On the Hill: More Religious Oaths at Air Force Academy

In recent years, several scandals regarding religious freedom and outright discrimination towards humanist and nonreligious soldiers have plagued the US. From the Pentagon’s decision to allow religious soldiers to evangelize their faith (but not to “strongly proselytize,” which is an extremely unclear distinction) to mandatory attendance at religious events and DoD rejection of qualified humanist chaplains,  the armed services have taken up a stance of hostility towards nontheistic soldiers which isolates those patriotic Americans and weakens our entire military.

Last year the American Humanist Association worked with an atheist airman to successfully overturn the US Air Force’s unconstitutional requirement that enlistment oaths end with the phrase “so help me God.” Upset by our victory, religious right sympathizers in Congress are doing their best to re-inject divisive religious rhetoric back into our armed forces, no matter the consequences.

In that effort, US Representative Sam Johnson (R-TX) recently introduced the Preserve and Protect God in Military Oaths Act of 2015, which could force cadets at the Air Force Academy to say “so help me God” in their honor oaths. Johnson was my representative when I lived in Texas, so I wasn’t surprised to see that he was once again trying to blur the lines between church and state. Lest anyone forget, this is the same man who claimed, “Americans have the freedom of religion—but not freedom from religion.”

The bill already has three co-sponsors, Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX), Rep. Pete Olson (R-TX), and Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO), but thankfully a similar bill has yet to be introduced in the Senate, and it is likely that the House bill won’t move much further than the Armed Services committee to which it has been assigned because it doesn’t have bipartisan support. That being said, the House does have a history of passing anti-humanist legislation, such as an amendment passed in 2013 which was meant to limit who can endorse chaplains for active service, so a degree of caution is merited.

While humanists may disagree about the intricacies of American foreign policy and the ethical nature of war, we must stand united against discrimination directed towards humanists in the military, regardless of whether that discrimination originates at the Pentagon or in the halls of Congress.  With humanist soldiers making up nearly 4% of the military and nontheistic soldiers being the largest religious group after Christians, these discriminatory policies and bills will have a tangible and negative impact on a sizeable section of our military.

All soldiers, regardless of religious views or lack thereof, must be free to serve their country with honor and free from demands to make oaths that maintain religious language that run counter to the oath taker’s personal beliefs. Service members should not be forced to choose between defending their country or defending their beliefs, and attempts by certain members of Congress to put their personal faith above the needs of members of the military must be opposed at every turn.