Weinstein’s Imbalanced View of So Help Me God

Michael “Mikey” Weinstein penned half of a pro/con debate for the local Colorado Springs Gazette regarding the presence of “so help me God” in the USAFA Cadet Honor Oath.  Weinstein boils his argument down to this:

Removing those words from the published oath does nothing to change [cadets’ First Amendment] right [sic].

In balance, however, if the removal of those words affects not the First Amendment rights of believers, why would the presence of those words affect the rights of others?  Weinstein fails to justify his call for a change.

In one respect, Weinstein’s premise seems to be correct:  No religious faith requires one to take governmental oaths by saying “so help me God.”  In that regard, removing it would not in itself infringe on religious liberty.

The same was true for the poster at the Prep School.

The same was true for the Chaplain’s article in Alaska.

The same was true for “Deo” on the RCO’s patch.

The same was true for a class on Just War, the word “chapel” in an SOS course, Air Force Inn Bibles, and the Air Force treatment of Operation Christmas Child.

No religious belief mandates a particular position on any of those issues — and no government policy does, either.  The military has chosen its responses at its discretion.

Each time the government has taken a position — even if it didn’t need to take one at all.  It has frequently been accused of taking a position contrary to religious liberty on these issues, not merely because of the individual issue, but because of the apparent culture a pattern of such decisions creates. Repeated actions by the military seeming to target religious faith can generate the perception that the military is hostile to faith — a perception declared by members of Congress. The single counter-example was the Air Force’s decision to restore the pulled Chaplain’s article — something that occurred only after substantial push back from religious liberty groups.

Weinstein’s position that removing “so help me God” “takes nothing away” from religious troops is, in isolation, correct.

In the greater context, though, of the environment of religious freedom in the US military, he’s not only wrong, but constitutionally wrong.  Weinstein isn’t interested in religious freedom in the military, however.  His goal is more visceral, and it involves doing anything he can to have the government target Christians he doesn’t feel are the “right kind” of Christians.

Interestingly, “so help me God” isn’t a Christian phrase.  But guess who are the most vocal ones trying to protect military religious liberty from Weinstein’s goals of purging it…?

The opposing article can be read here.



  • Those who want to say the phrase are free to do so (just as the president adds it). Those who don’t want to, now don’t have to. This was the right decision. Everyone is free to do as they believe. That’s perfectly in accord with both the First Amendment and the Constitution’s prohibition of religious tests of office.

    • @BC

      Those who don’t want to, now don’t have to.

      Your statement is inaccurate. No one ever had to say it, as was discussed in depth here. Even Weinstein admits that much.

      You missed the point Weinstein has been trying to make. He wants “so help me God” removed completely, not “made optional.” As you feel “optional” was the “right decision,” you presumably disagree with Weinstein.

  • Except that now there is a bill to amend Title 5, 10, and 32 of the USC that would require Congressional approval to change the Oath of Office and would add that to the following sections:

    Title 5, Sec. 3331 (Civil Service) Oath of Office

    Title 10, Sec. 502 Enlisted Oath
    Sec. 4346(d) US Military Academy
    Sec. 6958(d) US Navy Academy
    Sec. 9346(d) USAFA

    *All Academic Oaths would go into effect as of January 1, 2014 and unless Congress ruled the phrase to be optional, the Academy would have to retract the phrase as such.

    Title 32, Sec 304 National Guard

    While I agree the option should be to add ‘So Help Me Whoever’ and not coining it as telling cadets they can now opt out, I also think pushing the issue by throwing a tantrum isn’t helping at all. That bill picked up 5 Cosponsors yesterday and will be introduced once it gets approval by the Armed Services Committee and is passed by House oversight and reform, which it will be.

    The whole thing is completely unnecessary and is only making things worse. The phrase ‘Don’t rock the boat’ keeps coming to mind. There aren’t any cases where a cadet or service member opted out of saying the phrase which led to disciplinary action or prevented them from receiving their commission or a promotion or anything else. I get what Weinstein is saying but this isn’t so much about principle (keeping the oath secular) as it is about practicality (ppl having an option and the right to participate in or refrain from including religious connotation in the oath.)

    • @Priscilla Parker
      You’re mixing apples and oranges, though understandably many others are too. The law (which has already been discussed here) will have no effect on the Academy, because it has nothing to do with the Honor Oath.

  • @JD You said:
    “In balance, however, if the removal of those words affects not the First Amendment rights of believers, why would the presence of those words affect the rights of others? Weinstein fails to justify his call for a change.”

    It is a simple matter to see how the presence of these words would affect the rights of others: Those taking the oath who do not subscribe to a God or religion or those who are not taking the oath but are part of the ceceremony would be unnecessarily exposed to religious content in a government venue.

    • Richard
      You seem to be a bit confused. How does “expos[ure] to religious content” affect a First Amendment right?

      Further, how is it that allowing the 4,000+ strong cadet wing to say “So help me God” en masse — which Weinstein claims he would support — doesn’t “expose” anyone, but having one cadet reciting it does?