An airman's career will be coming to an end unless he recognizes "God" in his oath of reenlistment.
Months after the Air Force last year said "So help me God" was an optional line when taking the oath of enlistment or reenlistment, it reversed itself. The decision will require atheists to infer a belief in a supreme being if they want to remain in the military.
At Creech Air Force Base in Nevada, the airman was told on Aug. 25 that he would not be allowed to continue unless he recited the oath that references God, said Monica Miller, an attorney for Appignani Humanist Legal Center in Washington.
"The government cannot compel a nonbeliever to take an oath that affirms the existence of a supreme being," she said. "Numerous cases affirm that atheists have the right to omit theistic language from enlistment or reenlistment contracts."
Not anymore, according to a spokeswoman for the Air Force.
"Reciting 'So help me God' in the reenlistment and commissioning oaths is a statutory requirement under Title 10 U.S.C. §502," Rose Richeson told Military.com on Thursday. Air Force Instruction on the oath is consistent with the language mandated in the law, she said.
"Airmen are no longer authorized to omit the words 'So help me God'," Richeson said.
Miller called the Air Force's decision "unbelievable." She had given the Air Force two weeks to permit the Creech airman to re-enlist with an alternative oath or face further legal action.
At the airman's request his identity was redacted from a copy of the letter Miller distributed to the media, though not in the letter to the Air Force.
She told Military.com that the airman's current enlistment has not yet expired and he remains "in uniform" at Creech.
Miller told the Air Force in a Sept. 2 letter that commanders "may be sued in their individual capacities and be personally liable for damages along with attorney's fees" for violating the law.
The Air Force said "So help me God" was optional last June after a similar flap arose at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama. Months later the Air Force Academy followed suit and made "So help me God" optional in the Cadet Oath.
-- Bryant Jordan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org