Atheists can serve, but do they need to swear to God?

September 12, 2014, 4:25 PM UTC

Americans overwhelmingly say that atheists should be allowed to serve in the military, but there is a divide over whether atheists should be allowed to opt out of swearing to God when they enlist

Reports have emerged that an sergeant in the Air Force has been barred from reenlisting because he refuses to say 'so help me God' as part of the oath of military service. Historically Air Force servicemembers have been allowed to omit 'so help me God' when they take the oath of service, but a recent Air Force rule change in October last year made it mandatory to say the oath in its entirety. 

The latest research from YouGov shows that the vast majority of Americans (75%) say that atheists should be allowed to serve in the US military. Only 7% of Americans say that they shouldn't, while 17% aren't sure either way. Even among people who say that religion is 'very important' to them, only 15% say that atheists should not be allowed to serve in the military. 

The recent dispute in the Air Force centres on whether or not servicemembers should be allowed to drop 'so help me God' from the oath of service. Asked how the military should handle this, the most popular response (43%) was to say that the phrase should remain a part of the oath, but that if someone enlisting or reenlisting wished they should be allowed to omit it. 11% say that the phrase should be dropped from the oath altogether, while 34% of Americans want all servicemembers to be required to say it, no exceptions.

There is a distinct partisan divide on this issue. Democrats and independents tend to agree, with over 40% of both saying that it is OK to skip saying 'so help me God'. Most Republicans (52%), however, say that all members of the military should be required to say 'so help me God' as part of the oath of service. 

Full poll results can be found here.

Image: PA