Controversial Air Force oath incenses atheist enlistees

“So help me God.” These are the four words standing in the way of an anonymous 10-year Air Force veteran and his hope for reenlistment. He is not asking for special privileges but for the most basic of human rights: the freedom of religion.

For a branch of the United States military that is constantly credited for “spreading democracy” and eliminating oppressive regimes, the decision to exclude an otherwise stellar Air Force official due to his personal religious beliefs demonstrates a massive lapse in judgment.

Before enlisting or reenlisting in the Air Force, one must sign an oath of loyalty; swearing his or her allegiance to our country, president and the Constitution.

Prior to last fall, this oath was never a problem since those signing it had the ability to omit the final sentence of the pledge: “So help me God.” Removal of the omission option leaves atheists like this 10-year veteran in a very difficult situation that they do not deserve to be in.

The anonymous veteran did what most people would do. He followed his religious beliefs and crossed out the final sentence under the assumption that a country that preaches equality and tolerance would respect his decision.

Sadly, this was not the case, and a man with an otherwise unblemished track record now finds his character being assailed by the United States Air Force over a choice he should have had every right to make.

It is an understatement to say that U.S. Air Force’s requirement for enlistees to swear to God is archaic. For a country that prides itself on “liberty and justice,” the fact that this stipulation has been allowed to exist represents a major failure for the First Amendment as well as a major failure for our society.

Not only does the oath commit a clear violation of the First Amendment but it is also self-contradicting. On the one hand, it asks those signing it to “solemnly swear to support and defend the Constitution.” On the other hand, it violates the Constitution just a few sentences later.

“No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States,” states Article 6 of the Constitution––one that the Air Force apparently does not think important enough to “support and defend.”

This problem is certainly not a new one. Religion has always found its way into matters that should be free of theological debate. But for a group of people who believe themselves to have overcome their dark history of prejudice and narrow-mindedness, these examples of obvious discriminations simply cannot stand.

At a time when our country faces a very real threat overseas, a still-battered economy and a failing education system, it is important that we stay vigilant. Basic constitutional violations such as these cannot fall through the cracks simply because we have too much going on to notice them. The last thing that we should do is alienate respectable members of our society for beliefs that have little bearing on their quality as human beings.