Cadets reciting the U.S. Air Force Academy (AFA) oath will now have the choice to add "so help me God" to the end of their affirmation, the school confirmed on Friday.
The AFA made its decision after a meeting earlier this week with the Military for Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), a group that has made frequent complaints against the oath's references to God, arguing that cadets should not be forced to swear an allegiance to Him.
An AFA spokesperson said that the institution's decision was made with the intention of being inclusive of cadets who represented all 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. Michelle D. Johnson, Academy Superintendent, 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'."
MRFF President Mickey Weinstein warned the AFA that the "so help me God" language must be struck out of its written materials if it was to make good on its decision.
"Are they taking the four words out?" Weinstein said. "If the words are still there, if our clients are willing to come forward, we'll sue the academy in federal court aggressively and as soon as we can."
If not, Weinstein argued, any cadet who did not speak that part of the oath "will stick out like a tarantula on a wedding cake."
In a letter to the AFA on October 24, the American Center for Law and Justice, warned that appeasing the MRFF might cause the school to "become unwitting pawns in Mr. Weinstein's strategy to eviscerate religious freedom in the Armed Forces" and suggested that he was receiving a disproportionate amount of attention as an alumna of the school.
The letter drew attention to the fact that the AFA did not discriminate against students who did not believe in God and also did not deny commission to students who currently did not include "so help me God" in their oaths.
The letter also questioned Weinstein's reliability as an advocate, characterizing him as "making bombastic, over-the-top statements about those-Christians and non-Christians alike who disagree with his views and his personal ideas on what constitutes acceptable speech and conduct under the Constitution and laws of the United States."
In its entirety, the oath reads, "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 inclusion of God into the oath came as a result of a student cheating scandal in 1984 so widespread that the Superintendent suspended the oath and granted amnesty to offending students. A committee charged with finding a way to emphasize the gravity of the oath to cadets revised multiple sections of it, which included the addition of "so help me, God."
Cadets first affirm the oath at the end of basic training. The entire cadet wing recites and reaffirms every other year of school.