Air Force Drops Requirement to Use ‘So Help Me God’ in Oaths

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Cadets take the oath of office during the 2011 graduation ceremony at the U.S. Air Force Academy on May 25, 2011 in Colorado Springs, Colorado. (Credit: John Moore/Getty Images)

There are no atheists in a foxhole, goes the old military saw, but there is a place for them in the Air Force, which has decided to make the words “So help me God,” optional in oaths.

The action allows enlisted members and officers to delete the words “So help me God,” from their oaths. The Air Force’s decision comes after an advocacy group threatened to take legal action on behalf of an atheist airman in Nevada who crossed out the words on his reenlistment papers and ran into problems.

“We take any instance in which airmen report concerns regarding religious freedom seriously,” Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James said in a statement on Wednesday. “We are making the appropriate adjustments to ensure our airmen’s rights are protected.”

The Constitution, in Article II, defines the oath of office for incoming presidents, which does not include the phrase. It does allow the option of affirming rather than swearing the oath. Only one president, Franklin Pierce, is believed to have affirmed rather than sworn the oath.

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