OCALA, Fla., October 31, 2013 — Earlier this month, the Air Force Academy announced that it would no longer include the words “so help me God” in its honor oath.
This is of particular significance. On Monday, Mark Thompson of TIME wrote that “(t)he academy — at 7,258 feet above sea level, the closest of all the nation’s military schools to God’s realm — has long had a reputation as the most Christian of the nation’s military learning institutions.”
“Here at the Academy, 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,” Lieutenant General Michelle Johnson, who serves as the Academy’s superintendent, said in an official statement.
“So in the spirit of respect,” she continued, “cadets may or may not choose to finish the Honor Oath with ‘So help me God.’”
In the same statement, Major Brus E. Vidal noted that “(t)he Honor Code, ‘We will not lie, steal or cheat, nor tolerate among us anyone who does,’ was formally adopted by the Academy’s first graduating class of 1959. It is the minimum standard of conduct cadets expect of themselves and their fellow cadets.
“In 1984, the Cadet Wing voted to add an ‘Honor Oath’ for all cadets to take. It is administered to the entire Cadet Wing when they are formally accepted into the wing at the conclusion of Basic Cadet Training. The oath consists of a statement of the Honor Code, followed by a resolution for cadets to live honorably. It reads: ‘We will not lie, steal or cheat, nor tolerate among us anyone who does. Furthermore, I resolve to do my duty and to live honorably, so help me God.’”
“At the Air Force Academy, we produce lieutenants for our Air Force and leaders for our nation, so our focus here continues to be on developing leaders of character,” Johnson also stated. “This all begins by living honorably. The Honor Code and Honor Oath reinforce this fundamental value.”
The lawsuit which led to the oath’s revision was filed by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, a legal action group devoted to ensuring the civil rights of armed forces personnel. Over the last several years, it has attracted no small measure of controversy, mostly from fundamentalist Christians.
“I think the term “secularism” is like the new communism,” the MRFF’s president, former Air Force prosecutor and Reagan Administration member Mikey Weinstein told The Washington Times Communities in May.
“Secularism simply means that everybody is treated equally with respect to their religious faith. Our foundation represents over 33,000 active-duty United States sailors, soldiers, Marines, and airmen, cadets and midshipmen at West Point, the Air Force academy — which is my alma mater and the alma mater of four of my kids and my brother-in-law — and Annapolis, my father-in-law’s alma mater.
“96 percent of our clients are either practicing Protestants or Roman Catholics. As Sandra Day O’Connor said, ‘In this country we do not count heads before enforcing the First Amendment’. To the extent that we are a Christian nation, we are also an Islamic nation, a Jewish nation, a Buddhist nation, a Spider Man nation, an atheist and agnostic nation, and that’s what makes America so beautiful; that we don’t judge your values, anyone’s values, through the prism of what particular faith you adhere to.”
In addition to this, Weinstein told TWTC that “(i)t is absolutely as true as the sky is blue, as the sun will come up tomorrow morning. We are facing a fundamentalist Christian tsunami of what we call ‘fundamentalist Christian exceptionalism and supremacy’. There is no question that this has become an alloy with the very essence of the United States military. It’s in the very DNA that we see. It’s like gravity; it’s everywhere.
“I’ll make it very careful to parse this out. As I said, most of our staff, we have over 150 people that work in this foundation, including many full-time volunteers, our advisory board, our board — we have a lot of luminaries who are on our board and advisory board; they are Republicans, Democrats, independents, and Greens — but the vast majority of our own clients, and half of my own family, are Christians.
“If you look at Islam, it is only a small portion of Islam that represents fundamentalist, terroristic Islam; Salafi and Wahhabist Islam. We don’t paint one group of people with one brush because that’s called old-school bigotry and prejudice, and that leads to oceans and oceans of blood.
“We are looking here at a subset of evangelical Christianity known as Dominion or fundamentalist Christianity.
“They are to be separated from evangelicals and all other Christians because their view of the Great Commission, which is one of the last things Jesus is supposed to have said to his disciples, talked about in Mark 16:15 and Matthew 28:19 — ‘Go and make disciples of all nations,’ Jesus said — their view is that there is no time, place, and manner in which their zeal to proselytize can be restricted.
“Whether it’s case law, state or federal, or any of the Department of Defense instructions, regulations, or directives, there is no time that they can be restricted from proselytizing.
“That is unpatriotic, it’s un-American, it’s inhuman, it’s a crime, and in the military if it happens, it violates the oath that everyone in the military takes — not to the the New Testament, or the Torah, or to the Koran, but to the United States Constitution. It should be punished vigorously, aggressively, and very visibly.”
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