Ethics Institutions Politics

Air Force Academy drops ‘So help me God’ from honor oath

U.S. Air Force Academy cadets listen as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen, U.S. Navy, addresses the school's graduates during commencement ceremonies at Falcon Stadium in Colorado Springs, Colo., on May 26, 2010.

(RNS) Air Force Academy cadets will no longer be required to include the words “so help me God” when taking their annual Honor Oath.

U.S. Air Force Academy cadets listen as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen, U.S. Navy, addresses the school's graduates during commencement ceremonies at Falcon Stadium in Colorado Springs, Colo., on May 26, 2010.

Photo courtesy Petty Officer 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley, U.S. Navy ( [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

U.S. Air Force Academy cadets listen as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen, U.S. Navy, addresses the school’s graduates during commencement ceremonies at Falcon Stadium in Colorado Springs, Colo., on May 26, 2010.

On Friday (Oct. 25), officials at the Colorado Springs, Colo., campus announced its 4,000 current cadets would be allowed to opt out of the final phrase of their honor code, which they reaffirm each of their four years of study and training.

“Here at the Academy, we work to build a culture of dignity and respect, and that respect includes the ability of our cadets, Airmen and civilian Airmen to freely practice and exercise their religious preference — or not,” said Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson, the academy’s superintendent, in a statement.

“So in the spirit of respect, cadets may or may not choose to finish the Honor Oath with ‘So help me God.'”

The current oath 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, so help me God.”

The oath was adopted by the academy’s first class in 1959 without the final phrase, which was added in 1984 following a cheating scandal. Honor oaths at other U.S. military academies do not include the word “God.”

The change came after complaints from the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, a New Mexico-based watchdog organization headed by Michael Weinstein, a lawyer and Air Force Academy graduate whose family includes seven people who have attended the academy.

Weinstein has had other successes in rooting out religion from the military. In 2011, he successfully challenged an Air Force nuclear training course that included Bible verses and religious imagery in a PowerPoint presentation.

More broadly, Weinstein has been among the most vocal critics of the religious atmosphere at the Air Force Academy, where he and others say Christianity is given preferred status and inappropriate religious proselytism is rampant.

The decision has exposed a rift among academy alumni, their families and others associated with the military. Comments left on the academy’s website, where the decision was first announced, range from sadness to anger to approval.

John Van de Kamp, a member of the class of 1968, wrote that the honor code guided him throughout his life, though he graduated before the addition of the now-optional phrase. “It’s a disgrace to bow to political correctness and take God out of the equation even though He guides and strengthens cadets and the Academy’s leadership day by day,” he wrote.

But someone identifying herself as Kathy from Washington wrote, “This is a compromise that allows the individual cadets to choose. It should be enough to please any sensible person. Go Air Force.”


About the author

Kimberly Winston

Kimberly Winston is a freelance religion reporter based in the San Francisco Bay Area.


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  • What K. Winston didn’t write was they will now be required to say “so help me Ares, Mars, Onuris, or even Tyr”, or any other God of war they choose, but they must profess to a mythical belief in something. Only kidding, great article.

    Consider living life and loving people without needing to believe in getting a carrot, or fearing you’ll get the stick.
    Good day!

  • I see this as an opportunity for those cadets who are committed to belief in God to add the words on their own, without prompting from a commander-leader, without “doing what everyone else is doing.” Their completed oath will be strengthened by their free choice.
    The same can be said for individuals or groups at other assmeblies even outisde military settings where political correctness rules. No one can prevent audience members or graduating students from rising and intoning a hymn or the Pledge. The people “in charge” are simply going to have to accept what happens; they can’t prevent it nor stop it.
    . That’s even better than prayers or hymns that once had been part of the official program.

  • We have had the most prosperous ,free ,beautiful country in the history of this earth.This is because it was founded on God…not LACK of God. When God is taken out ….the blessings will go with it.

  • The Air Force Academy and the Air Force from top to bottom needs to do a whole lot more than just the window dressing of eliminating “So help me God” from their oath. It needs a total clean-out from top to bottom in the officer corps to force that branch of our armed forces to comply with our Constitution and it’s requirement for the separation of church and state. Freedom of religion also means freedom from religion for any who desire to pursue that path.

  • No, you are dead wrong. The founding of this country and the framing of its Constitution had nothing to do with any gods. To the contrary, the Framers knew their history, the knew the evil part religion always played when it was part of any government. That is why they made the very first clause of the very first amendment to their Constitution a requirement for separation as soon as that was possible after the Constitution itself was accepted. That requirement was also accepted. The unconstitutional and sad thing is that that prohibition has been violated so very frequently and without challenge since then.

  • All religion, all prayer, should be genuinely free, and that can only be guaranteed when it is free. Included in that freedom of religion is the freedom from religion for all those who are of that persuasion. Being good, being faithful, being patriotic does not depend on religious belief.

  • Going to your extremes is the too frequent and nasty response of religious people to those who disagree with them, to those who demand their equal right to freedom from religion. Religious faith is no guarantee of goodness. This comment displays that so clearly. And before you refer to all the other gods of mythology, take care that those who know their history don’t challenge you with all the wars in which your God has been claimed to play a part, to have favorites.

  • Ben Franklin’s Appeal for Prayer at the 1787 Constitutional Convention:

    In the beginning of the Contest with G. Britain, when we were sensible of danger we had daily prayer in this room for the divine protection. Our prayers, Sir, were heard, and they were graciously answered. All of us who were engaged in the struggle must have observed frequent instances of a Superintending providence in our favor.

    To that kind providence we owe this happy opportunity of consulting in peace on the means of establishing our future national felicity. And have we now forgotten that powerful Friend?

    Yes, Mr. Franklin, we’ve forgotten. Again. Individually and collectively, we Americans think we can DIY things without your Friend. It’s only a matter of time — and not long — before we find out where that path leads.

  • gilhcan, I don’t think my attempt at humor was extreme. I agree with you that religious faith, or as it is in my case, the lack thereof is no guarantee of goodness. But is anything a guarantee of goodness? It is up to humans to be good to one another. We should be able to do that without beliefs that promise eternal life, or eternal damnation. I don’t even know what you mean by my comment displays this. Take care of my God being challenged? Not likely, I don’t have one to call my own. I think you may have misinterpeted my comments.

    Consider living life and loving people without needing to believe in getting a carrot, or fearing you’ll get the stick.
    Good day!

  • It’s so sad to see Robyn F lie about the founding of America and try to drag it down to the level of their religion.

  • No one is preventing you from your religion. What a pity you don’t extend that same courtesy to others.

  • Gihlcan, I’ve read other comments of yours. Most have the same lack of understanding as demonstrated in the above. You appear to read a line or two of another’s comment and then jump to your own agenda. This is a little odd. Gunter’s comment was humorous and well thought out.

  • This is a good response and appropriate to the comment you answered! I am not judging the validity of your opinion, only the coherence to the previous comment, and how well-written your response was.

  • it actually was NOT founded on god, and most (not all) references to god in our country were added during or after the cold war.

  • The Air Force Academy is right to remove the requirement to say “So help me God” from the oath. That’s a good first step, but it needs to do a lot more to address the proselytizing that has damaged the atmosphere on campus. I’m a big fan of Mikey Weinstein’s work and a regular donor to the Military Religious Freedom Foundation.

  • It’s obvious that some of you have never been to Washington DC. If you have, it’s pretty hard not to believe that our founding fathers depended, trusted, and prayed to God. Like Ben Franklin was quoted, “our prayers were heard and graciously answered.” While many people currently believe in God, many do not. I am one of the former and proud to know that He is with me at all times, that I can communicate with Him and He will answer. However, it is “Your God Given Privilege” to NOT believe. For those of you who don’t, if you will respect me for my beliefs, I will respect you for yours. When I first read the title of this article I was surprised but as I read further and saw that it is a CHOICE of each cadet, I felt like the title of the article was somewhat misleading. Anyone who knows anything about most religions, know that God…yes, God….gives us our free agency and that’s what the Air Force has given our cadets.

  • BF&R,
    First, I often wonder how committed to their beliefs people are who use a pseudonym instead of their real name. I guess a certain kind of security lies in anonymity.

    Many things that you believe are obvious are not, and it is demonstrated in your interpretation of them. To have physically visited Washington D.C. has little to do with an understanding of the beliefs of the founding fathers. Many of their written words still exist. One only has to read to understand their positions.
    However unlike Doc, who snatched a few paragraphs from the pages of a lifetime of a persons writing, and tried to pass it off as a means to demonstrate that persons’ definitive position on a subject, which was disingenuous at best, and a purposefully deceitful at worst; one has to read much more than just the parts that they agree with.

    If I would stoop to the same level, I could also quote Franklin to demonstrate his affiliation with my point of view – “The way to see by faith is to shut the eye of reason: The Morning Daylight appears plainer when you put out your Candle. — Benjamin Franklin, the incompatibility of faith and reason, Poor Richard’s Almanac (1758), but I am not.

    Although your personal relationship with God sounds a little creepy to me, I’ll try to except it for now. But, if it is real and you’re not just delusional or fooling yourself, please take advantage of it for the good of humanity. Next time you talk to your God, please ask him (I’ll assume it’s a him, please forgive me if I’m wrong) to stop all the killing done in his name. Also, can you ask, if he is not too busy, if he will cause all the limbs of his children that he allowed to be born without, have been blown off, or even amputated for medical reasons to grow back? I know he can do it, because he does it for certain types of lizards and such, and they can’t even get into heaven.

    I’ll be waiting to hear that it happened on the news….

    My privileges are not given to me by some sky God. I am a human, and that alone is sufficient. Please do not write about mutual respect, then disrespectfully say that your God, which i don’t believe in gives me the rights to do anything.

    Consider living life well and loving people much, without needing to believe you can have an eternal reward, or be punished with eternal damnation, just do it because it is the way humans should live. It’s just that simple.
    Good Day!

  • These comments are just “feeding the fire” and I don’t wish to do that any longer because neither of us understand the other’s point of view. I’m not here to cause contention. I’m sorry you misunderstood what I said. I’m not “dissin” you or anyone else. Put simply, I do believe in God…and that’s not creepy at all. On the contrary, it’s quite comforting. Loving God and others has to come from the heart and has nothing to do with an eternal reward…not in my case.

  • BF&R
    Unfortunately as long as their are those who wish to believe in some sort of God, and try to force others to behave in a manner they say is either directed by their God, or pleases their god, the fire will always burn.

    The fact that you are commenting on this article, with statements that defined that those who don’t agree with you get their “privilege” to do so from your God demonstrates that you really do want to feed the fire, even though you now say you don’t.

    The fact that you hide behind a false name when doing so demonstrates the weakness of your convictions.

    Although I don’t have first hand knowledge, I hear that some drugs are also comforting because they also hide reality from the user, just like religion.

    Consider living life well and loving people much, without the opium of religion, but rather just because it is the way humans should live. It’s just that simple.
    Good Day!

  • Aside from irony that Franklin was the one to introduce this motion that the convention start each day with prayer, what you forget–conveniently or otherwise–to include is that the other delegates defeated the motion by a nearly unanimous vote.

  • AMEN – religion and government should never, never mix or mingle. There is enough dissention in this country already. Government trying to appease over 100m different beliefs will only create more!

  • I will respect your beliefs if you will respect my choice to not believe and to not demand our tax money to support your beliefs!

  • I think it should not be ‘optional’ but dropped entirely because it’s uncomfortable to decline to swear fealty to a god when others are.

  • I have a real name and can’t believe some of you are bad mouthing someone who chooses to believe in God. Why can’t you let it be? It’s obvious that this person doesn’t want to be contentious but God fearing. There’s nothing wrong with that…any more than there is anything wrong with you not believing in God.

  • Too bad you are getting your history from David Barton and not actual honest sources.

    Ben Franklin’s request was SOUNDLY REJECTED by the constitutional convention.

    Franklin’s religious beliefs were very different from your own. He was very critical of people who tried to claim moral authority for Christianity.

    “The way to see by faith is to shut the eye of reason.” Poor Richard’s Almanack, 1758

    “Lighthouses are more helpful than churches.”

    “He (the Rev. Mr. Whitefield) used, indeed, sometimes to pray for my conversion, but never had the satisfaction of believing that his prayers were heard.” Franklin’s Autobiography

    “In the affairs of the world, men are saved, not by faith, but by the want of it.”

    “I have found Christian dogma unintelligible. Early in life, I absenteed myself from Christian assemblies.”

  • “It’s obvious that some of you have never been to Washington DC. If you have, it’s pretty hard not to believe that our founding fathers depended, trusted, and prayed to God. ”

    Yet few of them (if any) were big fans of public displays or religiosity and they all openly distrusted mixing religious authority with civil discourse. The Ben Franklin quote was posted in a dishonest fashion. Lying for the Lord is a regular habit of people who do not understand that your God doesn’t need my tax dollars.

  • Where is it written “Freedom From Religion”? Some of you people are so afraid of the word God it makes you wet your pants. It’s “Freedom of Religion” anyway. Read the constitution and the Declaration of Independence, They are quite interesting.

  • It’s really sad that religion or any belief of such bothers you so much. If people hated commercials on TV just as much nobody would watch TV. I think you are a little obsessed.

  • Mikey Weinstein is a pr!ck of the first order. If you’re a big fan, well, all I can say is that one is judged by the company one keeps…

  • Just why, exactly, do you feel the need to mock others for their beliefs? I can see the usual atheist talking points in your speech: “Sky God”, etc. It’s as if your quest to be respected for a life without God MUST include ridicule for those who believe. You are superior to no one. Remember that.

  • I went to the Air Force Academy SO HELP ME GOD.. it is an embarrassing statement of the status of our country that we forget the principles our country was founded upon (One nation under god, in God we Trust) and cave to immigrants and others.. If you don’t like what we stand for DON’T COME HERE.. STAY HOME and live under the rules of YOUR COUNTRY, don’t come here and try to make the US change to Your country.. I will support and defend the constitution against ALL enemy’s foreign and DOMESTIC, SO HELP ME GOD..

  • Freedom? How about you being unable to get YOUR point across without resorting to insult and abuse? I prefer REAL freedom, where I have my choices and others theirs, and I do not impede or attack theirs as they do not mine. Funny how peoples views of freedom are always coloured by their own views. Funny in a sad way.

  • It’s ok as long as it atheists or to Mohammad, but leave Jesus out of it – right Robert?? It isn’t any longer what was laid down by the Mayflower Compact or what the Founding Fathers wanted, it is now what the PC people want. As for me – One nation under God.

  • Have you read the Constitution? It ends with “In the year of our Lord”, what do you recon they meant by that – that they did not believe God should have a part in government? How about why schools came into existence – to learn to read the Bible. How about church being held in the halls of congress.

    The Mayflower Compact was the first document issued in the founding of this country – try reading it.

  • Remember that there are two reasons a person might opt out:

    1) the person has no religion.

    2) the person has more religion than you do, apparently.

    After all, even Jesus said putting god in the pot on a bet on future personal integrity in inherently blasphemous. And Paul also came to a intuitive conclusion that, when it comes down to it, you just ought to let your ‘yes’ be ‘yes’, and let your ‘no’ be ‘no’.

    And, to take it a bit further, I’ve _always_ felt that no one can blaspheme quite as effectively as the True Believers.