December 2013 Church & State | AU Bulletin

Motivated by the spirit of inclusivity, the Air Force Academy announced recently that cadets can choose to omit the words “So help me God” from its Honor Oath, sparking an outcry from the Religious Right.

The change merely allows cadets, who are required to recite the oath every academic year, to choose the version they believe best fits with their religious or philosophical views. Religious cadets can still choose to recite the God language if they choose. 

That wasn’t enough for the Religious Right. The American Family Association attacked the change, which it views as an assault on religious freedom.  The AFA asked supporters to “defend the oath” by keeping the original language intact.

Tony Perkins and Ken Blackwell of the Family Research Council reiterated that demand, and they relied on debunked “Christian nation” history to support the sectarian oath.

On his radio show, Perkins criticized the Academy’s reasons for altering the oath. “Lieutenant General Michelle Johnson said the oath is being reviewed because the Academy values an inclusive environment that promotes dignity and respect for all,” he said.

Perkins added, “Really? Does that include those like Gen. George Washington who initiated the phrase, ‘So help me God,’ or does that inclusion only make room for those who want to dismantle America’s Christian heritage?”

But as historians have pointed out, there is no evidence that Washington added the phrase to the Oath of Office.

The Academy, based in Colorado Springs, decided to make the change after receiving a complaint from the Military Religious Freedom Foundation’s Mikey Weinstein. After the change was announced, U.S. Reps. Sam Johnson and Pete Olson, both Texas Republicans, introduced a bill that would require congressional approval before any changes may be made to oaths in the Armed Forces.