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The irony of the Air Force's anti-atheist oath
Cadets take the oath of office during a graduation ceremony at the U.S. Air Force Academy.
September 17th, 2014
05:36 PM ET

The irony of the Air Force's anti-atheist oath

Opinion by Candida Moss and Joel Baden, special to CNN

(CNN) – The Air Force has reversed course again and will allow an atheist airman to omit the phrase "so help me God” from its oath, the military branch said Wednesday.

“We are making the appropriate adjustments to ensure our Airmen's rights are protected,” Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James said.

Earlier, the Air Force said the unnamed airman would not be allowed to re-enlist unless he recited the entire oath, including the disputed "God" section.

It was the latest religious controversy in the heavily Christian Air Force, but this particular issue has ancient and somewhat surprising roots: In the early days of Christianity, it was Christians who refused to swear by powers they didn’t believe in.

The oath was written into law in 1956 and, like the Pledge of Allegiance, did not originally include any reference to God. The final sentence came into the text in 1962, just eight years after “under God” was added to the Pledge of Allegiance.

Even then, however, it was not an absolute requirement in the Air Force: Official policy had stated that “Airmen may omit the words ‘so help me God,’ if desired for personal reasons.” But the lenient policy was updated and eliminated in 2013, leading to the most recent standoff, which Wednesday's announcement seemed to solve.

"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," the Air Force said.

"Airmen who choose to omit the words 'So help me God' from enlistment and officer appointment oaths may do so."

The repeated fights over the Air Force oath highlight the fraught relationship between faith groups and military service.

FULL POST

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Atheism • Christianity • Church and state • Culture wars • Discrimination • Opinion • Prejudice • Religious liberty

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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.

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