Under pressure from an atheist attack group, the Air Force Academy is giving serious consideration to dropping the words “so help me God” from the honor oath all freshman cadets repeat on upon formal entry into the academy. The Air Force Times reported that the complaint about the oath, which has been a tradition at the Academy since 1984, came from the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, whose president Mikey Weinstein has been at the center of other attacks against religious freedom in the military.
The honor oath currently reads: “We will not lie, steal or cheat nor tolerate among us anyone who does. Furthermore, I resolve to do my duty and live honorably, so help me God.”
In mid-October a newspaper in Colorado Springs, where the academy is located, forwarded a picture of a poster at the academy to Weinstein. The poster, which included the oath with the “so help me God” phrase, prompted Weinstein to issue a complaint with academy officials.
According to Weinstein, a little over an hour after he lodged his complaint, academy superintendent Lieutenant General Michelle Johnson responded with an e-mail assuring him that the poster had been taken down. “We are assessing the situation and have many mission elements, to include Prep School leadership, the Honor Review Committee and other entities on base, working to put together a way ahead that is respectful to all perspectives,” wrote Johnson in the e-mail reproduced by the Colorado Springs Independent newspaper.
The academy's Honor Review Committee met October 22 to discuss the situation and consider the oath's wording, explained academy spokesman Major Brus Vidal, but came to no decision about how to appease Weinstein. Vidal said the academy committee “considered a range of options, and some of those options will be presented to academy leaders and, ultimately, the academy Superintendent. We value an inclusive environment that promotes dignity and respect for all.”
The Air Force Times reported that “among the options the committee discussed were making no change to the oath, making the 'so help me God' portion optional, or striking the entire oath.”
The Air Force newspaper noted that Weinstein and his small troop of supposed atheists have managed to make a loud noise over the academy's decades-long policy of allowing Christian academy airmen to share their faith with incoming cadets. “The academy is trying to address that,” reported the Times, “and recently created a religious respect program. For example, under this program, first-year cadets are taught strategies for handling someone who is attempting to exert unwanted religious influence, and seniors who are about to be commissioned as officers are taught how to promote religious respect as commanders.”
Col. Ron Crews, a retired Army chaplain and executive director of Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty, told The New American that for generations U.S. military officers have submitted to an oath of office that includes the phrase “so help me God,” and that it has always been an option for officers to decline the religious phrase. He said that the latest conflict “is one more example of the academy yielding to Mickey Weinstein at the expense of official military policy. Removing this voluntary affirmation expresses hostility toward religion.” Additionally, he said, “it removes the solemnity and gravity of the oath, particularly for the many cadets who come from a faith tradition.”
In August an officer candidate at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama was administered a secular oath after he threatened to sue if he was forced to recite an oath that included “so help me God.” According to Alabama.com, candidate Jonathan Bise had been told that he would be required to recite the religious oath in order to be sworn in. “The Air Force later said Bise should be allowed to take a secular oath and information he was given about the phrase being mandatory was incorrect,” reported the news site.
The Family Research Council's Tony Perkins told Fox News that the academy's response to Weinstein is all about “imposing an atheistic view on everyone so there can be no recognition of God.”
Tom Fitton of Judicial Watch noted that “unilaterally removing ‘so help me God’ from Air Force Academy materials is at odds with our nation’s history, the rule of law, and the fundamental values of the American people.”
Fitton and his group have filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the Defense Department to gain access to official records in an attempt to find out who is behind the move toward striking the sacred oath from Air Force Academy tradition. He said it has been tough getting information from the Pentagon. “We want to get to the bottom of this controversy, and it is a shame we had to go to court to try to get past the Pentagon’s stone wall.”
Last May Weinstein was at the center of a controversy over whether or not military personnel could share their faith to others in uniform. As reported by The New American, the Defense Department had originally released a statement declaring that religious proselytization “is not permitted within the Department of Defense.” The statement went on to warn that “court martials and non-judicial punishments are decided on a case-by-case basis” where a violation of that policy pops up.
The New American reported that the Pentagon statement “appeared to come as the result of an April 24 meeting between military officials and Mikey Weinstein of the atheist group Military Religious Freedom Foundation, in which Weinstein pressured Air Force officials to enforce a policy that supposedly bans Air Force personnel from openly expressing their religious faith. The Defense Department has reportedly turned to Weinstein's group to hammer out policies on religious expression in the military.”
Following an uproar from groups such as the Family Research Council and Chaplain Alliance for Religious Freedom over the bizarre policy shift, the Pentagon backed down and clarified that soldiers were free to proselytize as long as they didn't appear to be harassing others. “Service members can share their faith,” clarified Navy Lieutenant Commander Nate Christensen, a Pentagon spokesman, in a statement, “but must not force unwanted, intrusive attempts to convert others of any faith or no faith to one's beliefs.”