Atheists to Obama: Remove ‘So Help Me God’ From Oath of Office

President Barack Obama, official portrait

The Freedom From Religion Foundation sent the following letter to President Obama two days after his re-election.

Among other things, they asked the president to remove the words “so help me God” from the presidential oath of office and to not place his hand on a Bible while taking the oath. They supported this demand with the interesting assertion that the words “so help me God” are unconstitutional since they “alienate the demographic elected officials must rely on in the coming years,” meaning, I assume, atheists.

This odd claim that it is unconstitutional to “alienate” unbelievers is only slightly more arrogant than the rest of the letter.

If you want a good summary of why Christians need to stop being so cavalier about their faith, read this letter.

November 8, 2012

President Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500

Dear President Obama:

Congratulations on your re-election. I write to respectfully ask you to re-examine the use of religion as a political tool in your second term as President. The November election highlights the country’s rapidly shifting demographics. The electorate’s religious affiliation is changing more quickly than any other metric, including race. In 1990, 8% of Americans were nonreligious. When you were elected in 2008, 15% of Americans identified as nonreligious. Now that number is 20%.

More strikingly, 1-in-3 Americans under 30 now identify as nonreligious. This is the demographic that, by a wide margin, elected you in 2008 and again in 2012. It is the 30-and-unders who are our greatest supporters and are the future of this country. Their votes will decide future elections. More and more they are tired of leaders injecting religion into politics.

The shifts towards marriage, sex, and race equality, and the acceptance of non-nuclear families all coincide with the secularization of America. For secular America, religious rhetoric is empty. Religious justifications for government action are hollow arguments invoking an authority that we reject. Politicians often use religion to pander to their base, but we find such rhetoric exclusionary and distasteful.

You called Nov. 5 “the last day that I will ever campaign.” This term limitation is a gift. You are not beholden to any future constituency. This term is a chance to do something that no president in recent memory has done: reach out to secular Americans. In the past, that might have been politically costly.   But this recent election shows that it will be politically costly notto reach out to secular America. We are the future. Use this second term to build a legacy by rejecting the way this country politicizes religion.

You can start on January 21. When you stand to reaffirm your oath, do so using the language of the Founders. Eliminate the religious verbiage. While you’re at it, why not place your hand on the Constitution instead of a bible? The oath, laid out in Article 2, Section 1 of the Constitution, is secular (no hand on the bible, no “so help me God”): “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.”

The “so help me God” tradition violates the Constitution in the act of promising to uphold it. The ritual alienates the demographic that elected officials must rely on in the coming years. It excludes the people that put you into office and runs against the wishes of the people that created your office. The Constitution does not mandate religious oaths; it prohibits them.

Use this term to create a legacy worthy of the Founders. Restore the presidential oath to its original form and begin the necessary process of divorcing American politics from religion.

I will never forget the lines of your first inaugural address, recognizing nonbelievers:

We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus — and non-believers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolvethat as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.

 The final tribal allegiance that must dissolve is not sex, or race, or sexual orientation. It is religion.   Private citizens are free to maintain that allegiance if they choose, but it is time our government abandoned it.   Please do not passively wait for a revelation of “our common humanity.” Lead us into that new era of peace and unity by separating politics from the division religion sows.

Start small. Start by honoring the secular intent of the oath. In its altered, religious form, the oath is a symbol of the disregard this country has shown for its Constitution in the name of God. Our once silent minority will no longer remain silent as politicians trample the document we hold sacred —the Constitution. Honor the oath as you recite it on January 21 and lead us into the new era you promised four years ago.

With hope,

Andrew L. Seidel
Freedom From Religion Foundation

  • Peg

    Allrighty, way to ruin my Saturday-kidding sort of….there’s so much wrong with this on so many levels.

    I’m so tired of the prosletizimg of this group. I do wish them luck in assuming that a constitutional relativist is going to hold that document sacred- drone strikes and HHS. Of course their view on what OUR Constitution actually says and doesn’t say is quite relative.

    I also recall a quote from the 2008 Inauguration regarding the “slaughter of innocents” but it was’t about our unborn children -have always feared for his soul that those words will come back to haunt him.

    I agree that we must awaken from our slumber and get involved as well. Overcoming old hates is noble just as tackling new ones.
    N ow I have to go to Confession and pray.

    • Rebecca Hamilton


      “I’m so tired of the prosletizimg of this group.”

      Double uh-huh.

      “we must awaken from our slumber and get involved…”

  • Josh U

    I was recently reflecting on something similar to this regarding the oath taken by witnesses in courts to provide true testimony.

    It should not matter to whom or on what the oath is taken to those who are not taking the oath. Those details really should only matter to the oathtaker. What others should be concerned with is whether the oathtaker does hold that person or object is sacred. Personally, I would have no problem with a Jewish person choosing to take an oath on the Torah, a Muslim choosing the Koran, or even an atheist choosing the Constitution itself. The value of an oath should not be measured based on the value a document or deity has to a second party but on the value of that document or deity to the oathtaker. If this were not the case, why would oaths sworn on a person’s mother’s or father’s grave be given value by anyone who was not swearing such an oath? The memory of others’ parents frequently has inconsequential value to us. We give these oaths value because we assume the memory of one’s parents is something one would not wish to dishonor.

    What I do object to in this case is that this organization is goading a professed Christian (I will not deal in suspicion and the like) into forsaking a choice that ought to be open to him and everyone, encouraging him to relieve himself of the burdens of religion and taking on the mantle of the nonreligious regardless of his own personal religious beliefs. It always seems that organizations such as these demand believers tolerate non-believers while also displaying their own intolerance of believers.

  • J. H. M. Ortiz

    By Googling “presidential oath of office”, I’ve just read with interest most of an apparently informative Wikipedia article that goes briefly into the history of the phrase under discussion here, and of the use of a bible or other book.

  • Manny

    It will be interesting to see what he does on Jan 21st. From what I remember of the exit polls, Obama got 70% of the atheist vote. It would not surprise me if he did drop God from the oath.

  • Peg

    The Wiki reference was an interesting read thanks. I agree with Josh that it should be the officeholders choice. I am sure the FFRF would not want to limit anyone’s freedom to choose.

    I do agree with them that politicians use religion as a tool unfortunately. But it shows an incredible amount of hubris to assume that those who identify as non religious support their agenda or are even atheists.
    It is arrogant to tell a president how to take the oath of office.

    This is a group that spends their time trying to pull people away from their faith rather than disagreeing. The way I see it, atheism is a belief system and they want to exclude other belief systems from the public square except their own. Its like they are saying since they’re so many religions here, let’s just all go secular rather than let’s all bring our faiths together for peace. I’ve never heard of an atheistic government succeeding for very long.

    • Rebecca Hamilton

      All true, Peg.

      “This is a group that spends their time trying to pull people away from their faith rather than disagreeing. The way I see it, atheism is a belief system and they want to exclude other belief systems from the public square except their own. Its like they are saying since they’re so many religions here, let’s just all go secular rather than let’s all bring our faiths together for peace. I’ve never heard of an atheistic government succeeding for very long.”

  • Bill S

    I’m an atheist but I think this country needs to have faith in God even though I do not believe that such a being exists. I read The Faith of Ronald Reagan and I saw that everything that he accomplished he accomplished because he believed that God had a plan for him. Without faith, his life would have been very different.

    I trust that Obama will take the oath as a Christian and I believe that atheists should respect his decision. The country will feel better about its future if it believes that its president trusts in a guiding spirit. I don’t think an atheist government would reflect what we have come to see as Christian values.

  • Peg

    Bill I appreciate your comments. I certainly don’t desire to quarrel with atheists and I don’t believe committed Christians do either.

    We can unite for things that bring good will to people. I spent over a decade in the nonreligious category and did not like at the time some of the in your face antics and behaviors of some Christians, but I would never have gone along with the FFRF’s agenda.

    I just have no patience for this group because they practice exactly what they disdain in Christians. I’m still smarting over Julia Sweeney’s ad for them this election season.

    I really appreciate all the viewpoints and respectful dialogue on this blog and Rebecca’s playing den mother I’d it starts to depart from respect. That said I do wish atheists could see the truth and beauty of God and avail theirselves of the good practices and tools for healthy living.

    • Bill S

      I looked up the ad on You Tube. I had not seen it before. Yes, I agree with what she said.

      Atheists cannot see the truth and beauty of God because that is a concept that Christians hold near and dear to their hearts but is not true to atheists. There is no proof of it or of anything beyond nature. Faith can inspire people even if the thing that people have faith in doesn’t actually exist. So the Freedom from Religion Foundation seeks to keep religious influences separate from the functions of the government.

      • Ted Seeber

        Nature itself is proof of God. It makes no sense to believe in nature without God, it’s like believing that you can have chickens without eggs.

        Of course, I’ve met not a few atheists these days who seem to think you CAN have chickens without eggs, or at least human beings without fetuses.

        The disbelief in the invisible seems to me to be the strange thing, rather than the other way around- but then again, I’ve yet to see even a celebrated atheist who can answer the First Cause, or even admit that The Big Bang is a Catholic Theological Construct.

        Of course the Freedom From Religion Foundation needs to practice censorship- like all atheist philosophies, if they actually admitted there was evidence that a world exists outside of science, their entire reason for moral relativity would fall apart. Heck, if they even admit to Darwinism, the arguments for things like gay marriage fall apart rather quickly; after all, homosexuality is NOT a survival trait, and the spread of homosexuality is a great way to assure your species dies out.

  • jan oliver

    I feel is is time for a show of hands of all Christians. We need to stand up and out and be counted. Wear your crosses on the outside of your clothing! And the Holy Spirit will show us what to do. Thank you Rebecca for keeping us informed with the articles we see here.

  • Peg

    The reason I don’t like the ad is because it is untruthful and rude. She is not a catholic period, cultural or otherwise. She is an atheist. One cannot claim to be any kind of catholic and a nonbeliever-it’s ridiculous. Also she lied about the bishops and the issue. They are not out to prevent any employee from offering birth control which is already freely available. That is a lie.

    They and we along with them for our first amendment right to our free exercise of religion. The government does not have that right and neither does the FFRF.

    She is hardly an authority of the bishops or the church and her body language is full of hostility and unresolved issues. Snarky comments about abuse is offensive to victims and not funny.

    We obviousy believe because we have found proof in nature, antiquity, prophecy, eyewitness testimony historically and even later, personal experience, reason and others. I have also found no proof that God does not exist. Atheism strikes me as more individualistic and Christianity more communal. My hope is that we don’t have to attack each other over this difference which I believe is exactly what the FFRF is doing units prosletizing. Peace

  • Ted Seeber

    The Freedom From Religion Foundation is simply trying to use Government Censorship, rather than rational argument, to stamp out the other side. They are hoping we’ll just roll over as they send the tanks and drones into our churches and make sure all Christians are not welcome to actually serve the poor in public- because that would get in the way of their dictatorship.

    We’ve seen this before in Mexico, in Spain, in Germany, in Russia, in China. There is NO reason to accept it here at all.

  • arkenaten

    The man could lie through his teeth even if he swore on every sacred book placed beffore him, and who would know?
    Realistically, would it matter if he swore on a box of Cheerios as long as he kept his promise and got the job done to the best of ability?
    The letter from the FRFF is just a way too silly.

    • Rebecca Hamilton

      Actually, Douglas, I agree with almost everything you said. The only disagreement is the box of Cheerios comment and I don’t exactly disagree, even with that. Are we living in a time when the taking of an oath has become consequential because lying is so endemic that oaths no longer have meaning and perjury is a given?

  • Jessica Renshaw

    I have no substantiation for this but I read that because the oath was not administered to Obama quite accurately when he was sworn in the first time (2009) and he stumbled over the wording as a result (you can hear it if you listen to his oath of office), Obama took the oath again privately and this time did NOT place his hand on the Bible. Anyone know whether this is true or not?

    • Rebecca Hamilton

      I remember he took it again. I even saw the news of him doing it. But I honestly don’t remember if he used a Bible.