out of the control of religious zealots. From the time of the Crusades to todays ISIS (or ISIL, if you prefer) and Boko Haram, religious militaries are a threat to the peace of the world. When you have people in charge who think they’re doing “God’s” work, nobody is safe.
(In the interest of full disclosure, the Air Force declined my enlistment in the early ’80′s, but not for what you might think. I was in deep denial then, so being gay wasn’t an issue. Being an atheist also was not an issue. I took the ASVAB test, and scored in the high 90′s. I was told I could do anything in the Air Force I wanted, except accounting. (I don’t know if that means I scored to low on the math section, or to high.) No, the reason my enlistment was declined was that I was too skinny. I was 25 pounds under their minimum requirement for someone of my height. The recruiter said I was the first such recruit prospect that he’d seen with that problem. Plenty of overweight prospects, but none of the opposite. So, I didn’t go. Best that I didn’t, I suspect, although I would have loved to have been involved in the Air Force’s space programs. I’ve heard the Air Force’s space budget is bigger than NASA’s.)