- (Photo: US Air Force Honor Guard Facebook)
The American Center for Law and Justice has challenged the removal of the phrase "so help me God" from the Air Force Academy's Honor Code, which it says is evidence of an "anti-Christians Crusade" against the U.S. military.
"Mr. Weinstein's numerous, erroneous demands invite extreme caution on the part of all those who are targets of his periodic tirades and who receive his periodic letters, lest the recipients become unwitting pawns in Mr. Weinstein's strategy to eviscerate religious freedom in the Armed Forces," reads ACLJ's letter to the Superintendent of the Air Force Academy, Lieutenant General Michelle D. Johnson.
The statement refers to Mikey Weinstein, the president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), who has written to the AFA asking that "so help me God" be stricken from the Honor Code, claiming that the phrase "violates the Constitution as an establishment of religion and the imposition of a religious test to hold office."
The AFA responded last week by making the phrase optional, explaining that the decision was made with the intent to make sure the oath is inclusive of cadets from different religious backgrounds.
"Here at the Academy, we work to build a culture of dignity and respect, and that respect includes the ability of our cadets, Airmen and civilian Airmen to freely practice and exercise their religious preference - or not," said Lt. Gen. Johnson in a press release. "So, in the spirit of respect, cadets may or may not choose to finish the Honor Oath with 'So help me God'."
The ACLJ argued, however, the phrase has a long history and tradition throughout American public and military service, going back to President George Washington who added the phrase to the Presidential Oath of Office
The law group added in the letter to Lt. Gen. Johnson that the rules for the oath do not impose any penalties on cadets who refuse to recite the phrase, and that the phrase itself does not establish any particular religion.
"In fact, the phrase is no more onerous to the Constitutional rights of Air Force Academy cadets than is the phrase, 'In God We Trust,' on the currency they receive in payment for their military service," the organization continued.
"In this matter, the mere presence of the phrase 'so help me God' in the Honor Code does not violate the Constitution and laws of the United States. As such, Air Force Academy officials must absolutely reject Mr. Weinstein's imagined Constitutional violation."
In August, the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty confirmed that it had received more than 1,500 pages revealing that the Department of Defense classified religious groups such as Catholics, Evangelicals, Jews, and Mormons as religious "extremists" similar to Al-Qaeda and the Ku Klux Klan in training materials.
"Men and women of faith who have served the military faithfully for centuries shouldn't be likened to those who have regularly threatened the peace and security of the United States," said Chaplain (Col.) Ron Crews, USAR retired, executive director of the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty.
An ACLJ petition to defend religious freedom in the U.S. military started earlier this year has reached close to 100,000 signatures.