USAFA Says “So Help Me God” is Optional

In an anticlimatic but optimistically predicted result, LtGen Michelle Johnson declared that the “so help me God” portion of the USAFA Cadet Honor Oath is optional:

“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 Lt. Gen. Michelle D. Johnson, Academy Superintendent. “So, in the spirit of respect, cadets may or may not choose to finish the Honor Oath with ‘So help me God.’”

The current USAFA Athletic Director, Dr. Hans Mueh (BGen, Ret), was part of the faculty that decided on “so help me God” in 1984, when it was created in response to a cheating scandal:

“To add more seriousness to the oath, we decided to mirror the commissioning oath and add the words, ‘so help me, God,’” Dr. Mueh said.

Michael “Mikey” Weinstein, the “religious freedom” advocate who called the phrase a violation of the US Constitution, seemed to retract his former attacks and acknowledge it could be optional, just like it already is in the commissioning oath.  After these press releases, however, Weinstein continued his self-contradictory and schizophrenic statements to the press.  At one point, he is said to have “welcomed the change.”  He also called it “not enough” and “cowardly.”  At another, he threatened to sue — if he can only find a plaintiff:

“If the words are still there, if our clients are willing to come forward, we’ll sue the academy in federal court aggressively and as soon as we can.”

If the academy retains the “so help me God” wording, those cadets who choose not to say it, Weinstein says, “will stick out like a tarantula on a wedding cake.”

Weinstein’s description is accurate, as this is a dramatic change — which can be seen from the following video, in which cadets stick out like tarantulas when they don’t say the oath correctly.   See the second cadet in the third row in D flight:

 

 

Actually, if you view the video, you’ll quickly realize that no one even knows whether most of the cadets are saying anything at all.  They could be playing cadet Battleship or betting on who falls out first, for all anyone can tell.  The Acceptance Parade is the sole time each year the oath is said, and it is always said en masse.

In other words, the “so help me God” is just as optional now as it was last year.

Awkwardly, the Academy now says that the cadet who leads the oath at the Acceptance Parade each year will have the personal option to say or not say it — which is an odd way to run a parade and mass event.  A better solution would be to emulate the officer oaths which already have this model, and have the lead cadet say the entire quote, with the individuals choosing to say or not say the final portion.

The Academy says the “policy change” will be in the cadet Contrails next year.  Contrails is the “book of knowledge” that Basic Cadets are issued and which they are expected to memorize.  As this hullaballoo occurred, The Patriot Post highlighted their discovery from earlier this year that USAFA had already removed “so help me God” from Contrails copies of the Cadet Oath of Allegiance and the Oath of Office — which is actually contrary to how the oath appears in the US Code.

The ACLJ also spoke up, writing a letter to LtGen Johnson explaining not only the constitutionality behind “so help me God,” but also the fact USAFA had done nothing wrong:

The letter drew attention to the fact that the AFA did not discriminate against students who did not believe in God and also did not deny commission to students who currently did not include “so help me God” in their oaths.

The fact is no one is forced to say the phrase or denied the ability to serve in the military for refusing to say ["so help me God"]…

First, no cadet is compelled to recite the phrase, and failure to recite the phrase results in no penalty. Second, the phrase establishes no religion…

The ACLJ also made a point of highlighting Weinstein’s history:

From the very beginning, this has been an artificial crisis wholly contrived by individuals in the MRFF who are hostile or hypersensitive to any and every example of religious expression in the military (no matter what the source of such expression).

The ACLJ warns that if USAFA continues to interact with Weinstein, they should do so carefully — lest they actually commit the violations of which he now accuses them [emphasis added]:

Mr. Weinstein’s numerous, erroneous demands invite extreme caution on the part of all those who are targets of his periodic tirades and who receive his periodic letters, lest the recipients become unwitting pawns in Mr. Weinstein’s strategy to eviscerate religious freedom in the Armed Forces. . .

In the end, nothing changed — the oath is the same as it always was.  The only notable result was the perception, however inaccurate, that Weinstein is calling the shots for religious liberty in the US military.  Given Weinstein’s demonstrated hatred of Christians, that is something of concern.

Also at FoxNews, Stars and Stripes, NYT, the Christian Science Monitor, RNS, and the Air Force.