An atheist Airman was denied the right to reenlist in the United States Air Force recently. It’s been my experience that everyone had the option to say the phrase if desired, or omit the phrase if desired. But that changed late last year.
The Air Force cites US law that supersedes its previous guidance on the matter as the reason for a change in Oct 2013 that took out the option to say – or not say – “so help me God.” Title 10 Section 502 covers the oath of enlistment, and it makes no provision for omitting the phrase in question. So the Air Force has a justifiable position for its argument, which boils down to “We have to follow the law. If the law needs to be changed, then Congress has to change Title 10 Section 502 so that we can then change our regulations which fall under it.”
My experience has been that most people say it or omit it as applicable to their personal stance, and no one really cares. But the case, linked above, is proof that if someone wants to fight on this issue, the religious language is clearly going to win.
But that doesn’t make it right.
There’s a petition in the works to change the code to the very reasonable, already-done-in-practice-for-years method of “say this part if you want, and don’t say it if you don’t want.” I hope you’ll support it.
Everyone loves Top 10 lists, so I thought I’d toss one in.
Top Ten Reasons to Change Section 502 of Title 10:
10. Yes, there are atheists in foxholes. I’ve served alongside many atheists who were among the hardest-working and most skilled in my almost 20 years of military experience. I count it an honor to have served beside them, and denigrating their choice to reject a religious belief is actually unlawful, just as it is unlawful for someone to discriminate against me based on my Christian faith. I mean, the whole “unlawful” part should be enough to require no other reason. Article VI of the Constitution states: “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.” While this clause at the end of the oath might not exactly meet the standard of a “religious test” it certainly sits in a very grey area. But since this point is clearly not enough, let’s move on:
9. There are plenty of other faiths in foxholes too. The military needs bodies, and so we take all kinds. That means that we’ve got Buddhists, Catholics, Druids, Hindus, Jews, Mormons, Muslims, Protestants, Sikhs, Wiccans… to name a few off the top of my head. Half of those belief systems – to my knowledge – don’t recognize a monotheistic God. So the “so help me God” doesn’t work for them. Yes, they may be a small minority, but the law has to protect the rights of everyone, not just the special people.
8. This would take us back to our roots. Now, some of my Christian friends and many of the inane comments on the Interweb talk about going back to our identity or roots as a Christian nation by keeping this phrase mandatory. News flash: much like “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, this “so help me God” was a recent addition. Prior to 1962, you wouldn’t be prompted to say any such thing if enlisting into the Armed Forces. And honestly, I hope going back to the 60s is not what the Christians have in mind. (Side note: the Internet, it turns out, is a wonderful source of information. Using it before stating opinions and misinformation as fact is a very considerate course of action.)
7. This is not a Christian nation. Again, contrary to many comments on social media declaring it so, America is a secular nation by design, with a Judeo-Christian culture making up an arguably large part of past influences, along with deism and humanist philosophy. God didn’t pen the Constitution on stone tablets that George Washington brought down from Mount Vernon. However, many of the colonials were inspired to come to the New World to escape persecution and mistreatment on the basis of holding minority religious beliefs. That helps explain why American law and government was designed to ensure no requirement for religion would be enforced upon the people. Yes, there are quotes from Founding Fathers who speak about the need for faith in God. But they clearly didn’t intend an enforcement of one religion over every other.
6. We can use all the proud, honorable service we can get. I’ve served with atheists who are quite honorable and some who are jerks… just like there are Christians who are quite honorable and Christians that I wouldn’t trust to hold my Bible outside of my sight. Our nation has a large number of military commitments and missions, and we are striving to keep up that pace (if not increase it) while reducing the number of people in uniform available to execute the mission. If an atheist Airman is volunteering to serve, I’m happy to stand beside him. Because what matters on the flightline or the frontline is that we both swore to defend the Constitution of the United States.
5. This doesn’t take God out of anything at all. Some Christians worry that this is a case of persecution, or an instance of taking God out of the public sphere. But the language of the petition is clear: If you want to keep “so help me God” in your oath, do so. If you don’t want to say it, don’t. Nothing is lost for the believers, but the same level of equality and freedom to choose would be granted to those of other faiths or no faith.
4. This upholds equality. We don’t want to live in an American version of an Orwellian fable. “Everyone is equal but some are more equal than others” can’t be permitted or upheld here. That’s not what our servicemembers–religious or atheist–are fighting to protect and defend. How can some people rejoice that Hobby Lobby gets to stand on its religious beliefs, and then rejoice just as loud when someone else’s freedom is tread upon? Well… I know how they can do so. But it’s still vile and wrong.
3. Yes, it is a big deal to “just say it.” Imagine showing up to work on Monday and being told unless you deny your faith, you’re fired. Just a few words. No big deal, right? Just say it, and keep earning a paycheck. Who would stand for this? I can’t. So if I’m not okay with the hypothetical, then I can’t accept when it is really happening to someone else.
2. Defending the rights of the atheist means defending my own right as well. If the government can mandate someone to swear an oath contrary to their belief, then that has far-reaching implications. I cannot be okay with that so long as it’s done to “them” without realizing that the government then has the same power to someday inflict such a requirement upon me. Call it the Golden Rule, call it common sense, call it sticking up for the underdog, or whatever you want. Sadly, I saw hundreds of comments of “Amen!” “Praise God!” and other passionate expressions of joy on this subject. If that’s your initial reaction, take a moment to think about how it would feel to be told you must deny your faith, or swear to Allah or something similar in order to serve your country. Why would anyone be okay with this?
And finally, my overall reason to change Title 10 and do away with this enforcement of “so help me God” in the oath is:
1. Nothing is gained but hypocrisy. The atheist has no faith in this God we are demanding he or she call upon. It forces the enlistee to lie while swearing or affirming a solemn oath. I’m not accusing the atheist here; I’m accusing the enforcers and defenders of such a requirement. Those four words mean nothing at all if forced upon someone who doesn’t believe. This serves no purpose. It is wasted breath. What should matter to a Christian isn’t whether these four words are said, but rather are they being lived out? Plenty of people, Christians and atheists and whatever else, have said “so help me God.” But apart from sincere faith informing and motivating devout action, who cares? It’s empty. No one’s life has been transformed to emulate Christ by the addition of “so help me God” in their oath of enlistment. Instead, we have a vast majority of people saying something that means absolutely nothing to them, and the political Christians will call it a victory. “We defended God in public,” they’ll say. “We kept God in the oath!”
No, all you did was create hypocrisy, forcing lips to say what hearts don’t believe.
And He said to them, “Rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: ‘THIS PEOPLE HONORS ME WITH THEIR LIPS, BUT THEIR HEART IS FAR AWAY FROM ME.'” (Mark 7:6 NASB)
So, please, whether you’re a believer or not, go to Whitehouse.gov and sign this petition. You’re not just defending the freedoms of others, but also your own.
If you think I’ve missed a key point in my top ten, or if you think I’m way off base on this one, I’d love to hear from you. Please let me know in a comment below! Thanks for taking the time to read, and even more so if you’ve signed.