Monday, February 10, 2014

Air Cadets Needn't Invoke God

In October, the Air Force Academy announced that it would no longer make cadets say “so help me God” when they took their required Honor Oaths.

Lieutenant General Michelle Johnson, the academy superintendent, issued this statement: “Here at the Academy, we work to build a culture of dignity and respect, and that respect includes the ability of our cadets, Airmen and civilian Airmen to freely practice and exercise their religious preference—or not. So in the spirit of respect, cadets may or may not choose to finish the Honor Oath with ‘so help me God.’”

The oath says, “We will not lie, steal or cheat, nor tolerate anyone who does. Furthermore, I resolve to do my duty and to live honorably, so help me God.”

Johnson made the change in response to a complaint by Mikey Weinstein, president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF).

In 1984, the Air Force added the words, “so help me God,” to its original 1959 oath. The other military academies do not refer to God in their oaths.

Weinstein, who graduated from the Academy in 1977, didn’t know about the added language until reporter Pam Zubeck of the Colorado Springs Independent told him about a photograph that displayed the oath.

Weinstein contacted the Academy, and a little more than an hour later Johnson got back to him. She told him that a framed poster of the oath had been taken down. She promised to reconsider the oath promptly, and her promise made news.

The Religious Right got angry. At least two leaders of the Family Research Council (FRC) said George Washington had originated the phrase in his presidential oath. No historical evidence supports that claim.

After Johnson made “so help me God” optional, two Texas congressmen introduced a bill that would require congressional approval for any changes to military oaths.

Weinstein is campaigning for deletion of the religious language. He said any cadet who didn’t swear to God would stand out “like a tarantula on a wedding cake.”

In November, MMRF put its message on a billboard in the Academy’s home town, Colorado Springs, Colorado. The billboard shows a photograph of an oath signed in 1778 at Valley Forge by General George Washington. The oath makes no religious reference.

The billboard says, “This oath was good enough for George Washington—Why not the Air Force Academy?” Chris Rodda of MRFF said its billboard displays the Valley Forge oath to counter propaganda that the Founding Fathers established a Christian nation.

As of November, MMRF was considering a lawsuit to remove “so help me God” from the oath.

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