Have you heard that old saying, "there's no atheists in foxholes?" Well, that's actually untrue — a great number of people serving in the American armed forces don't believe in God, and are perfectly capable of fighting, killing, or dying for their country all the same. Which is why the oath that all incoming Air Force enlistees had to take was long overdue for a change — the Air Force has dropped "God" from its pledge, a move that's roiled pro-Christian conservatives, but must be welcome news for that oft-overlooked group of atheist service members.
Here's why it happened, first and foremost: On Sept. 5, the American Humanist Association announced that an airman who applied for reenlistment had been refused, because in order to accept the required pledge, you have to end it with a rousing "so help me God." The man in question, whose name hasn't been released, decided to omit the words from his spoken pledge, but when then faced with signing the written version, which contained the phrase, he refused. So naturally, the Air Force decided they didn't need him — because if there's one thing we can't have, it's patriotic service by the non-religious. The incident touched off a controversy that's lasted through the weeks since, but now, finally, the Air Force has decided to make that part optional.
In other words, if you believe in God, go for it. If not, no big deal. The decision was hailed by the President of the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers, Jason Torpy, who also serves as a board member for the aforementioned American Humanist Association, in a statement release Thursday.
After fighting for our rights, nontheists now again have the status quo in the Air Force, a secular affirmation consistent with other branches of service and our Constitution.
As far as reforming a problematic, discriminatory hurdle goes, this has to be one of the most painless solutions you could imagine. After all, nobody is disputing that atheists do serve in the military, despite whatever jokes people might make — they have an advocacy organization, after all. In effect, leaving the mandatory reference to God in the pledge was nothing more than ordering incoming recruits to lie about their deepest-held beliefs, which is itself a violation of the Cadet Honor Code.
We will not lie, steal, or cheat, nor tolerate among us anyone who does.
That being so, just making the damn thing optional seems like a pretty uncontroversial choice, but it's drawn condemnation from, well, pretty much everyone you'd expect — former Republican Representative Allen West lambasted the decision, and longtime evangelical Christian TV host Pat Robertson was also none too pleased.
It's so crazy! What is wrong with the Air Force? How can they fly the bombers, to defend us, if they cave to one little guy?
Setting his freakout aside, though, this is pretty positive development — tensions between atheist servicemembers and the predominantly religious (and specifically Christian) culture of the U.S. military have been simmering for a while, so when you have an opportunity to do something as unambiguously simple as this, you have to take it. According to The Guardian, the airman who was denied reenlistment over the pledge will now be allowed to take it over again, without any references to his faith, or lack thereof.
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