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'So Help Me God' Now Optional in Air Force Academy Honor Oath

Saturday, 26 Oct 2013 10:46 AM

By Sandy Fitzgerald

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Image: 'So Help Me God' Now Optional in Air Force Academy Honor Oath
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Air Force Academy cadets now have the option whether or not to repeat the phrase "so help me, God" when reciting the school's honor code.

The Academy's Honor Review Committee voted to make the statement optional following a complaint by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, reports Fox News, and says the decision was made to help build a "culture of dignity and respect" for all students.

“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 Johnson in a prepared statement.

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The complaint came after the Colorado Springs Independent newspaper published a photograph of a poster at the academy, which included the oath, and then forwarded the photo to MRFF President Mikey Weinstein, a frequent critic of Christianity in the armed forces.

But Weinstein, while applauding the decision to make the oath optional, questioned how it will be applied, reports The Associated Press.

If the person who leads the oath includes the words, Weinstein said, cadets who don't say the phrase may feel vulnerable.

"What does it mean, 'optional'?" Weinstein said. "The best thing is to eliminate it."
The Academy's Honor Oath was originally created in 1984, reports Fox, and did not at first include the phrase. Instead, the phrase was later added to give the oath more seriousness following an alleged cheating scandal, said retired Brig Gen. Hans Mueh, who had been on the committee making the change.

The oath's current version, which cadets swear to upon finishing basic training, reads “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," but cadets can now leave the last words off, if they choose, said Johnson.

Ron Crews, the executive director of Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty, commends the Academy for still allowing cadets to choose to say the phrase.

"These young Americans being trained to defend the rights of Americans should be able to exercise their religious convictions by solemnizing their oath with so help me God,” he said.

But even though the religious phrase is now optional, cadets are still required to recite the rest of the Honor Oath.

The West Point and U.S. Naval Academy's honor codes do not include a phrase referring to God, but the academies oaths, like the Air Force's, forbid cadets from lying, cheating or stealing or tolerating fellow cadets who do.

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Related stories:

Atheists: Remove 'So Help Me God' From Inaugural Oath

Boy Scouts Remain Adamant About 'Duty To God'

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