Air Force Oath: “So Help Me God” Optional Again

Update: The Air Force declined to release the legal opinion behind the decision to alter the AFI last year requiring “so help me God” to remain in the oath.  The reason: attorney-client privilege.


After seeking guidance from the Department of Defense, the Air Force immediately implemented a policy change making the oath “so help me God” optional during the oaths of office and enlistment.

The Air Force will be updating the instructions for both enlisted and commissioned Airmen to reflect these changes in the coming weeks, but the policy change is effective now. Airmen who choose to omit the words ‘So help me God’ from enlistment and officer appointment oaths may do so.

Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James said the Air Force takes religious freedom seriously:

“We take any instance in which airmen report concerns regarding religious freedom seriously,” Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James said. “We are making the appropriate adjustments to ensure our airmen’s rights are protected.”

The Air Force Academy noted this did not affect their Cadet Honor Oath, which was the subject of controversy last year:

This has no impact on the Cadet Honor Oath taken by cadets at the U.S. Air Force Academy as the words “so help me God” were already optional.

Interestingly, however, USAFA then indicated the oath had changed [emphasis added]:

In its original form, the oath read “We will not lie, steal or cheat nor tolerate among us anyone who does. Furthermore, I resolve to do my duty and live honorably, so help me God.”

Now, the Academy quotes the Cadet Honor Oath and omits “so help me God” from the text altogether:

The oath consists of a statement of the Honor Code, followed by a resolution for cadets to live honorably and reads: “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.”

In other words, USAFA is saying “so help me God” is no longer part of the oath at all. That’s very different from making “so help me God” an optional part of the oath.

Also at the Air Force Times, the Patriot PostWorld Magazine, the Christian Science Monitor (twice), the Christian Post, FoxNews, Barbwire, and the Associated Press.

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3 comments

  • From my understanding all they (the AF) are going to do is parenthesize the phrase ‘so help me God’ to annotate that it’s optional just like the term (affirm) is. They are not removing the phrase from DoD form 4 section E which was the issue in the first place. The airman omitted the phrase in his recitation of the oath but also scratched it out on the reenlistment form, which legally changes the terms of a contract, without permission/authorization. You can’t process a contract with scribbling on it without it being initialed and approved. There’s the big controversy!

  • Priscilla,

    Please don’t attempt to trivialise the story. The controversy is not because it’s a contract with scribbling, etc. It is because a person’s job was on the line due to an affirmation to a deity, which, according to the US Constitution, is illegal. The scribbling bit is the tip of the iceberg.

  • John,

    Please don’t over dramatize the incident to try and turn it into a story because then you distract from what was actually accomplished. The airman’s job was not in jeopardy and he was permitted to omit the phrase in his recitation of the oath. This absolutely is about contracts because the issue was whether or not the DoD form could be processed with phrases scratched out and the answer was no. It’s called negotiation. If the AHA hadn’t over reacted by threatening lawsuits which they have no grounds to file there wouldn’t have been an issue because it was the AF that sought clarification on what to do in this case. Basically the airman was informed why he can’t start scratching things he doesn’t agree to out in a contract and if he does, DoD doesn’t have to honor it. When clarification was sought, DoD realized they needed to add a specification making the phrase optional.

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