Air Force Cites Attorney-Client Privilege on 'God' Opinion

The Air Force says it will not release the legal opinion it provided last fall that became the basis for reissuing a policy that -- for the past 10 months  -- made "So help me God" a mandatory part of enlistment oaths.

"Because it is attorney-client privilege it is not releasable," Air Force spokeswoman Rose Richeson told Military.com on Monday. The Air Force Judge Advocate General's office claims the document also is exempt from release through the Freedom of Information Act, Richeson said. The Air Force on Sept. 17 dropped its legal insistence on the phrase after the Department of Defense provided legal guidance that "So help me God" in enlistment and commissioning oaths is at the discretion of the individual taking the oath. Language to that effect was included in Air Force policy in 2011, but stricken last November without explanation -- a move that nearly cost an airman his career after he insisted on not including the words as part of his upcoming re-enlistment. The Air Force's decision last November came shortly after the Air Force Academy made "So help me God" optional in the Honor Oath taken by cadets: "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." The Air Force said the legal opinion that restored the phrase as an oath requirement was researched and issued at the request of the Air Force Academy, something the academy denies. Air Force Academy spokesman Lt. Col. Brus Vidal said there is no record of the school's Judge Advocate asking for or receiving a legal opinion on the oath. Richeson told Military.com that it was made by phone and that the Air Force legal branch does not have a record of who asked for it.  So far the Air Force also has not identified the office or individual that directed the policy be reissued last November to strike language making clear that individual taking the oath may omit "So help me God."

-- Bryant Jordan can be reached at bryant.jordan@monster.com.

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