An atheist airman will either take his oath with the phrase “so help me God" or he'll leave, the U.S. Air Force said Tuesday.
In a Sept. 2 letter to the inspectors general for the Air Force and Creech, Monica Miller, an attorney with the American Humanist Association’s Apignani Humanist Legal Center, said the unnamed airman should be given the choice to reenlist by swearing a secular oath, Air Force Times reports. She said the AHA is prepared to sue if the airman is not allowed to reenlist.
According to the AHA, the airman was told Aug. 25 that the Air Force denied his reenlistment for not taking an oath to God.
Air Force spokeswoman, Rose Richeson, said in a Sept. 5 email that the airman will continue serving for at least another two months.
“The airman’s term of service expires in November 2014,” Richeson said. “He has until this time to complete the Department of Defense Form 4 in compliance with the Title 10 USC 502.”
In the past, airmen did not have to say the phrase “so help me god” if they didn’t want to, but an Oct. 30, 2013, update to Air Force Instruction 36-2606, dropped that option.
The AHA said that the requirement is unconstitutional and unacceptable and that Article VI of the Constitution prohibits religious tests to hold an office or public trust, Air Force times reports.
"The government cannot compel a nonbeliever to take an oath that affirms the existence of a supreme being," Miller said, according to The Wall Street Journal. "Numerous cases affirm that atheists have the right to omit theistic language from enlistment or re-enlistment contracts.”
The Air Force said it cannot change its AFI to make “so help me God” optional unless Congress changes the statute mandating the oath.
The rule is currently under review.