(Photo: Chaplains Alliance)
Groups supporting the usage of the "So Help Me God" oath for the military have posted a billboard in Colorado near the United States Air Force Academy.
The Chaplains Alliance for Religious Freedom and the Restore Military Religious Freedom coalition erected the billboard in Colorado Springs earlier this week.
Featuring a photo of Mount Rushmore, the billboard has an upper caption that asks, "Air Force cadets, are you free to say so help me God?" and a lower caption that says, "They did," in reference to the presidents on Rushmore.
In a statement released Wednesday, retired Chaplain Ron Crews, executive director of the Chaplain Alliance, argued that the oath is "deeply rooted in American tradition."
"'So help me God' is a solemn reminder that cadets are pledging their fidelity, both to their country and to someone higher than themselves," said Crews.
"The presidents that Americans admire all solemnly uttered these words when they took their oaths of office. Our Air Force cadets should be encouraged to follow their example."
The controversy began last October when the Air Force released a new Cadet Honor Oath wherein cadets could opt out of using the phrase "so help me God" in the oath.
Lt. Gen. Michelle D. Johnson, academy superintendent, explained to Air Force Academy Public Affairs the reasoning behind the change.
"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 Johnson.
"So, in the spirit of respect, cadets may or may not choose to finish the Honor Oath with 'so help me God.'"
Taken at the start of every new academic year for cadets, the 1984 version of the oath read "We will not lie, steal or cheat, nor tolerate among us anyone who does. Furthermore, I resolve to do my duty and to live honorably, so help me God."
The move reportedly came in response to a complaint made by Mikey Weinstein of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation.
News of the change generated outrage among some who argued that the move was censorship of religion in the Armed Forces and an attack on religious freedom.
Family Research Council Executive Vice President Lt. Gen. Jerry Boykin said in a recent statement that "Christian cadets at the Air Force Academy have the constitutional right to express their individual faith."
"If such faith scares faculty at the Academy, then it is unlikely they will be very effective when confronted by a committed enemy who is willing to die for his or her beliefs," added Boykin.
Supporters of the change argued that the new move, if anything, showcased a greater respect for the religious freedom of all cadets, Christian and non-Christian.
Sarah Jones of Americans United for Separation of Church and State wrote in a blog entry last October that the change was a "shift toward inclusivity."
"The school's concern for inclusivity is long overdue. And let's remember: Cadets who want to can still say 'so help me God' as part of the oath," wrote Jones.
"Those who don't want to include it may omit it. The matter rests with the individual as guided by his or her conscience."