In a letter to the Secretary of the Air Force the secular humanist group the Center for Inquiry (CFI) cites the case of an atheist airman who was, allegedly, denied reenlistment because he refused to utter "So help me God" when affirming his oath to defend the Constitution. If that is the case, he stands on solid ground since the Constitution in Article 6 specifically states:
The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the members of the several state legislatures, and all executive and judicial officers, both of the United States and of the several states, shall be bound by oath or affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.
The oath is specified by 10 U.S. Code Section 502:
(a) Enlistment Oath — Each person enlisting in an armed force shall take the following oath:
"I, XXXXXXXXXX, 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; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God."
Apparently, up until last October the Air Force had permitted its members to omit the phrase "So help me God" from its oath. The CFI acknowledges that the 10 U.S. Code Section 502 does not appear to make any part of the oath optional, but notes that the U.S. Army regulations state:
A commissioned officer of any Service will administer the Oath of Enlistment in DD Form 4 orally, in English, to each applicant. Make a suitable arrangement to ensure that the oath is administered in a dignified manner and in proper surroundings. Display the U.S. flag prominently near the officer giving the oath. The words "So help me God" may be omitted for persons who desire to affirm rather than to swear to the oath.
The Army clearly and correctly recognizes the primacy of the U.S. Constitution over statutory law. It is notable that the 1789 enlistment oath that remained in effect until 1962 eschewed any mention of a deity. The Army website tracing the history of the 1789 oath reports:
It came in two parts, the first of which read: "I, A.B., do solemnly swear or affirm (as the case may be) that I will support the constitution of the United States." The second part read: "I, A.B., do solemnly swear or affirm (as the case may be) to bear true allegiance to the United States of America, and to serve them honestly and faithfully, against all their enemies or opposers whatsoever, and to observe and obey the orders of the President of the United States of America, and the orders of the officers appointed over me."
Let's go back to that. If the Air Force is requiring its enlistees to swear to God, it is violating the Constitution that its members swear or affirm to defend.