For Tony Perkins, religious freedom is FORCING Air Force cadets to say “So help me God” at the end of their Honor Oath. The Air Force says cadets are no longer required to do so, though they MAY do so if they wish. Tony Perkins says “anti-Christian crusader” Mikey Weinstein is to blame for the Constitution being followed.
The oath is as follows: “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.”
The Military Religious Freedom Foundation had objected to the oath. As Mikey Weinstein pointed out, the oath violated the “no religious test” clause, Article VI of the U.S. Constitution.
“You cannot have anyone swear an oath to a supreme being to take a position in the federal government.. What we’re talking about is civil rights.”
The final decision was a compromise. Mikey Weinstein wanted the words dropped from the oath altogether because those choosing to not say the words will feel pressured. “It exacts an unconstitutional toll on religious objectors. Everyone knows you’re not playing for the right team.”
The Air Force Academy’s Superintendent, Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson, said in a statement Friday that dropping the requirement to say “so help me God” – but not dropping “so help me God” from the oath, respects cadets’ freedom of religion.
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. So in the spirit of respect, cadets may or may not choose to finish the Honor Oath with ‘So help me God.’
This will bring the Air Force Academy in line with West Point and Annapolis, neither of which tack “so help me God” onto the end of their honor oaths.
But Tony Perkins said yesterday, in effect, “how dare you NOT force your cadets to be Christians! That VIOLATES our religious freedom to force everybody to be Christian!”
You’d think even Tony Perkins would be shocked by his reaction. How does anyone take the idea of religious freedom to mean the opposite of religious freedom?
I guess the Crusades were really a relief organization designed to help those poor benighted folks in the Middle East, and the Inquisition’s torturers were really just leading therapy sessions.
No more clearer example exists of what we can expect should Perkins and his crowd prevail: forcing everybody else to be a Christian is the Religious Right’s idea of “religious freedom.”
To add insult to injury, Perkins used an invented story about George Washington to sustain his myth (I covered the Religious Right’s need for a fantasy world in yesterday’s post). Perkins claimed,
Lieutenant General Michelle Johnson said the oath is being reviewed because the Academy values an inclusive environment that promotes dignity and respect for all. Really? Does that include those like General George Washington who initiated the phrase, “So help me God,” or does that inclusion only make room for those who want to dismantle America’s Christian heritage?
But Washington never said “So help me God.” The claim that he did was never made at the time, or even in his own lifetime. The claim did not arise, in fact, until 65 years later. Peter Henriques of George Mason University wrote back in 2009:
There is absolutely no extant contemporary evidence that President Washington altered the language of the oath as laid down in Article 2, Section 1 of the Constitution: “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” A long letter by the French foreign minister Comte de Moustier, who attended the ceremony, repeated the oath verbatim and did not include the additional words. Apparently, it was not until 65 years after the event that the story that Washington added this phrase first appeared in a published volume. In his book, The Republican Court, Rufus Griswold cited a childhood memory of Washington Irving as his source. It took another 27 years before the first clearly documented case of a President adding the words, “So help me God,” was recorded — when Chester A. Arthur took the oath in 1881.
Here again we run into conservatism’s fantasy world coming into conflict with the actual world. They say because something happened in their fantasy world that we must shape our actions in the real world accordingly. But it doesn’t work that way.
All that matters is that Washington did NOT take the oath in the way Perkins claims. All the wishful thinking in the world will not change that fact.
Worse yet, “so help me God” was not part of the original Air Force Academy Honor Oath dating to 1959. “So help me God” was not added until 1984 in the wake of a cheating scandal. It is not a traditional original to George Washington and it is not a tradition original to the oath itself.
So Tony Perkins is wrong on all three counts. Religious Freedom is NOT coercing other people to be Christians. George Washington did not begin a tradition of saying “so help me God” and the words are not original to the oath.
Perkins says he wants to know “Who’s running the United States Air Force: General Mark Welsh or Mikey Weinstein?” It turns out who is running the United States Air Force is the United States Constitution, the document the Religious Right most loathes.
Hrafnkell Haraldsson, a social liberal with leanings toward centrist politics has degrees in history and philosophy. His interests include, besides history and philosophy, human rights issues, freedom of choice, religion, and the precarious dichotomy of freedom of speech and intolerance. He brings a slightly different perspective to his writing, being that he is neither a follower of an Abrahamic faith nor an atheist but a polytheist, a modern-day Heathen who follows the customs and traditions of his Norse ancestors. He maintains his own blog, A Heathen’s Day, which deals with Heathen and Pagan matters, and Mos Maiorum Foundation www.mosmaiorum.org, dedicated to ethnic religion. He has also contributed to NewsJunkiePost, GodsOwnParty and Pagan+Politics.