"So Help Me, God" I Can't Join the Army?

Not that Uncle Sam would Want Me, anyway . . . But I was watching the news last night, a story about aliens being sworn into the US armed forces (like, aliens from the Philippines and Russia, not from Mars), and they included a scene of the Swearer and the Swearees repeating, " . . . so help me, God."


What would an atheist do? If I went up to them beforehand and said, “Sir, it would be dishonest of me to swear to a god when I’m an atheist,” I’d be marked down as a troublemaker from Day One. I had no idea recruits were required to swear to God! Can any military-types here help me out?

This used to be std in coutrooms, too. You can opt out there, and I’m sure you could opt out in the military, too. I’d guess there are many other groups before atheists who might be targeted for “hazing” in the military.

Sorry I don’t have any facts for you, mostly my opinion. I’ve been around the military for quite a bit of my life, and from what I’ve seen, your atheism would not be a problem.

Wow. A thread from Eve, complaining about the use of the word ‘God.’

I’m shocked, shocked, to discover gambling is going on here!

Not to worry, Eve. You face the same dilemma as a witness in court, who also must swear an oath to God to tell the truth – unless they don’t want to. In that case, you may affirm that you undertake the obligation freely, rather than swearing, and, as Cecil puts it, you are permitted to answer “You got it, Jack,” or whatever godless heathens say, instead of “So help me, God.”

Cecil’s column on oaths for the atheists amongst us.

  • Rick

Well, the folks I saw were being sworn in en masse, which means I’d either have to go up to the Swearer beforehand and ask for a totally separate swearing-in, or I’d have to just keep my mouth shut during the actual swearing-in and either not be sworn in, or . . . I dunno. It just seems that atheists are pretty much forced to either lie, or to single themselves out as troublemakers.

This is the first I’d heard that a religious oath was used to join the U.S. armed forces! Naive little me.

When I went through basic training (Orlando Naval Training Center, 1984) we used to have to line up in front our racks every night and someone would lead a prayer. There wasn’t really any choice about it (at least we sure weren’t told that we had any choice about it). We had an ordained minister in our company who usually led the prayer and he always ened every prayer with “…we ask this in Jesus’ name…” I know we had Jewish recruits in the company (as well as some atheists) but there was never any sense that their opinions or objections would matter much, or even be listened to.

We also went to chapel every sunday. We had a choice of mainstream services we could attend, and we were told, in this case that we didn’t have to go, but, in the words of my caring and sensitive Company Commander, “…any of you little heathens that don’t wanna go to church are gonna work yer fuckin’ asses off back here in the barracks.”

Needless to say, most people went to chapel because they didn’t want to clean the heads and swab the decks all morning.
I was 18 years old at the time and only vaguely aware of my rights. I certainly didn’t have the balls to object to any of this. My CC did not exactly seem, shall we say, “receptive” to those kinds of concerns.

I don’t know how they got away with that stuff (I guess it was the Reagan era). Is basic Training still like that? Does anybody know?

I’m reminded of Oh, God, where God gets sworn in, and says “So help me, Me.”

In Basic Training in the Air Force back in 1987, we had pretty much the same choice. I always chose to stay in the barracks. Nobody else wanted to, so I always ended up doing “Dorm Guard” while everybody else was attending “church” services (mostly some singing and a very vague sermon - I went once.) It was the only time I got to spend alone the whole time, and I’ve always been a solitary kind of person.

**Basic Training Ft. Jackson SC ‘86’ **(last to go through the Old Tank Hill if any one cares).

Pretty much the way I remember it too. It depended on my mood on whether I went or not. Cleaning the barracks wasn’t too hard.

As a Christian, I oppose oaths upon God, since they are explicitly forbidden by Scripture.

So it’s not just atheists who would be uncomfortable with “so help me, God”.

Has anyone challenged the oath on Constitutional grounds, or would that be considered de trop in the armed forces?

Eve: This is an interesting question. Did you do an web surfing to see if there are precidents? I can’t believe that in this has not come up in real life yet. We’ve got 2nd graders complaining about “under God” in the pledge, so there must’ve been some military type who rocked the boat a little.

I know the reference to 2nd graders isn’t strictly true (it was her Dad who did the complaining), but I had to exagerate a bit to make my point.

When I was sworn in (1982) I simply omitted the phrase “under God”. No muss, no fuss.

I never encountered the “bedtime prayer” during basic, but I did get the “go to church or get a work detail” speech. Being of sound mind and lazy disposition I reasoned that attending a service under coersive circumstances was not disrespectful so long as the chaplain was aware of the circumstances. I asked him; he acknowledged that he knew many recruits were only there because of pressure from the DI’s, so I went to church every Sunday and sat quietly in a back pew.

I did not, however, kneel or make any other attempt to mimick the behaviors of people who were actually there to worship.

Evening prayer was standard routine on my ship. It was nonsectarian, and offended nobody that I knew about. This was in 1998 - pretty recent.

Our company commander in boot camp made it a requirement to attend chapel on Sundays. He told those who weren’t religious to choose a service, go, sit quietly and learn about the faiths that their fellow sailors have.

I don’t follow how that is an oath upon God.

Regarding the “work or worship” practice in Basic Training: at Great Lakes RTC in '92 they did the same thing. I stayed back most of the time, partly because I’m agnostic, and partly for the same reason as Mort Furd - it’s the only chance to have any quiet time in basic, unless you stand a night watch, which sucks. I’d always do a rush job on cleaning, go into the Forward Supply Locker - aka broom closet (to which I had the keys, being the Forward Supply Locker Recruit Petty Officer) - open up a can of Nevr Dull brass polish, and let the fumes carry me off to a happy place for an hour or so.:wink:

Regarding the oath, they let you leave out the God part if you want.

Another reason I wouldn’t last five minutes in the Army—I’m lazy, undisciplined, and an atheist!

I did find The Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers, but it doesn’t seem there is any real movement to get things changed, or even make much of a fuss about it.

I’ve been an atheist since I was in seventh grade and went through Orlando as well in August of 1994. I do not recall anything particularly anti-atheist or pro-theist or what-have-you.

But then again, I’ve never really minded swearing to god in the first place. I feel the sense of the statement does not rely on the existence of an eternal being.

—so there must’ve been some military type who rocked the boat a little.—

Yeah, they’re real big on Buck Privates “rocking the boat” in the military.

But yeah, “Shut up, don’t be different, and respect us” is a great way to teach respect. Stephen L. Carter notes that he never knew how the Jewish kids felt when schools led Christian prayers. He later learned that many of them basically saw it as a lesson instructive lesson in what Jews have to face in life. As a Christian, he was horrified that his religion would be something that other people would have to forbear, instead of coming to freely.

But apparently that sort of sentiment is lost upon the military.

A friend of mine was in the U.S. Navy for 6 years during the 1980s, and reports pretty much exactly what you’re saying.

He also said that you were not allowed to put “Atheist” on your dog tags where they indicate what your religion is. (You could put “Satanist,” but not “Atheist.”) The closest thing to Atheist that they allowed you to put on your dog tags was “No religious preference”, which ain’t exactly the same thing.

I would just like to point out that if you were in fact in the military, and found your self in a firefight, especially one in which you were not in a very advantageous position, you would cease to be an atheist.

G’head…tell me I am wrong.