(CNN) — The U.S. Air Force Academy has decided to make phrase “so help me God” optional in its honor code after an activist group protested that it violates cadets’ religious freedom.
The complete oath reads: “We will not lie, steal, or cheat, nor tolerate among us anyone who does, so help me God.”
Cadets are required to say the oath when they complete basic training.
The Military for Religious Freedom Foundation, a watchdog group that has waged repeated battle with the armed services, took issue with the last clause of the sentence, saying that no cadets should be forced to make a promise to God.
After the complaint was filed by MRFF, the Air Force Academy Honor Review Committee met for an in-depth discussion regarding the oath.
On Friday, the AFA released a statement saying they had decided to make the final clause of the honor oath optional.
The AFA statement read, in part, “Here at the Academy, we world 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.”
“The fact that the oath is optional will be communicated in honor lessons,
leadership lessons, and religious respect lessons during the summer (cadet
basic military training) so all trainees will understand prior to taking the
Cadet Honor Oath that the final clause will be completely optional,” said AFA spokesman Major Brus Vidal. “The leaders and senior cadets will communicate this frequently during these lessons and in other forums.”
“The person administering the oath, who is the cadet wing honor chair has the option to say or not say ‘so help me god,” so this might vary
from year to year,” Vidal continued.
Vidal said the Honor Oath is taken by the entire cadet wing each year as re-affirmation of their commitment to the Code.
Mikey Weinstein, MRFF’s founder and president, said he would sue the academy on behalf of his clients if the words were still left at the end of the oath, even if repeating them was optional.
“If the words are still there and you don’t say
MRFF has taken issue with the Air Force before. In 2011, the group complained about an Air Force training presentation that used religion to teach the ethics and morality of using nuclear weapons.
That same year, CNN learned that the Air Force was using Christian beliefs such as the Ten Commandments to teach core values to ROTC cadets.