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An Inaugural Dis-Invitation for God

Invitations will be sent out any day now for the Jan. 20 inauguration of Barack Obama as 56th president of the United States. But one who will not receive an invitation, if California lawyer Michael Newdow can help it, is God. Newdow, a physician as well as a lawyer, is lead plaintiff in a lawsuit filed in Washington, D.C., this week by atheists and atheist groups. As reported by Tony Mauro at The BLT: The Blog of Legal Times, the complaint seeks an injunction to prevent Chief Justice John Roberts Jr., in administering the oath of office to Obama, from inserting the words at the end, "so help me God."

That phrase, it turns out, is an editorial enhancement to the oath as set out in the Constitution. Mauro explains:

The oath of office that presidents take on Inauguration Day is right there in the U.S. Constitution -- at the end of Article II, Section 1. Take a look, and you will see that the oath does not include the words "so help me God" at the end, though presidents and the chief justices who swear them in have apparently added the words in every inauguration since 1933. Some historians say George Washington used the same words in the first inaugural, but others dispute that, and in any case the practice did not become common until the inaugurations of Franklin Roosevelt.

Newdow is known for his lawsuit against a California school district to remove the words "under God" from the Pledge of Allegiance. In that case, he won in the 9th Circuit, which found that the words constituted an endorsement of religion. But the Supreme Court later dismissed his suit for lack of standing.

Newdow and the other plaintiffs say in the complaint that they "have no objection at this time" if Obama chooses to add the words himself. "The president, like all other individuals, has Free Exercise rights, which might permit such an alteration." But Chief Justice Roberts, in administering the oath, has no such rights, they assert. The full text of the complaint is here.

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on December 31, 2008 at 12:07 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

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