JW Sues Defense Department for Records about Removal of “So Help Me God” from Air Force Academy Written Materials
SEPTEMBER 24, 2013
(Washington, DC) – Judicial Watch announced today that on September 12, 2013, it filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) for records regarding the decision to remove the words “So help me God” from certain United States Air Force (USAF) written materials, including the traditional oath administered to USAF inductees (Judicial Watch v. U.S. Department of Defense (No. 1:13-cv-01393)).
Judicial Watch seeks the following records pursuant to its original May 6, 2013, FOIA request with the DOD:
- Records of the decision to delete, remove, and/or discontinue use of the phrase “… so help me God” from the USAF Academy written materials, including but not limited to the cadet handbook, and any other oaths of allegiance and/or office;
- Records of policy memos, directives or other materials and/or communications implementing the decision described in Point 1, supra.
- Records used for the factual foundation for the decision described in Point 1, supra;
- Records of all communications with Third Parties concerning use of the phrase “… so help me God at the USAF Academy.
The USAF Academy “pledge of loyalty” oath, included as part of the Academy admissions material, reads:
I, (name), having been appointed an Air Force cadet in the United States Air Force, 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 I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.
On the USAF Academy website, cadets are told, “Shortly after arrival, you’ll participate in one of the more solemn occasions of your cadet career: taking the oath that makes you a member of the Armed Forces of the United States. Consider what this country means to you and what defending it involves. You must serve wholeheartedly. If you have any reservations, resolve them before committing to an appointment to USAFA and before taking this oath.”
In August 2013, Officer trainee Jonathan Bise procured the assistance of the American Humanist Association Appignani Humanist Legal Center to help him avoid using the religious phrase “So help me God” during his graduation ceremony at Alabama’s Maxwell Air Force Base. In a letter to Air Force officials at Maxwell, the legal center alleged that the language of the oath was a violation of Bise’s constitutional rights, and warned that “all those involved in violating his constitutional rights are subject to a lawsuit in federal court.” In response to the threat of litigation, USAF officials removed “so help me God” from the oath for Mr. Bise.
“Unilaterally removing ‘so help me God’ from Air Force Academy materials is at odds with our nation’s history, the rule of law, and the fundamental values of the American people,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “We want to get to the bottom of this controversy and it is a shame we had to go to court to try to get past the Pentagon’s stonewall.”