Foundation protesting 'so help me God' in Air Force Academy pledge

October 23, 2013 Updated: October 24, 2013 at 12:36 pm
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Cadets at the U.S Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., exit classes under a wall with the Cadet Honor Code: "We will not lie, steal or cheat, nor tolerate among us anyone who does." (U.S. Air Force photo/1st Lt John Ross)

The Air Force Academy may excise a religious reference from an oath cadets take to swear allegiance to the school's honor code.

The Military Religious Freedom Foundation has protested the "so help me God" phrase that was added to the end of an oath that has cadets swearing they won't lie, cheat, steal or tolerate those who do.

"To tie the honor code to a religious test violates the no-establishment clause of the Constitution," said Mikey Weinstein, founder of the foundation and a frequent academy critic.

Now the academy says it's mulling options, including dumping the entire honor oath. The frontrunner among the options is making the ecclesiastical reference optional.

"We need to be respectful of all people of faith and all people of no faith," said academy spokesman David Cannon. "Our goal is to do the right thing for the Air Force Academy."

The honor oath came into use at the academy after 19 seniors were disciplined for cheating on a physics exam in 1984.

"The cadets who owned the code thought developing an honor oath would help to reinforce the importance of the honor code," Cannon said.

The honor code was adopted by cadets in 1956 a year after the first class entered the academy. Violations of the code are policed by a cadet honor board and expulsion is the presumed punishment, though violators can be placed on stringent probation.

The fate of the honor oath is in the hands of Superintendent Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson.

Weinstein has tangled frequently with academy leaders over allegations that cadets are subject to unlawful proselytizing.

He purchased a billboard near the school earlier this year protesting the academy's reference to an Orthodox Jewish website in a memo about religious holidays.

On the oath, Weinstein said his preference is for the reference to God to be removed.

He would settle, though, for "so help me God" to become optional.

The academy expects a decision on the oath in the coming days.

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