The Democrats’ End Run on ‘So Help Me God’
Who Altered the Air Force Military Oaths?
“Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, Religion and morality are indispensible supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of Patriotism who should labor to subvert these great Pillars of human happiness - these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens. … Let it simply be asked where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths…” –President George Washington (1796)
Editor’s Note: This column, published 31 October 2013, is an update on Mark Alexander’s original 2012 inquiry regarding the Air Force Academy’s removal of “so help me God” from its official listing of military oaths. Alexander’s concern was that this selective omission could well be part of an Obama administration effort to remove “so help me God” from all military oaths. In response to Alexander’s column, 28 members of Congress issued an official letter of inquiry to the Superintendent of the Air Force Academy asking for “a detailed explanation as to why the [AFA handbook] omits ‘so help me God’ from these oaths, despite the fact that the phrase is used in the very statutory language of the United States Code, and was part of the military oath drafted by the Founders themselves.” A Fox News follow up report notes the AFA claims “It was an editorial oversight.” That does not explain why that “oversight” was perpetuated in the 2012 and 2013 official handbooks, or why Alexander’s 2012 inquiry about this issue was rebuffed by the AFA’s Public Affairs Office. At best, the AFA PAO knew about the omission in 2012, but no correction was made. For more information, contact Mark Alexander.
What you have not heard is that on the page facing the Honor Oath in “Contrails,” the Academy’s official handbook, “So help me God” has already been removed from the more important Cadet and Officer oaths, in violation of both federal law, and directives from the Secretary of the Air Force. (Click to View)
As I reported last May in “Obama’s Frontal Assault on Faith,” until 2011, the AFA handbook contained “So help me God” in bold letters after the Cadet and Officer oaths. However, under the watch of former AFA Superintendent, Lt. Gen. Mike Gould, those words were removed from the 2011 printing of the official Class of 2015 Cadet Knowledge handbooks, and remains absent in the 2012 and 2013 editions of Contrails. (The cadet and officer oaths at the Naval Academy and West Point had not been altered.)
For the record, the Continental Congress established its first military oath in 1776 and revised it in 1778 – both ending with “So help me God.” Those words were prescribed in oaths by the Judiciary Act of September 24, 1789, and five months earlier, George Washington elected to use those same words in conclusion to the first oath of office as president.“ So who at the Air Force Academy has assumed the authority to remove "So help me God” from the official oaths?
In 2012, when I first questioned the AFA’s Public Affairs Office about who had ordered the removal and why, the PAO dodged the question for two days, then on the third request responded curtly, that I could file a Freedom of Information Act request if I wanted to know anything more. I believe this officer’s terse response was related to the fact that he, and most other military officers under the current DoD civilian leadership, are reticent to discuss ANY service-related faith matter, given that the parameters for such discussion are unclear, the repercussions for stepping over that invisible line can be significant, and the general cloud of hostility now overcasting every military branch.
Given that “So help me God” was not restored to the 2013 official handbook, I have now taken the PAO’s advice and on our behalf, the Alliance Defending Freedom has initiated an FOIA request for all communications related to this omission.
The current objection to “So help me God” regards an AFA poster with the Cadet Honor Oath. It was filed by serial faith stalker Michael Weinstein and his so-called “Military Religious Freedom Foundation” (MRFF). Weinstein is the military version of atheist Michael Newdow, who made a name for himself through his unsuccessful attempts to remove “So help me God” from civilian oaths, “under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance and “In God We Trust” (our National Motto) from coins and currency.
Ostensibly, Weinstein’s objection relates to the Cadet Honor Oath, but his target is much bigger than that. Read on…
Weinstein, who was tapped by Obama earlier this year to “consult” with DoD on faith expression in the military, is little more than a proxy for the Obama regime, a surrogate doing the bidding of the most faith-intolerant administration in the history of our Republic. According to the Washington Post, Weinstein claimed that Christian “proselytizing” is a “national security threat,” adding, “What is happening is a spiritual rape. … It is sedition and treason. It should be punished.” 1.
Of course, if any military officer publicly suggested that this all-out attack on religious faith was part of his commander in chief’s agenda, they would face a court-martial. However, off the record, I have privately spoken to many command-level officers who believe this is precisely Obama’s objective.
Weinstein, himself an AFA graduate (Class of ‘77), and author of “One Man’s War Against an Evangelical Coup in America’s Military,” has been an enemy of public faith expression for his whole career.
He first sued the Air Force in 2005 for failing to prevent “religious proselytizing,” claiming:
“What you’ve got is a lusty and thriving religious intolerance that is objectively manifesting itself in prejudice and discrimination and is obliterating the First Amendment, civil rights and the US Constitution. There are senior people that view evangelical Christianity at the Air Force Academy the way that you and I would view gravity. Pick up a pen and drop it and it falls on the desk. Well, it just exists, it’s gravity.”
But U.S. District Judge James Parker dismissed the case, noting:
“No Plaintiff claims to have personally experienced any of the things described under 'Factual Allegations’ … while at the Academy or after leaving the Academy. Not a single Plaintiff has alleged any personal factual situation that has allegedly impinged on that Plaintiff’s constitutional rights since the Plaintiff left the Academy.”
Weinstein got little traction for his faith persecutions until Obama’s election in 2008, which paved the way for him to become the primary nemesis of faith expression in the military.
Within a month of Obama’s inauguration in 2009, Weinstein met with Air Force Chief of Staff Norton A. Schwartz, who was confirmed by the Democrat-controlled Senate on August 12, 2008 (and served until August 10, 2012, when he was replaced by Gen. Mark Welsh). Weinstein said that Schwartz “acknowledged that there [was] a problem” regarding religious freedom in the military.
To get a sense of the depth of Weinstein’s hatred of our military’s faith traditions, later in 2009 he blamed the Fort Hood massacre by Islamist Nidal Malik Hasan on proselytizing by “fundamentalist Christians.”
In 2010, the year “So help me God” was removed from the AFA Officer and Cadet oaths, Weinstein claimed he had developed a cozy relationship with then-AFA Superintendent Lt. Gen. Mike Gould. He also claimed that he and Gould devised a secret codeword to ensure he could have quick access to Gould at any time. “We have our own bat-signal,” he boasted. (For the record, I have met Mike Gould through several national security briefings and would have a difficult time believing that he and Weinstein were in collusion.)
That was also the year Weinstein applauded Obama’s repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” which significantly constrained any religious views to the contrary. 2.
In 2011, Weinstein demanded and received an apology from AFA Commandant of Cadets Brig. Gen. Richard Clark for authorizing cadet support of “Operation Christmas Child,” which assembles and fills millions of shoeboxes with toys, school supplies and other gifts for impoverished children in 130 countries. He had objected because OCC places a Christian tract in those boxes.
In 2012, he pressed the Pentagon to end the sale of military-themed Holman Christian Standard Bibles, claiming they were a “national security threat.”
Clearly, Weinstein and the MRFF are dedicated to freedom from religion, not our constitutionally enshrined freedom of religion.
So, what is the Obama/MRFF strategy at the Air Force Academy?
Given that AFA administrators have already removed “So help me God” from the cadet and officer oaths in 2011 – for reasons the AFA refused to disclose to me in 2012 – if Weinstein pursues legal action, it may be difficult for the AFA to argue for retaining “So help me God” in any oath. And, if he “wins” a legal challenge against the AFA, he will undoubtedly pursue “domino effect” rulings to amending oaths in the other Service Academies – which will inevitably cascade throughout the service branches.
My colleague, Lt. Gen. (Ret.) William “Jerry” Boykin, says of the administration’s effort to oppress religious expression, “The very troops who defend our religious freedom are at risk of having their own taken away. The worst thing we can do is stop Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines, especially the chaplains, from the free exercise of their faith.”
On Monday, 28 October, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh met with Academy Superintendent, Lt. Gen. Michelle D. Johnson, to discuss Weinstein’s complaint, and in an address to cadets later that day, closed by asserting, “[I]nclusion is part of our strength, and without diversity, we have a glaring shortfall.” Of course, “inclusion and diversity” are key words in the Weinsteins’s playbook to undermine faith expression – though having met Gen. Welsh, I would certainly not suggest he is using that playbook.
The following day, Superintendent Johnson sidestepped the complaint by suggesting that repeating “So help me God” after the Honor Code will be voluntary.
“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. So, in the spirit of respect, cadets may or may not choose to finish the Honor Oath with ‘So help me God.’”
But the fact is, “So help me God” is already elective in all military and civilian oaths. While 5 U.S.C. § 3331 specifies the inclusion of those words, it is understood that this inclusion is subordinate to our Constitution’s Article VI prohibition of any religious test for public office. However, it is no longer elective in the AFA Cadet and Officer oaths because the words have already been omitted!
And, according to the most recent Air Force Instruction issued by the Secretary of the Air Force, section 1.4. Oath, subsection 1.4.1 Enlistment Oath and 1.4.2 Oath of Office (Commissioning Oath) both specify “So help me God.” Further, the SecAF orders, “Compliance with this publication is mandatory.”
Dr. Hans Mueh (Brig. Gen., Ret.), who was tasked in 1984 with formulating the Honor Oath, explained, “To add more seriousness to the oath, we decided to mirror the commissioning oath and add the words, ‘so help me, God.’” But defying explanation, neither Gens. Welsh, Johnson or Mueh have noted that those words have already been omitted from the other oaths in the AFA handbook! It is possible that they do not know the words have been omitted – as any such alteration would have required the approval of senior officers.
Weinstein is certainly not content with the Superintendent’s AFA “voluntary” solution:
“The Air Force Academy is a constitutional train wreck when it comes to religious rights and freedoms. We wouldn’t trust them to get the word out on an organizational picnic, much less something of this magnitude. [Tying the oath] to a religious test violates the no-establishment clause of the Constitution.”
So, as it stands, at best the AFA is not in compliance with U.S. Code or the SecAF’s mandate regarding oaths, and any military officers who knowingly approved the oath alterations could be subject to prosecution under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, Article 92 (IX), “Violation of a Lawful General Regulation/Order.”
At worst, somebody has provided Weinstein with a layup, a legal “gimme,” which he can ultimately parlay into the removal of “So help me God” from every military oath.
Notably, one of our readers, an AF Col. (Ret.), wrote Gen. Welsh with his respectful concern about the Honor Code Oath issue – prior to reading in this column that the AFA had already altered the primary oaths. In response, Gen. Welsh (who is noted for his personal attention to such inquiries), aptly summed up the scope of the oath issue: “It impacts other oaths as well (commissioning, being sworn in to a congressionally confirmed position, etc.) so we need to reach resolution… This also clearly is not just an AF issue – DoD (and hopefully the entire govt) needs to be consistent with this, so we’ll work with the other services to stay on the same page.”
However, I am quite certain that Obama’s DoD civilian administrators, in collusion with administration proxy Michael Weinstein, will author that page.
So the question remains, who ordered the removal of “So help me God” from the 2011 (Class of 2015) Cadet handbook – effectively setting up the administration’s oath removal strategy?
The Patriot is pursuing an answer to that question – and we will not back off until we get the truth.
The AFA may attempt to pin blame on a committee of AFA officers and cadets, which reviews Contrails each year for any minor changes to protocol or training, but there is little chance that a major change such as the alteration of the officer and cadet oaths would have been the work of this committee. Alternatively, the AFA may claim this was an accidental omission, however these oaths rotate in different position in the handbook each year, and one would think the editors would have noticed the omissions. Moreover, given that I specifically inquired about this omission with the AFA PAO in 2012, an inquiry which was rudely rebuffed by an Air Force officer, the AFA most assuredly knew the words had been omitted at that time – but there was no correction in the 2013 edition.
Presently, some 3,000 cadets, those in the classes of 2015, 2016 and 2017, are now subject to the omitted wording in their Cadet Knowledge handbooks. We should all be concerned that not one of those cadets believed they could approach the Superintendent about this issue. I am told there was concern about PC rebuke.
Frankly, CSAF Welsh and Superintendent Johnson may have been waiting – and hoping – for a third-party objection in order to thwart a political agenda to all military oaths. If so, their wait is over.
In the meantime, Obama and his Leftist cadres should heed this formative advice from George Washington, by way of General Orders to his military officers in 1775: “While we are zealously performing the duties of good citizens and soldiers, we certainly ought not to be inattentive to the higher duties of religion. To the distinguished character of Patriot, it should be our highest glory to add the more distinguished character of Christian.”
Finally, I began this week as I usually do, with a Monday morning visit to my 90-year-old father, a retired naval aviator and member of the Greatest Generation. He’s always interested in current events, especially the latest on what he accurately labels “Obama’s socialist effort to nationalize health care.”
In a discussion with him about my column topic, the real story behind an effort to remove “So help me God” from an oath at the Air Force Academy, he smiled and said, “I have something for you.” He disappeared for a minute and returned with a small pocket New Testament, which was presented to him at his naval commissioning ceremony 70 years ago. He had come across this little Bible while cleaning out a drawer, and he set it aside knowing I would appreciate it.
And appreciate it I do.
On a dedication page prior to the title page, there was a printed inscription from Franklin D. Roosevelt:
“As Commander-in-Chief, I take pleasure in commending the reading of the Bible to all who serve in the armed forces of the United States. Throughout the centuries men of many faiths and diverse origins have found in the Sacred Book words of wisdom, counsel and inspiration. It is a fountain of strength and now, as always, an aid in attaining the highest aspirations of the human soul.”
Indeed. What a contrast in Commander-in-Chiefs.
1. What is Obama’s overarching objective? Under the pretense of “religious tolerance,” Barack Obama’s administration has been quietly advancing his mandate to remove all expression or manifestation of faith, particularly Christianity, from government forums – first and foremost, the U.S. military, where he has the most direct authority. His civilian “leaders” at DoD have ramped up that eradication, even threatening UCMJ charges against military personnel whose expression of faith might be interpreted as “proselytizing.” Eradicating references to God in military oaths is part of Left’s larger objective to replace Rule of Law with the rule of men – because the former is predicated on the principle of Liberty “endowed by our Creator.” Obama’s administrators constantly look for ways to undermine Rule of Law by driving wedges between our Liberty and its inherent foundational endowment.
2. One of Obama’s earliest campaign promises was to repeal the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” proscription against open homosexuality in the military ranks. On December 22, 2010, Obama signed that repeal after it had been passed by his outgoing NeoCom House majority and seconded by his Demo-controlled Senate, just weeks before Tea Party Republicans, who decimated the Democrats in the 2010 midterm elections, took over the House. At the signing, Obama declared, “This law will strengthen our national security and uphold the ideals that our fighting men and women risk their lives to defend.”
2014 Update: On the observance of the 67th anniversary of the founding of our Air Force, it was announced that the DoD’s General Counsel had determined that the Air Force cannot compel its airmen to include the phrase “So Help Me God” in its oaths, after Air Force leaders had argued for such a mandate, but the recitation of those words at the end of oaths has always been voluntary.
- Armed Forces and Military Service
- Military Religious Freedom Foundation
- Air Force Academy
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