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"So help me God."
September 5, 2014 7:53 AM   Subscribe

An airman at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada has allegedly been denied the ability to re-enlist after he refused to use the words "so help me God" in his oath. On September 2, the Appignani Humanist Legal Center sent a letter (pdf) on his behalf. Up until last fall, Air Force Instruction 36-2606, which spells out the active duty oath, had a provision where an airman could omit the words, but that was dropped last October.
posted by roomthreeseventeen (75 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
Well it is the Air Force, the most Dominionist of the armed services.
posted by Naberius at 8:04 AM on September 5 [16 favorites]


This is clearly an attempt to fend off accusations that the US Air Force "encourages atheism"...
posted by chavenet at 8:06 AM on September 5 [1 favorite]


Why can't these heathens just surrender themselves to god already?
posted by oceanjesse at 8:08 AM on September 5


Always a pleasure to see a branch of the armed forces of the United States double down on teh stupid. Sheesh.
posted by Mooski at 8:08 AM on September 5


"You have to swear an oath to our god before we can send you off to fight those terrible religious extremists who want to live in a theocracy!"
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:10 AM on September 5 [152 favorites]




It's always comfortable to know that the people with strong delusions about otherworldly beings and who demand that everyone share those delusions are so often the ones with heavy weaponry.
posted by delfin at 8:15 AM on September 5 [25 favorites]


I know this will come as a surprise to everyone on MeFi, but the problem seems to have been caused by Congress. From the last link:

"Reciting 'So help me God' in the re-enlistment and commissioning oaths is a statutory requirement under Title 10 USC 502," Air Force spokeswoman Rose Richeson said Thursday. AFI 36-2606 "is consistent with the language mandated in 10 USC 502. Paragraph 5.6 (and) was changed in October 2013 to reflect the aforementioned statutory requirement and airmen are no longer authorized to omit the words 'So help me God.' "

The Air Force said it cannot change its AFI to make "so help me God" optional unless Congress changes the statute mandating it.

posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 8:16 AM on September 5 [18 favorites]


A friendquaintance just joined the AF and all I could think about was how weird it was to imagine this really nice and laid back dude surrounded by what, to anyone else we know, would be considered a religious extremist community.
posted by poffin boffin at 8:16 AM on September 5 [1 favorite]


Not the first time Congress has acted contrary to the Constitution (see the Defense of Marriage Act).
posted by exogenous at 8:17 AM on September 5 [3 favorites]


AFI 36-2606 "is consistent with the language mandated in 10 USC 502. Paragraph 5.6 (and) was changed in October 2013 to reflect the aforementioned statutory requirement and airmen are no longer authorized to omit the words 'So help me God.'

I'm looking forward to the Supreme Court properly declaring this unconstitutional. (ha ha)

Good thing I'd be 4F if I wanted to go into the Air Force.
posted by immlass at 8:18 AM on September 5 [1 favorite]


So I guess the King's Oath/Chicken Oath is off the table too, eh?
posted by mazola at 8:34 AM on September 5 [3 favorites]


I know this will come as a surprise to everyone on MeFi, but the problem seems to have been caused by Congress

The hell you say!
posted by Mezentian at 8:36 AM on September 5 [8 favorites]


Hasn't this been settled constitutional law for more than 200 years? I mean, it's not even like a Bill of Rights thing, it's right there in Article VI.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 8:37 AM on September 5 [9 favorites]


What i want to know is how did a religion as insecure in its tenants as chrstianity become so popular? Everything you hear about it is desperate attempts to shore up what should be convictions by rules-lawyering. Of course, humans as a group are kind of pathetic, so it follows our religions are too.
posted by maxwelton at 8:45 AM on September 5 [6 favorites]


How plane stay up if not god?
posted by benzenedream at 8:53 AM on September 5 [63 favorites]


This is just an idiotic step backward. Freedom from religious prosecution applies to atheists, same as everyone else.

Also, favoriting The_Underpants_Monster 100% for summing this up so pithily!
posted by misha at 8:54 AM on September 5


What the shit? Man, when I was in the Army it was totally cool to omit it, and that was ten years ago. Also, why the hell would Congress change that? How did that even get through?
posted by corb at 8:56 AM on September 5 [3 favorites]


How did that even get through

The way such stuff nearly always does: someone slipped it into a huge Defense Reauthorization Act, or similar necessary legislation, and nobody who would have complained noticed. Or they noticed but didn't have time or the votes necessary to do anything about it.
posted by suelac at 8:59 AM on September 5 [1 favorite]


So what happens if you're drafted and choose not to take the oath? Instant 4F?
posted by JoeZydeco at 9:05 AM on September 5 [3 favorites]


Mikey Weinstein's With God on Our Side documents his experiences with violations of rights in the Air Force, and his Military Religious Freedom Foundation has helped many service people with their own problems.
posted by audi alteram partem at 9:05 AM on September 5 [4 favorites]


All this god stuff is a hangover from the cold war when the enemy was the godless communists. It is doubly stupid now.
posted by bhnyc at 9:11 AM on September 5 [3 favorites]


This is the first time I have come across something written for cases like this....

The stand around in a group and sing the company song, swear allegiance, or salute some person/symbol kinda stuff is pretty common.

Anecdote: I never said the Pledge of Allegiance throughout school (do they still do that in all elementary schools?). I'd stand up and sometimes mumble something if the teacher looked at me, but never said it. Not sure why; I guess a sense that there was something that didn't feel right about that....

It makes me laugh to this day when I see people stand up and put their hands on their heart for the National Anthem. That's not the Pledge of Allegiance, folks....
posted by CrowGoat at 9:14 AM on September 5 [1 favorite]


We need swift and severe punishment for any elected or appointed official that does something that they should know, by the very fact of their position, is unconstitutional. I'm thinking expulsion and banishment from public office for life, as a start.
posted by COD at 9:18 AM on September 5 [4 favorites]


Spent 20 years in the Air Force as an "out" atheist and never had a single problem from others about it. And contrary to what some people are talking about and referencing above, I never saw or encountered any "Christian" oppression or heavy-handedness in my official duties. There may have been some at off-duty events and (for instance) at the Officers Club, etc, but in day-to-day operations, it was never an issue (in my experience).

And as noted above, this is a CONGRESS problem, not an Air Force problem. It's pretty damn disgusting and embarrassing, too.
posted by davidmsc at 9:18 AM on September 5 [9 favorites]


Spent 20 years in the Air Force as an "out" atheist and never had a single problem from others about it.

Many, if not most, of the people filing complaints through the MRFF are Christians and religious minorities who come into conflict with conservative & anti-Establishment Clause Christians in Air Force leadership. These problems aren't unique to the Air Force, and rights violations have been reported in the other branches, but the Air Force does have a history of problems. E.g. "Air Force Academy Leader Admits Religious Intolerance at School."
posted by audi alteram partem at 9:30 AM on September 5 [2 favorites]


It makes me laugh to this day when I see people stand up and put their hands on their heart for the National Anthem. That's not the Pledge of Allegiance, folks....

it's still proper to put your hand over your heart.
posted by Dr. Twist at 9:37 AM on September 5 [1 favorite]


A friendquaintance just joined the AF and all I could think about was how weird it was to imagine this really nice and laid back dude surrounded by what, to anyone else we know, would be considered a religious extremist community.

Tell me about it. A friend of mine recently joined up as one of the few Unitarian Universalist chaplains in the military. I'm still not convinced it isn't some elaborate prank being pulled.
posted by Panjandrum at 9:43 AM on September 5 [2 favorites]


The "so help me god" part of the oath was added in 1962. It wasn't in the 1956 statute.
posted by interplanetjanet at 9:55 AM on September 5 [1 favorite]


A friendquaintance just joined the AF and all I could think about was how weird it was to imagine this really nice and laid back dude surrounded by what, to anyone else we know, would be considered a religious extremist community. with nuclear weapons and global reach stealth bombers.
posted by Naberius at 9:56 AM on September 5 [2 favorites]


Seconding strangely stunted trees about it being right there in the middle of the Constitution. It's nice to see how straight forward it is. Here is the entirety of Article Six:
All Debts contracted and Engagements entered into, before the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be as valid against the United States under this Constitution, as under the Confederation.

This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.

The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.
Anyone who requires such a religious test is violating any oath they took to uphold the constitution, in a way that most 7th graders could understand.
posted by benito.strauss at 10:20 AM on September 5 [18 favorites]


"You have to swear an oath to our god before we can send you off to fight those terrible religious extremists who want to live in a theocracy!"

The "so help me god" part of the oath was added in 1962. It wasn't in the 1956 statute


Hmm. Like the addtion of "under God" to the Ay Plegli Ianectu Flaggen in 1954 -- it was more to do with overtly opposing "Godless Communism™*" than the other guys' golden idol.

Spent 20 years in the Air Force as an "out" atheist and never had a single problem . . . in day-to-day operations, it was never an issue (in my experience). . . .

"statutory requirement under Title 10 USC 502," . . . AFI 36-2606 . . . consistent with the language mandated in 10 USC 502. Paragraph 5.6 . . . The Air Force said it cannot change . . . unless Congress changes the statute . . .


Selective enforcement, though, is the oldest trick in the bureaucratic (5,000 page) book.

------------------
*Previously cited, I now see.
posted by Herodios at 10:26 AM on September 5


> So what happens if you're drafted and choose not to take the oath? Instant 4F?

Potentially jail.
posted by Sunburnt at 10:30 AM on September 5 [1 favorite]


I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

My friend's son got an internship this past summer with the Knights of Columbus, specifically their lobbying group, who then were "working on" the hobby lobby case. He was told there that KoC lobbying was instrumental in getting the 'under God' added into the Pledge of Allegiance.
posted by newdaddy at 10:30 AM on September 5 [1 favorite]


I'm currently an Army officer, and used to be a platoon leader, so I've done a handful of reenlistments. I was completely under the impression that you could substitute "so I swear" for "so help me God".
posted by A Bad Catholic at 10:33 AM on September 5 [1 favorite]


So help me, Todd
posted by fallingbadgers at 10:35 AM on September 5 [1 favorite]


So help me, Rhonda. Help, help me Rhonda.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:47 AM on September 5 [18 favorites]


None of those articles explain why the Air Force really changed their policy. If the oath has been "so help me god" since 1962, and as far as I can tell, the Navy, Army and Marine Corps all have regs interpreting it as optional, why did the Air Force suddenly decide they have to follow the letter of the law?
posted by interplanetjanet at 10:53 AM on September 5 [2 favorites]


Congress decided it. The thing you linked to is from 2011, the change occurred last October.
posted by merelyglib at 11:00 AM on September 5 [1 favorite]


Good thing that we don't really need the USAF, then.
posted by Halloween Jack at 11:03 AM on September 5


10 USC § 502(a) says:
Enlistment Oath.— Each person enlisting in an armed force shall take the following oath:

“I, XXXXXXXXXX, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.”
If they want to stick to the letter of the statute unencumbered by reasonable interpretation, shouldn't the Air Force deny enlistment to anyone who uses their real name instead of saying "X" 10 times?
posted by grouse at 11:17 AM on September 5 [13 favorites]


I would like to remind all these supposed "Christians" in the Air Force and Government, etc...


James 5:12
"But above all, my brethren, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath; but your yes is to be yes, and your no, no, so that you may not fall under judgment."

Matthew 5:34-42
" 34 But I say to you, make no oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35 or by the earth, for it is the footstool of His feet, or [a]by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 Nor shall you make an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 But let your statement be, ‘Yes, yes’ or ‘No, no’; anything beyond these is [b]of evil."
posted by symbioid at 11:25 AM on September 5 [15 favorites]


This is actually what the commandment against swearing is all about. You're not supposed to invoke God's name in service to your magic spells, like curses or oaths.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:27 AM on September 5 [8 favorites]


So I guess "Thou Shalt Not Kill" isn't the only commandment you have to break to be a soldier in the US.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:29 AM on September 5 [4 favorites]


Weird. I guess I'm mis-remembering my ten commandments... Looks like the swearing thing is in another, less popular list of "shall nots" in Leviticus.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:42 AM on September 5 [1 favorite]


What happened? Last summer as I recall, there were three developments:

1. A flurry of news involving the MRFF and religious discrimination in the Armed Forces, especially the Air Force Academy which has a long history of religious bias.
2. Obama issued an executive order barring explicit proselytizing by military personnel. I think one person lost his job over this.
3. There was initial movement toward having humanist chaplains serve in the Armed Forces.

The House of Representatives, the party and chamber of nuh-uh collectively lost their shit and passed a flurry of riders onto appropriations bills, which likely included this stinker of a mandate to military recruiters. Actually the more likely answer is that House Republicans cynically saw the tide turn on homophobia and decided to make "religious freedom" (free harassment and discrimination by Christians) into the next culture war. Expect to see plenty of political ads this next cycle with sad-looking actors holding bibles in military uniforms and posed in front of chalkboards
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 11:42 AM on September 5 [11 favorites]


How fitting that it's an oath to defend the constitution against (among other things) domestic enemies. It's like that puzzle.
posted by fritley at 12:04 PM on September 5 [1 favorite]


saul, I believe there are two separate sets of 10 Commandments. Much like there are two different and inconsistent Creation stories in Genesis. (h/t The Bible Geek!)
posted by benito.strauss at 12:08 PM on September 5


I think individual members of the military making their own ad hoc decisions about which policies required by law to enforce and which to ignore is a bad thing. Enforcing this was appropriate. Now there's at least a shot at the courts doing the right thing and declaring this requirement unconstitutional.

There may be a bunch of terrifying things going on in with Air Force religiousity, but this isn't one of them.
posted by Zed at 12:14 PM on September 5


Zed, that's a great point. And makes some small part of me wonder whether brass chafed at the requirement, and enforced it on purpose to get it into the courts.

The small, dying, optimistic part of me, admittedly.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 12:21 PM on September 5 [1 favorite]


saul, I believe there are two separate sets of 10 Commandments. Much like there are two different and inconsistent Creation stories in Genesis. (h/t The Bible Geek!)

Yeah, Exodus 20 is the basis for the usual one, but even then people divide it up in different ways, lumping some together and dividing up others to make it ten. But much like Joseph Smith reading golden plates out of a hat, it came out different the second time.
posted by George_Spiggott at 12:37 PM on September 5 [2 favorites]


And yes, swearing oaths in the name of god is explicitly and unequivocally a sin in both the Old and New Testaments (Matthew, James). I know the scripture is followed selectively in practice (which practice is also only admitted to selectively, and nowhere does anyone seem to want to list for the record which things in the Bible it's okay to ignore), but the rigor which which they both disobey and compel disobedience of something so clearly stated so many times is kind of remarkable.
posted by George_Spiggott at 12:57 PM on September 5 [2 favorites]


Somewhat perversely, any Christian with enough faith not to break commandments could legitimately refuse to take the oath and then challenge this Air Force policy on religious freedom grounds from a Christian perspective.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:02 PM on September 5 [6 favorites]


They probably wouldn't be cool with you being more specific and saying "So help me Amon-Ra" either.
posted by George_Spiggott at 1:04 PM on September 5 [2 favorites]


Or say, "Khonsu."
posted by saulgoodman at 1:18 PM on September 5


By His Noodly Appendage.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 1:19 PM on September 5 [4 favorites]


"Sargent, it's pretty hard for me to swear an oath to god if there isn't a goat and alter available"
posted by el io at 2:52 PM on September 5 [1 favorite]


"I, XXXXXXXXXX, do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic... So help me God."

It's like they put a test at the end to see if you understood the first part.
posted by ArkhanJG at 3:25 PM on September 5 [7 favorites]


We'll win the next war, boys
With God on our side.

Who would Jesus bomb first?
posted by spitbull at 4:19 PM on September 5 [1 favorite]


Thou shalt not seethe a kid in his mother's milk.

Whew! Good thing I checked out that link, George_Spiggott. Almost sinned there. I had the baby goat all ready to go. Maybe should just use coconut milk and make a curry?
posted by Gotanda at 4:54 PM on September 5


Somewhat perversely, any Christian with enough faith not to break commandments could legitimately refuse to take the oath and then challenge this Air Force policy on religious freedom grounds from a Christian perspective.

Yes. For example, Minersville School District v. Gobitis, which has a very shaky legacy.

I remember getting in trouble over this very issue. My Old Order Amish grandma insisted that I never salute the flag or recite the Pledge of Allegiance, as it was idolatry. So in first grade, I would stand with my hands at my sides and my mouth closed. It took a while for the teacher to notice, but once he did, he harassed me constantly. I figured I could fool him and still not compromise, by holding my hand over my heart like all the others, but just mouth the words. Eventually the teacher figured that out too. So he would stand beside me and listen to hear if I was reciting. I would just mumble, but that seemed to fool the teacher and he gave up on pledge-sitting me and just stayed at his desk as usual. And then I went right back to mouthing the words silently.

So the soldier should have just done like I did, stand in the back row and mumble "ho het nee nga." Or alternately, he could have just said, "So help me." He should have left the written pledge alone, but if he really didn't want to do it, he could have just smudged something over "God" rather than make an obvious strikeout.
posted by charlie don't surf at 6:34 PM on September 5


I hope this is the next big anti-discrimination movement: equal rights for atheists (or apatheists).
posted by Mental Wimp at 6:41 PM on September 5 [5 favorites]


I'd just appreciate it if Christians could be bothered to learn enough about their own faith to know they are promoting a serious sin--one that by traditional interpretations is weighted more heavily than others like sodomy because there's an explicit commandment against it--by insisting we put God in official state oaths and pledges.
posted by saulgoodman at 6:59 PM on September 5 [2 favorites]


But whar does this mean if all fighter pilots think they are gods...
posted by humanfont at 7:07 PM on September 5


So the soldier should have just done like I did, stand in the back row and mumble "ho het nee nga." Or alternately, he could have just said, "So help me." He should have left the written pledge alone, but if he really didn't want to do it, he could have just smudged something over "God" rather than make an obvious strikeout.

This is certainly the type of religious liberty envisioned in the constitution.
posted by jaduncan at 12:36 AM on September 6 [3 favorites]


This is certainly the type of religious liberty envisioned in the constitution.


I know citing Bible verse isn't really a great way to settle an argument on Metafilter, but while "muddling through" a mandatory religious oath in order to enter into the U.S. Military may not be a valid answer for strict constitutionalists, Luke 20:19's "render unto Caesar" pronouncement would suggest that it's a perfectly valid solution for Christians.
posted by LiteOpera at 2:12 AM on September 6


So they have an Oath to defend the Constitution, but the Oath itself breaks the Constitution.

That makes the Oath utterly worthless, I'd say.
posted by DreamerFi at 7:24 AM on September 6 [6 favorites]


“I, XXXXXXXXXX, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that…. So help me God.”

Part of what's weird about this to me is that it's my understanding that the "or affirm" wording is there specifically for people who don't want to "swear" an oath. Wikipedia seems to agree. So having "or affirm" as an option but then requiring "so help me God" doesn't compute.
posted by Lexica at 7:42 PM on September 6 [5 favorites]


requiring "so help me God" doesn't compute.

Some would say this whole god-centric religion thing doesn't compute.
posted by Mental Wimp at 10:55 PM on September 6 [2 favorites]


>So what happens if you're drafted and choose not to take the oath? Instant 4F?

Potentially jail.


After seeing what happened to Private Manning, that idea of a military trial and imprisonment terrifies me.
posted by formless at 2:13 AM on September 7


In addition to all the above, by compelling nonbelievers to swear by an entity they don't believe in, they are compelling insincerity to put it mildly, and dishonesty to put it a little more strongly. Which is pretty much the exact opposite of what an oath is supposed to do.
posted by George_Spiggott at 4:20 PM on September 7


Yeah, he could have just pretended to say "So help me God" to appease the AF. And Rosa Parks could have just moved and then slipped back into that whites-only seat when nobody was looking!
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:31 AM on September 8 [3 favorites]


Metafilter: "ho het nee nga"
posted by symbioid at 6:00 PM on September 8 [1 favorite]


American Humanist Association attorney Monica Miller discusses the case on MSNBC (video).
posted by audi alteram partem at 1:13 PM on September 15




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