The American Humanist Association is threatening to sue the Air Force on behalf of an atheist airman at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada after he was denied reenlistment into the service last month because he refused to say "so help me God" in the Oath of Enlistment.
An Air Force official explained in a USA Today report that taking the oath to God is a statutory requirement and the only way the atheist airman can opt out of acknowledging God is if Congress changes it.
"The American Humanist Association's Appignani Humanist Legal Center recently sent a letter to U.S. Air Force officials on behalf of a service member at the Creech Air Force Base in Indian Springs, who has been denied reenlistment for omitting the phrase 'so help me God' from his contract," the AHA announced in a release on its website Thursday.
"According to the letter, on Aug. 25 the member of the U.S. Air Force opted for a secular affirmation in his reenlistment contract. He was told by his superiors that he must swear to God or leave the Air Force. The letter demands that the service member be permitted to reenlist using a secular affirmation," said the release.
"The government cannot compel a nonbeliever to take an oath that affirms the existence of a supreme being," Monica Miller, an attorney with the Appignani Humanist Legal Center noted. "Numerous cases affirm that atheists have the right to omit theistic language from enlistment or reenlistment contracts."
According to USA Today, Air Force Instruction 36-2606 says all airmen must take the active-duty oath of enlistment that ends with "so help me God" when they enlist or re-enlist. The publication highlighted that an older version of the AFI once had an exception that said: "Note: Airmen may omit the words 'so help me God,' if desired for personal reasons."
That exception, however, was dropped in an updated version of the AFI released Oct. 30, 2013. Everyone must now say the full oath which reads:
"I 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."
Air Force spokeswoman Rose Richeson told USA Today Thursday that "reciting 'so help me God' in the re-enlistment and commissioning oaths is a statutory requirement under Title 10 USC 502."
AFI 36-2606 "is consistent with the language mandated in 10 USC 502. Paragraph 5.6 (and) was changed in October 2013 to reflect the aforementioned statutory requirement and airmen are no longer authorized to omit the words 'so help me God,'" she added.
The Air Force maintains that "so help me God" cannot be made optional unless Congress amends the statute.
According to the AHA, "If the service member is not given the opportunity to reenlist, the commanding officers may be sued. The Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers is working with the Appignani Humanist Legal Center on this issue."
Read the complete legal demand for a secular Air Force Oath of Enlistment below: