Published: November 10, 2013
Practicing Christian cadets and others should have every right to say "So Help Me God" at the end the USAFA Honor Oath, and the Military Religious Freedom Foundation stands ready to defend that right. The Constitution, that all members of the military swear (or affirm) to "support and defend," guarantees the First Amendment rights - freedoms of speech and of religion. Removing those words from the published oath does nothing to change that right.
Likewise, cadets that may not believe in a supreme being have the right to be treated with respect, not forced to say something they do not believe, not coerced or singled-out for not saying something.
Mandating that cadets add "So Help Me God" to the oath also strongly suggests that the institution requires or expects faith in a god as a necessary and sufficient condition for upholding the code or honorable service - something that numerous cadets and alumni know to be false.
Article 6 of the Constitution protects all citizens from any "religious test" as a condition of holding an office of public trust. Even if the original officer's oath (that did not contain SHMG) has been changed by Act of Congress (1862) to include SHMG, legally, cadets and officers cannot be forced to say it, and if they omit it, they cannot be denied the right to serve.
To be inclusive of all cadets and officers, we suggest that anyone administering the Cadet Honor Oath (or the Commissioning Oath), done in "repeat after me" style, stop just before the traditional SHMG. Then, the oath-taker can add whatever he or she would like as a personal statement of faith or meaning, or just stop there, knowing that their word is their bond.
Then, the administrator of the oath isn't coercing the taker, based upon rank or position, and the oath taker's final statement (if they make one) is truly meaningful to them - not the simple parroting of a line having little or no meaning. 'So Help Me God' will do well for most and we at the MRFF completely endorse that statement. Personally, if put in that situation again, I'd say "So Help Me Bonnie," for my wife.
Michael L. "Mikey" Weinstein is an attorney, businessman, and former Air Force officer. He is the founder and president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation.
Michael Makinney's response:
Do you like history?
When the 1943 Supreme Court ruled against any religious influence in public schools, whatsoever, they pulled out a letter from Thomas Jefferson to justify themselves. Why? They couldn't rely on precedent. Federal courts not only upheld state support of church schools but even - and get this - laws against blaspheming the name of Jesus Christ.
And, Mikey, when you first took the oath, you didn't believe in God, yet said, "So Help Me God!"? But you didn't mean it? You make my point: we need God's help to stand in integrity.