Air Force Tells Atheist Airman: "Swear To God Or Leave"

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U.S. Air Force/Mike KaplanU.S. Air Force Academy Class of 2013 graduation
An atheist Air Force technical sergeant with more than ten years of service has been told that he cannot reenlist unless he is willing to take an oath that includes the language "so help me God," according to the AirForceTimes. Determined to continue serving his country without compromising his principles, he's enlisted legal help from the American Humanist Association. And if the Air Force won't change its decision, a federal lawsuit will be filed.

The technical sergeant, whose name has not be released by either his lawyers or the Air Force, has been in the military for more than a decade and currently serves at the Creech Air Force Base in Nevada, according to Monica Miller, an attorney with the American Humanist Association, who spoke with AOL Jobs. At the end of August he had signed his reenlistment papers, which include the following section:

I, [state your name], 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.

The technical sergeant, who is an atheist, crossed out the "so help me God" language as he had before.

"He was told he needed to include that language in order to reenlist," Miller said. "If any person has an objection grounded in religious principles, they can't be forced to affirm the existence of a supreme being in the form of an oath as a condition of their employment." According to Miller, that would include military service. The issue, she said, is a well-settled area of law, with courts of all levels making this clear since the late 1800s.

The principled refusal to swear an oath to God is not just an issue for atheists. There are religious groups like Jehovah's Witnesses who do not swear such oaths on religious grounds.

On September 2, Miller sent a letter to the Air Force on the sergeant's behalf. "We laid out all the case law and informed them that the decision was definitely unconstitutional and asked them to respond to us," she said. "We still have not heard from them, although they've made several statements to the media that they were looking into it." She sent a second letter on September 9th stating that if the Air Force does not respond by September 19th, a lawsuit would be filed on the sergeant's behalf.

In a response to AOL Jobs, the Air Force sent the following two statements: "The Air Force is requesting a legal review from the Department of Defense General Counsel. The opinion will help inform the future decision," and "The Airman's term of service expires in November 2014. He has until this time to complete the Department of Defense Form 4 in compliance with [the law that requires the specific oath]."
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