AHA Challenges

Earlier this week, a U.S. Air Force Officer Trainee demanded that he not be forced to recite an oath that contains “so help me God” during  his graduation ceremony this week.

Attorneys with the American Humanist Association’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center, working with the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers, sent a letter to administrators at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama outlining the reasons a forced statement of god-belief is not constitutional, including numerous court cases upholding the right of those who object to oaths with religious language to take a secular version instead.

“A non-religious person cannot be forced to affirm the existence of a God,” said Appignani Humanist Legal Center Coordinator Bill Burgess. “The law is clear that such demands violate the constitutional mandate of church-state separation and the right to freedom of conscience. This officer-to-be must be allowed to omit theistic language from his commissioning oath.”

The letter stated that a lawsuit is possible if a secular oath is not allowed.

A day later, Air Force officials agreed to administer a secular oath and to allow a revision of the written oath the Officer Trainee was required to sign to remove the “so help me God” reference. The Air Force representative, Maj. Stewart L. Rountree, notified attorneys for the American Humanist Association and the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers that the entire graduating class will be informed of the option to take a secular oath and apologized for the error. “Our previous legal advisors were mistaken in advising us that it was required,” Maj. Rountree wrote. “Our current legal advisors made me aware and we will ensure it reaches all corners of our program.”

The Appignani Humanist Legal Center (AHLC) is the legal arm of the American Humanist Association. To support the work of the AHLC, visit www.humanistlegalcenter.org.