Friday, October 25, 2013

UPDATE: AFA honor code: "So help me God"

Posted by on Fri, Oct 25, 2013 at 3:53 PM

On Monday, the Independent broke the story that the honor oath posted at the Air Force Academy's preparatory school includes the phrase "so help me God," and has since 1984. This morning, the academy announced the phrase will be considered optional.

But Mikey Weinstein, head of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, wants to know what the academy means by that. Will the honor oath contain those words in the handbook cadets are given? Will the sign containing those words be put up again after it was removed last week?

"What does that mean? Are they taking the four words out?" Weinstein says. "If the words are still there, if our clients are willing to come forward, we'll sue the academy in federal court aggressively and as soon as we can."

If the academy retains the "so help me God" wording, those cadets who choose not to say it, Weinstein says, "will stick out like a tarantula on a wedding cake."

The academy's news release:
  
U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. - After reviewing the Cadet Honor Oath, and
in the spirit of determining a way ahead that enables all to be true to
their beliefs, the Air Force's Academy has decided to make the final clause
optional.

"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," said
Lt. Gen. Michelle D. Johnson, Academy Superintendent. "So, in the spirit of
respect, cadets may or may not choose to finish the Honor Oath with '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" General Johnson said. "This all begins by living
honorably. The Honor Code and Honor Oath reinforce this fundamental value."

——— ORIGINAL POST, MONDAY, OCT. 21, 3:25 P.M. ————-

Despite an Air Force investigation in years past and continuing efforts to set up religious sensitivity training at the Air Force Academy, it appears the officer school north of Colorado Springs continues to couch its mission in terms of a divine being.

Last week, in response to a request for photos of its preparatory school, the academy sent the Independent 13 images featuring quotes from famous people, such as George Washington, President Ronald Reagan, Gen. George Patton and German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel. Generally they revolved around the concept of building character.

One of those photos featured most of a poster of the academy's famous honor code, with a second sentence we'd never seen before:

click to enlarge COURTESY AIR FORCE ACADEMY
  • Courtesy Air Force Academy

To be clear, that's: "Furthermore, I resolve to do my duty and live honorably so help me God."

So we sent the photo to Mikey Weinstein, the 1977 academy grad who's been fighting for religious neutrality in the military since 2004 through his nonprofit, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation. The foundation got its start with efforts aimed at the academy, where Weinstein alleges fundamental Christianity is given priority, based on cadets' and staff's complaints to him that those espousing such a belief system receive favorable treatment.

After receiving the photo late Friday afternoon, Weinstein immediately contacted the academy about it. Ironically, he had met with Superintendent Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson on Thursday morning and told her of several instances in the last month or so that he says demonstrate a lack of understanding about the separation of church and state.

First, he says, an academy grad and active-duty officer wrote on a classroom board the "only formula needed to get through this course," which was "1 cross, plus 3 nails equals 4-given."

Second, a female master sergeant recently told seniors that when they're commissioned as officers, they must end the oath with, "So help me God." Weinstein says a staff judge advocate advised the academy this was wrong, and the message was revoked.

When Weinstein contacted Johnson's vice superintendent on Friday about the prep-school poster, he says, Johnson herself got back to him 68 minutes later. She wrote via e-mail: 

Thanks for taking the time to talk with my Vice about this matter. This Honor Oath is one of the new things since my graduation, evidently in about 1984. Col Miller was able to bring together the Prep School and other entities on base to put together a way ahead. We’ve already directed the Honor Review Committee to fix this next week when they meet. The Prep School poster has been taken down.
 
We tried to find out more about what Johnson meant by "a way ahead," and by the word "fix," but she wasn't available. However, the academy did release this statement:

We are assessing the situation and have many mission elements, to include Prep School leadership, the Honor Review Committee and other entities on base, working to put together a way ahead that is respectful to all perspectives.
 

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