Air Force policy restricted freedoms

Nate Pasko, Editor in Chief

On Aug. 25, an atheist U.S. Air Force airman at Creech Air Force base in Nev. was denied reenlistment in the Air Force when he crossed off the phrase ‘so help me God’ in the oath of service on his re-enlistment form.

As recently as Oct. of 2013, the Air Force allowed potential or enlisted soldiers to omit this phrase. However, on Oct. 30, 2013, the Air Force quietly updated Instruction 36-2606, which details the active-duty oath of enlistment, to require usage of the clause. According to the Air Force, this change was enacted in an attempt for the Instruction to be more consistent with Title 10, U.S. Code 502, which states that reciting ‘so help me God’ in the oath is a statutory requirement. However, the details surrounding the decision to make the change have not been divulged.

The Air Force was the only branch of the U.S. military that required the usage of a non-secular clause in its enlistment/re-enlistment oath.

Thankfully, due to the close media scrutiny and widespread outrage over this policy, an investigation by the Department of Defense General Counsel resulted in the reversal of the 2013 change to Instruction 36-2606, effective immediately beginning on Sept. 17. The re-enlistment papers of the atheist airman at Creech Air Force base will now be processed to completion.

Despite the knee-jerk damage control by the U.S. Air Force and Department of Defense, the fact remains that a branch of our country’s military enforced a requirement that was a direct violation of Article VI of the U.S. Constitution, which states that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”

Members of the U.S. Air Force work to protect our Constitutional rights and freedoms every day, and it is grossly unjust that those rights were denied, even for slightly less than a year, by the very organization that employs them.

HHS students who plan to join the military after high school have strong opinions on this requirement and resulting Constitutional violation.

“An important part of the Constitution is that everybody can believe in what they want to believe, and since the Air Force was attempting to bring religion into the military, it was violating the rights of its soldiers as human beings and Americans,” said Elliot Cochran, senior, who plans to join the Marine Corps.

The only requirements for military service in America should be sound body and mind and a strong sense of nationalism. However, the Air Force added an extra requirement – religious belief.

Isaiah Kugmeh, senior, who plans to join the Navy after high school, believes that the U.S. military is far too sophisticated to allow this unconstitutional policy.

“With all the changes the U.S. military has been making recently, including the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy adjustments, I don’t see why an adjustment away from this policy couldn’t be made far sooner. Saying or not saying ‘so help me God’ should not prevent you from military service when you are very much capable in every other aspect,” Kugmeh said.

The members of our military are widely regarded as the best-trained and most capable soldiers in the world, and our military force as a whole is known around the world for its forward-thinking and innovative nature. The Air Force limited its own effectiveness for nearly a full calendar year and soiled the reputation of our country’s excellent military force by closing their doors to an unknown number of capable soldiers who, despite their religious beliefs (or lack thereof), would have been fantastic additions to America’s armed forces.