Academy reinforces stance on Honor Oath

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- The Air Force has instructed force support offices across the service to allow both enlisted members and officers to omit the words “So help me God” from enlistment and officer appointment oaths if an Airman chooses.

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.

In response to concerns raised by Airmen, the Department of the Air Force requested an opinion from the Department of Defense General Counsel addressing the legal parameters of the oath. The resulting opinion concluded that an individual may strike or omit the words “So help me God” from an enlistment or appointment oath if preferred.

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

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.

The language in previous instructions was based on an Air Force legal interpretation of 10 U.S.C. 502, 5 U.S.C. 3331 and Title 32, which contain the oaths of office.

The Air Force requested the review following a ceremony at Creech Air Force Base, Nevada, in which an enlisted Airman struck out the words, “So help me God” on the Department of Defense Form 4 and did not include them in his verbal oath. The Airman's unit was unable to process his paperwork due to the guidance in Air Force Instruction 36-2606, Reenlistment in the United States Air Force, which prohibited any omissions. Now that the Department of Defense General Counsel has provided an opinion, the Airman’s enlistment paperwork will be processed to completion.

The U.S. Air Force Academy’s Honor Oath

Prior to the Air Force’s Oath of Enlistment change, and also in keeping with Air Force and Defense Department policy, the U.S. Air Force Academy revised its Honor Oath, enabling all cadets to be true to their beliefs.

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.” Since October, the final clause has been optional.

The Academy’s Honor Code was formally adopted by the Academy's first graduating class of 1959. It is the minimum standard of conduct which cadets expect of themselves and their fellow cadets.

In 1984, the Cadet Wing voted to add an "Honor Oath," for all cadets to take and it is administered to fourth class cadets (freshmen) when they are formally accepted into the Wing at the conclusion of Basic Cadet Training. Cadets retake the oath at the beginning of every school year. 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."

"We work to build a culture of dignity and respect at the Air Force's Academy, and that respect includes the ability of our cadets, Airmen and civilian Airmen to freely practice and exercise their religious preference,” said Academy Superintendent Lt. Gen. Michelle D. Johnson.

(Information compiled from Air Force News Service and staff reports.)