President Obama Takes Oath of Office, Adding ‘So Help Me God’

Earlier today, the Barack Obama took the “official” Presidential Oath of Office:

I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.

You may have noticed that Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts said “So help me God” at the end (and Obama repeated after him). But that’s not part of the official of the oath, is it?

No, and in 2008, Michael Newdow filed a lawsuit (PDF) to prevent exactly this scenario from taking place:

Defendant Roberts… will (with no authority whatsoever) alter the text of that document to infuse the inaugural ceremony with purely religious dogma.

Newdow also laid out the history of those four little words. Basically, no president said the words “So help me God” until “1881, ninety-two years after George Washington’s initial ceremony” — when “Chester A. Arthur took the oath upon hearing of President James Garfield’s death.” After that it didn’t become a “tradition” as we know it until 1933 (with Franklin Roosevelt). In short, there was no reason to continue this “tradition.”

His lawsuit was later thrown out, but Roberts’ own counsel said in a 2009 response to the lawsuit (PDF) that there was nothing wrong with the phrase and that the Chief Justice said “So Help Me God” not as an official part of the oath, but as something the President wanted him to say “after the conclusion of the constitutional oath.”

So it was just a personal request by the President (similar to his request to swearing the oath on a pair of Bibles), not Roberts circumventing the Constitution. That’s the story and they’re sticking to it.

Though when you watch that video, there’s no noticeable difference between the official and “unofficial” parts of the oath…

Just sayin’.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • http://www.facebook.com/mike.hitchcock1 Mike Hitchcock

    I have some sympathy. The man has a job to do and doesn’t need to be spending the next 6 months trying to expalin why he left the words off.

    • Lapushka

      Agreed. The birthers would have a field day with that. I don’t have a problem with people adding that to the oath, if that’s what they believe. What I have a problem with is adding religion to something (such as “under God” in the Pledge), and making it something everyone is supposed to say.

      • pagansister

        I’m old enough to have said the “old Pledge” and when the “under God” was added I chose not to say it.

    • C Peterson

      It is the prerogative of the President to add the words. I’d rather he didn’t, but don’t have a big problem with his doing so.

      It is utterly inexcusable for Roberts to include this, however. Indeed, I consider his failure to administer the correct oath to be an impeachable offense. Roberts totally violated the First Amendment in addition to administering an oath not found in the Constitution.

      • Impeach Roberts

        Roberts should be impeached for that, and for his dishonest ruling in the Obamacare case.
        Obamacare has already hurt my family and increased premiums drasrically. My aunts have had their medicare benefits cut, and its clear that the Billions Obamas siphoned from Medicare for his plan are going to do even more damage.

        • Fred

          My mother’s insurance premium went down thanks to Obamacare. Oh and the fact she can even get affordable insurance after a stroke is thanks to Obamacare.

          So, meh.

        • Randomfactor

          Your premiums didn’t go up because of Obamacare. They went up because private insurance companies could soak you for more, so they did. The way they’ve been doing for years. Obama didn’t “siphon” anything from Medicare–he siphoned it from PRIVATE insurers in order to pay for Medicare.

          • pagansister

            My husband and I are on Medicare and our secondary coverage costs stayed the same for this year—did not go up at all.

  • MacCrocodile

    I disagree with your last statement. The oath officially concludes, and although the president still has his hand on… whatever book that is, presumably a Bible… there is a (very) slight pause, and in a different tone, Justice Roberts says “So help you God?” The question and the change to the second-person (as opposed to the repeat-after-me first-person) makes it a distinct moment.

    I’m still not fond of two of the nation’s most powerful people having to make such a show of their godliness at such a moment, but as others have and will point out, it’s not a fight we should be picking right now; no one needs four more years of birther nonsense. Let’s worry more about God on the money and children forced to recognize God every day in school.

  • xeon2000

    In 20 years Christian nation advocates will point to things like that and say “See?! It’s official part of the oath of office!”

    • OregoniAn

      Don’t worry.. In twenty years Christian “nation” will probably be more like Christian “village”. =)

  • Jo

    So what? I just can’t get my panties in a bunch every time god is mentioned.

  • Stev84
    • America

      You athiests make me sick! Peace be with you! Intolerant haters who will believe in God once they are dying. It’s just trendy to say you don’t.

      • baal

        Your use of ‘peace be with you’ comes off as a threat. Please take a moment to use google and see that atheists are not likely to have death bed conversions (search phrase “no atheists in fox holes”). While atheism is increasing, the posts here and at FTB suggest the reasons vary and ‘because I want to follow the trend’ never comes up as a reason for being an atheist or deconversion. Also, the major trend is in dis-affiliation (google terms “Pew” “nones”) from religion rather than more atheists (happening but more slowly).

      • MattD

        I can conclude what is making you sick.
        It’s the gnawing idea in your head that your religion has been espousing complete lies for centuries, even murdering others who tried to fight back against the hatred and intolerance. .
        People like you crave cofirmation bias, and you pick easy targets (atheists and their websites) to increase the idea that you’re right, instead of considering your wrong. You can wave an entire ocean of bibles at others, but not while the sea is full of religions making similar claims about “Truth” that you’re does.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Kurt-Kish/1541224934 Kurt Kish

        “You atheists make me sick.” AND “Intolerant haters…” funny stuff. let me know when you’re coming to my area to do you’re stand up routine

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Kurt-Kish/1541224934 Kurt Kish

        It’s just trendy to say: “I just have faith”. Except the trend is finally starting to get old after a few thousand years, thank goodness.

      • pc

        First of all Obama is not a Christian. A TRUE CHRISTIAN would not support abortion clinics, and would not support same sex marriages and would not lie under oath like this so called person Obama!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Mathew Goldstein

    None of the Chief Justices ever asked the previous presidents in advance if he should prompt for “so help me god” after the conclusion of the oath (as far as anyone knows). What is happening here is that Chief Justice John Roberts asked Obama 4 years ago only after, and because, Newdow had filed his lawsuit. Now, the idea that the Chief Justice is acting properly by going to the president and asking in advance is false. It is maybe a little more polite, but still improper for the Chief Justice to do that. In fact, it would be improper for the Chief Justice to prompt for those words even if the president came to him on the president’s own initiative to request that the Chief Justice add that phrase (which again, is not case). The reason it is improper is simple: There is no proper justification for the Chief Justice modifying the oath in this way. The president doesn’t need the Chief Justice to prompt him regarding what to say after the oath is completed. The president is a free man, he can say whatever he wants after the oath is completed. The only possible explanation for why the Chief Justice would add words to the oath this way after the oath has concluded is to confuse the public into thinking those additional words are actually part of the oath. And president Obama must know this, so his going along with it and agreeing to the Chief Justice’s offer to add that phrase was also unethical. I removed my Obama bumper sticker from my car.

    • http://abb3w.livejournal.com/ abb3w

      Has anyone ever asked Justice Scalia about this?

      • Mathew Goldstein

        There is no reason to ask Justice Scala, Scalia has nothing to do with this.

        • http://abb3w.livejournal.com/ abb3w

          Nonsense. There’s no entertainment like watching a Sicilian rationalize when death isn’t on the line.

    • alconnolly

      I find adding the phrase distasteful. But I wonder how you know what went on when you say: “What is happening here is that Chief Justice John Roberts asked Obama 4
      years ago only after, and because, Newdow had filed his lawsuit
      demanding that the Chief Justice not spatchcock a religious phrase while
      administering the oath.” How do you know Obama did not ask first? What is evidence you used to draw that conclusion? Your argument that it is improper is reasonable. The Chief Justice claim that it is legal, also seems reasonable. So you and me both have a problem with Obama and the chief justice understanding of “proper”. Not nearly as big a deal as so many other things I disagree with Obama or Roberts about, and I agree with them that it is legal.

      • Mathew Goldstein

        It is a fact that the Chief Justice publically asserted that he asked the president for permission (and not the other way around) during the 1st inaugural. It is a fact that Newdow filed his lawsuit well before that inauguration. It is a fact that the Chief Justice would have had a difficult time justifying dismissing the Newdow lawsuit as lacking merit if he acknowledged that an extra-legal monotheistic codicil was being imposed on the presidents without first asking permission. So to justify disregarding the legal merit of the lawsuit he went to the president and asked permission in advance to add the monotheisti codicil. The historical record contains no assertion from any other Chief Justice, or president, that the Chief Justice requested permission to add this monotheistic codicil, or that president requested the Chief Justice add it, prior to the oath recitation.

  • LesterBallard

    He should have said “so help me, Allah”, then let a evil grin spread across his face.

  • Machintelligence

    I see he was sworn in on a stack of bibles. Does that make the oath more effective?

    • Stev84

      And if yes, are two small bibles more effective than Biden’s massive one?

    • Emmet

      Why did he use two Bibles – what’s the idea with that?

      • http://abb3w.livejournal.com/ abb3w

        Historical significance of each; one owned by Lincoln, the other by MLK.

        • baal

          I’m hoping the next Pres. swears in on a whole stack of bibles, korans, torah’s and a betty crocker cookbook. (or they could just omit the use of literature as an affirmational prop)

  • Impeach Roberts

    Did you see where Rev. Adam Hamilton, of the First United Methodist Church of the Resurrection, Leawood Kansas (just next to Kansas City, Mo,)…and with 19,000 members…is going to give the sermon tommorrow at the national service?
    You mentioned Hamilton and his blog in a post a few days ago.
    You can’t go anywhere around there without running into them.
    But the skeptics groups of Kansas City are in heave competition…after several years they now average 25 to 30 people attending their meetings. The sparkling personalities of their organizers have led to these impressive results. snicker.

    • pansies4me

      You sure sound like a real sparkling personality yourself. Snicker.

      • Laughing Boy

        But no match for you and Iggy, “pansy”. chuckle

        • pansies4me

          I’m going to stop feeding you, you troll. I don’t want your ass to get too big, Laughing Boy…or should I say, Impeach Roberts. You’re really not that clever.

  • guest

    same in Germany. you can but you don’t have to. I have no issues with that, I would have a problem if there was no choice in words. (In Germany you don’t even HAVE to swear, you can vow instead)

    • Mathew Goldstein

      The oath of office is in the US constitution and there is no mention of any option to include or omit any reference to a god because it is a secular job and therefore a secular oath. Again, anyone can express their desire for assistance from anyone or anything after the oath of office is concluded, there is no good reason for the law to single out and spell out any particular such option.

    • bernardaB

      In all other offices in the Federal government you can “swear” an oath or “affirm”. If you say “affirm”, you don’t have to say “So help me god”. The Constitution is very clear for the president: he can “swear(or affirm)” and the words “so help me god” are not included. Indeed, some presidents have simply said “I do.”

      It is curious that the only Christian among the first five American presidents, John Quincy Adams, swore on a law book and not a Bible.

  • anthrosciguy

    Now if he’d added “Up yours Romney!”…

  • Fred

    A christian took an oath and said so help me god, how is this a thing?
    Am I to take this seriously or is it just something to fill time?

  • John of Indiana

    And if he had left the magic words off, the Gawd Botherers would have raised a hue and cry that would have ground this country to a halt for the next 4 years.
    Of course, if you look at Congress you’d see that has already happened…

    We need to stop with this delusion that the guy’s somehow a non-believer. Talk about your magical thinking…

  • hart

    Following the oath, the President knocked on wood, stroked a rabbit’s foot, and donned an Italian cornu to ward off the “evil eye”.

  • Randomfactor

    Wouldn’t it be great when an incoming President concludes his oath of office with “…so help me, Americans.”

  • http://daniel.bottle-imp.com/ Daniel

    I am very much not inclined to care about this. I don’t really feel this cross the line of State/Church separation like it would in, say, a valedictorian high school speech. It is the oath of an individual, and as such a reflection of his personal beliefs. This feels to me like a freedom of speech issue.

    I’ll take a strong stance on this issue when a Muslim or Buddhist (or atheist?) is sworn into office and people object to them swearing to something other than the Christian deity. It will happen eventually.

  • LifeinTraffic

    I just gave up and stopped listening. There was so much gawd in this ceremony, including the invocation concluding “In Jesus name,” I just wanted to reach out and slap someone, especially since it came on the heels of a big speech about civil rights and disenfranchisement. Apparently, the irony was lost on her (and, presumably, the organizers and speech writers).

    It’s not just the “nones” that this excluded (and yeah, I did feel pretty damn excluded, not to mention completely put-off that the only appeal to aid in running the country was given to “the almighty,” rather than, say, rationality, good advisers, facts….), it was also any non-Christian religion (and, some Xtian sects, as well, I suspect). Ugh.

    How, and this is a serious question I would absolutely love an answer to if anyone has it, is such a religious ceremony NOT a violation of separation of church and State?

    • baal

      “Ceremonial Deism” is the term of art for the relevant supreme court case law.

      • LifeinTraffic

        Baal, thanks for that! I read up on it a bit. I understand (but don’t necessarily agree) with what they are saying; but, I’m going to keep digging and see if there’s any clear indicator what crosses that line. An “invocation” that ends with “in Jesus name” seems more than “ceremonially deistic” to me, but I’m sure I’m probably wrong :-(

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Roedy-Green/593738145 Roedy Green

    Even if he were atheist he had to do this. He has this “you are a Muslim” birther nonsense to combat. He was also trying to do some MLK mojo with that bible, hoping to have people see him as a sort of MLK reincarnation. It is an NLP technique.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Kurt-Kish/1541224934 Kurt Kish

      I see your point, but that kind of accommodation is awfully close to being condescending.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Kurt-Kish/1541224934 Kurt Kish

      NLP- pseudosceince

  • http://criticallyskeptic-dckitty.blogspot.com Katherine Lorraine

    Once again, I don’t really care. He’s a Christian, he swore on a Christian Bible, and he asked his Christian god to help him perform the words of the oath of office. Fine whatever.
    While I rarely agree with the accomodationists, this has a bit of an… angry anti-theist vibe to it. I mean seriously, you’re criticizing a man for his own personal beliefs.

    • baal

      I agree that this one isn’t a fight worth having but the President’s swearing in is not a matter of ‘personal belief.’

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Kurt-Kish/1541224934 Kurt Kish

        yep- there it is!

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Kurt-Kish/1541224934 Kurt Kish

      I couldn’t disagree with you more. He can god babble all he wants in his private time. And if he has little of that, he should at the very least not mention his preference for magic while taking the oath for Presidency.

  • http://www.facebook.com/craigallen91 Craig Allen

    Actually, it was different. Roberts asked it as a question, “So help YOU, God?” And Obama replied, “So help ME, God.” Also, your facts might be wrong. There is history that insists Washington was the first president to add those words.


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