In response to what was becoming a stalemate over an airman who was trying to reenlist, the U.S. Air Force has directed its support offices to allow both enlisted members and officers to omit the words “So help me God” from oaths for enlistment and officer appointments if an airman chooses. The change became effective immediately with the Sept. 17 announcement. 10 U.S.C. 502, 5 U.S.C. 3331 and Title 32 contain the oaths of office-the Air Force had interpreted them as requiring the specific religious expression. After a ceremony at Creech Air Force Base where an enlisted airman crossed out the phrase “So help me God” on the Department of Defense Form 4 and did not utter it in his verbal oath, the airman’s unit was unable to process his paperwork due to Air Force instructions that prohibited any omissions.
The Air Force then requested an opinion from the Department of Defense General Counsel regarding the oath. The opinion it issued stated that an individual may strike the phrase if he or she 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.” Formal revised instructions that reflect the changes will be issued by the Air Force. With the change, the airman’s reenlistment paperwork is being processed.