Air Force Trainee Jonathan Bise and others will be offered a chance to recite and sign a secular oath as part of their graduation ceremony on Tuesday, after officials noted that they had erred in including the phrase, "So help me God" as mandatory in both written and verbal versions.
"Our previous legal advisors were mistaken in advising us that it was required," Maj. Stewart L. Rountree wrote in a letter, addressing the planned revision. "Our current legal advisors made me aware and we will ensure it reaches all corners of our program."
Bise, of Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama, had earlier contracted the help of the American Humanist Association’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center and the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers, asking them to step in on his behalf after allegedly being forced to sign a pledge contrary to his "deeply held beliefs" last month.
“A non-religious person cannot be forced to affirm the existence of a God,” said Appignani Humanist Legal Center Coordinator Bill Burgess in a statement. “The law is clear that such demands violate the constitutional mandate of church-state separation and the right to freedom of conscience. This officer-to-be must be allowed to omit theistic language from his commissioning oath.”
A letter to Air Force officials at Maxwell from the group similarly warned that the initial language of the oath was a violation of Bise's constitutional rights, and that a failure to offer Bise a secular option would subject the base to a suit in federal court.
The Air Force oath is below:
"I, (state your name), having been appointed a (rank) in the United States (branch of service), do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the office upon which I am about to enter. So help me God."
Bise and others will now be given the option to sign and recite a version that omits the last line.