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Airman claims he was denied reenlistment for refusing to say ‘so help me God’; threatens to sue

Airmen reenlistment
Photo credit: Senior Airman Brett Clashman / Air Force (Air Force Times)

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An atheist airman at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada who claims he was denied reenlistment because he refused to take the oath, “so help me God,” is threatening a lawsuit.

The American Humanist Association issued a letter Tuesday to the Air Force’s Office of the Inspector General and to the air base on the airman’s behalf, saying the request was unconstitutional and unacceptable, according to the Washington Post.

“The government cannot compel a nonbeliever to take an oath that affirms the existence of a supreme being,” wrote Monica Miller, an attorney with the AHA’s Apignani Humanist Legal Center. “Numerous cases affirm that atheists have the right to omit theistic language from enlistment or reenlistment contracts.”

The group is prepared to sue if the airman is not allowed to reenlist, she wrote.

The Air Force is looking into the situation and has not confirmed details of the incident.

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But the inquiries have uncovered a quiet change made to Air Force rules effective Oct. 13, 2013, which removed an exception in Air Force Instruction 36-2606 governing the enlistment oath that said, “Airmen may omit the words ‘so help me God,’ if desired for personal reasons,” the Post reported.

U.S. Air Force Public Affairs Officer Chris Hoyler told the Huffington Post that the change now makes “reciting ‘So help me God’ in the reenlistment and commissioning oaths…a statutory requirement.”

The Air Force said it cannot make changes to its enlistment oath unless Congress changes the law that mandates it, according to Air Force Times.

Ironically, the change to the oath was made the same month that the Air Force decided to allow cadets to opt out of “so help me God” in the honor code.

With the role of religion coming under constant scrutiny in the military, another change is sure to be made soon.


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