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EDITORIAL: Cashiering God

The Air Force offers a white feather to militant atheism

- - Thursday, October 3, 2013

Before being all they can be, aim high, or become Army strong, military recruits must first raise their right hands and swear to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic, "so help me God." The Air Force wants to revise the sacred oath and make it ordinary, striking the last phrase.

The men who first took up arms to establish the United States didn't establish a bland, godless society that a small handful of malcontents say they prefer today. The Founders made that clear in the closing passage of the Declaration of Independence: "With a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor."

Nobody at the Defense Department is brave enough to say who threw that phrase away, and why it feels the need to expunge the phrase from the Air Force oath and the literature for cadets at the academy. So Judicial Watch is suing to get an answer. "Unilaterally removing 'so help me God' from Air Force Academy materials," says Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton, "is at odds with our nation's history, the rule of law, and the fundamental values of the American people. We want to get to the bottom of this controversy, and it is a shame we had to go to court to try to get past the Pentagon's stonewall."

In August, an atheist advocacy group recruited an Air Force officer trainee willing to object to being required to say the last four words of the oath at his graduation ceremony at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama. Shortly afterward, in a letter to Air Force officials at Maxwell Air Force Base, the Appignani Humanist Legal Center warned that unless the phrase was dropped, "all those involved in violating his constitutional rights are subject to a lawsuit in federal court." The Air Force isn't just making an exception to accommodate the occasional atheist, as the courts will do for someone who doesn't want to swear. It's censoring the oath for everyone else. So much for fearless generals and their boast that "nothing can stop the U.S. Air Force."

The Senate is considering the nomination of Debra Lee James to be secretary of the Air Force. Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana, a Republican, briefly raised the issue of the growing pattern of encroachments on religious freedom in the military at her confirmation hearing last month. She claimed ignorance. The Senate should withhold its approval until it's clear what's going on in the Air Force.