The Colorado Springs, Colo. Air Force Academy recently decided to make the words “so help me God” optional after a complaint by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation.
Cadets normally take the oath at the end of their basic training and annually until they graduate as Air Force 2nd lieutenants.
According to Time magazine, the academy's 1959 honor code has traditionally read, "We will not lie, steal or cheat, nor tolerate among us anyone who does," but in 1984 it was changed to, "We will not lie, steal or cheat, nor tolerate among us anyone who does. Furthermore, I resolve to do my duty and to live honorably, so help me God."
“Here at the Academy, we work to build a culture of dignity and respect, and that respect includes the ability of our cadets, airmen and civilian airmen to freely practice and exercise their religious preference or not,” said Air Force Academy superintendent Lt. General Michelle D. Johnson in a statement. “So, in the spirit of respect, cadets may or may not choose to finish the Honor Oath with ‘So help me God.’”
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However, a Christian Activist group, the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty, is upset that the words "so help me God" are being removed from the pledge (but can still be said voluntarily).
"The removal of this phrase is a disservice to the countless men and women who wish to include it as a solemn reminder that they are pledging their fidelity to God and their country," said Chaplain (COL) Ron Crews, USAR retired, of the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty, said in a statement to The Christian Post.
"This phrase is a deeply rooted American tradition which George Washington began as the first president of the United States, and many who take an oath of service to our country still state it," added Crews.
The Chaplain Alliance is calling on the Air Force Academy to explain why it removed the phrase from its oaths and from a poster that includes the words of the oath (which has previously been explained by Lt. General Michelle D. Johnson in her statement, above).
"We respectfully request that Lt. Gen. Johnson bring the Air Force Academy oaths into line with the law," stated Crews. "While we respect the right of any cadet to not say 'So help me God,' the law requires that the words remain part of the oath. Cadets who come from faith backgrounds should be supported in solemnizing their oath with the words that generations of officers before them have used."
However, those cadets "who come from faith backgrounds" can still include the words "so help me God" in their oath.