The Air Force says airmen will now be allowed to omit the words “so help me God” from its enlistment oath – marking a change in policy that is being affirmed by both atheist and religious liberty groups.

The decision comes after an airman at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada struck out the words on his Department of Defense reenlistment paperwork and ran up against a policy that prohibits omissions.

The case went up to the Department of Defense General Counsel, which issued an opinion Wednesday saying the language could be left out if the airman preferred.

“We take any instance in which Airmen report concerns regarding religious freedom seriously,” Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James said in a statement. “We are making the appropriate adjustments to ensure our Airmen's rights are protected.”

The American Humanist Association is representing the airman, who requested anonymity.

The policy change was also welcome news to religious liberty groups, who say fair is fair.

“I am glad the Air Force is coming online with the other branches of service to allow airmen to opt out of saying ‘so help me God’ if that is offensive to them,” said Ron Crews, executive director of Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty. “There has always been a respect for those who are not theists in our country.  We want those airmen who believe in God to be able to say these words and we respect the right of those who abstain.”

The Liberty Institute’s Hiram Sasser also supported the move – but for a different reason.

“I am glad the Air Force allows airmen to omit parts of oaths with which they disagree because one day the Air Force will ask airmen to take an oath regarding controversial subjects like marriage and Bible-believing airmen will likewise refrain from such oaths,” said Sasser, director of litigation for Liberty Institute.


The Associated Press contributed to this report