Boy are we ever lucky to have you looking out for the two or three AFA cadets that may not want to say the voluntary words “so help me God” when reciting the honor code oath but are afraid, due to peer pressure, to assert their preferance by merely remaining silent. Yes, we know that AFA cadets are among the brightest in the nation, except of course for those in your organization. Yes we know that AFA cadets are trained to be officers and leaders in the US MILITARY, the greatest force for freedom, especially religious freedom, in the history of the world. And yes we know that these young people, that are so much in need your help, are all volunteers, will be flying high performance strike aircraft, operating other high tech sophistacated equipment and generally exercising leadership and good judgment under extremely hazardous conditions and with great sacrifice. Their commitment, dedication and honor making it possible for lesser people to make fools of themselves. All the while your staff will all be safely esconsed in their little cubicles, primed and ready to step up when needed. As you have said, these AFA cadets are highly suseptable to peer pressure and thus will be reluctant to recite the oath of honor without reciting those voluntary and very dangerous words, “so help me God”. So thank you for stepping up to protect these young people, and we are sure that they would be expressing their appreciation if it were not for the peer pressure that undoubtedly will deter their open expressions.

(name withheld)

Dearest (name withheld),

Thanks for the note of concern and fine example of spelling and grammar. I may use it as an example with my cadets of why the core curriculum is so important to their development as responsible citizens. You don’t mention that you’ve served in the military or have any relation to or true knowledge of what goes on in the military or at the Air Force Academy, so I’ll begin by presuming that you’re ignorant of both. Try to stay with me—I’ll use small words and the spell-checker.

Our cadets are very smart. They are also very young. They learn quickly that their fate is in the hands of people senior to them—upperclass cadets and officers—that can, in some cases, make their lives very tough if they make mistakes or “don’t fit in.” Junior military personnel in all services and nations learn quickly that the best way to survive the early years of their career is to conform (that means fit in and sometimes means giving in to peer pressure) and not rock the boat. Standing out as something different from the majority or norm can bring undue attention, more work, and in some cases, ridicule and hazing. In the military, we’re always on watch for things like that—trying to identify situations that lead to that sort of regulation violation (e.g., harassment, assault, etc) and ultimately are disrespectful to our personnel and disruptive to our mission.

When a senior officer is administering an oath to you (in “raise your right hand and repeat after me form”), staying silent and NOT repeating what he said is a lot like going to a Yankees game and not standing up for the National Anthem. Everyone knows you’re not one of the flock. You’re different. You may not appreciate this, and it may not be a good thing, but that difference truly can be fatal, career-wise in our military, if you’re working for someone that judges you based on non-mission oriented things like your religion, political views, or favorite MLB team. The wrong word on an evaluation or an omitted word here or there and your supervisor can torpedo your career with almost no trace to the outsider and no really actionable complaint possible. Because of that, almost all of us tread softly every day. Cadets learn this VERY, VERY early–it’s ingrained in them during their basic training before classes even start.

What we at the MRFF (and many in the military) propose is something much simpler. In all oaths that traditionally end with So Help Me God (SHMG), we just suggest that the administrator of the oath STOP before saying SHMG. If the taker of the oath wishes to add SHMG (as, legend says, George Washington did at his first inaugural—because, of course you know, his oath of office did NOT contain those words and the officer oath didn’t contain those words either until 1862), then the MRFF will go to the ends of the Earth to defend that cadet’s or officer’s right to add those words. If they choose to just salute, shake hands, and walk away without saying anything more—that’s fine, too. Heck, they might even end with “So help me Jim Lamberson” if they know you well and consider you a mentor and role model. We don’t care. BUT, we do care whenever ANYONE in our military is treated with disrespect, and presuming that the taker of an oath has a specific religious affiliation or view is a profound display of disrespect, I can assure you. It intuits that, without that faith, they are not eligible, willing, or able to serve honorably. So, if we must take an oath (and Matthew 5:33-37 suggests strongly that God doesn’t want us to do that), then let’s focus on the contents of the oath first, and then let the taker of the oath exercise her or his free speech/religion rights AFTER the oath to add a personally meaningful phrase if they so choose.

I hope this was easy to follow for you and free of misspellings.

An Anonymous USAFA Grad and Academy Prof

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