(Photo: Reuters/Jason Reed)
President Barack Obama will place his hand on Bibles from Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr., and end his inaugural oath with the non-mandatory phrase "So help me God," in front to thousands of people on Monday.
Obama took the oath of office for his second term in the Blue Room before noon on Sunday – adding the phrase "So help me God" – and he will recite the oath once again during the inauguration ceremony on Monday outside the U.S. Capitol. The constitution mandates that the oath be given on the 20th of January and it fell on a Sunday this year.
It is by choice that Obama is adding the phrase "So help me God," as most of his predecessors have done, and it's not a constitutional requirement.
While there's no law that requires presidents to use a Bible, Obama took the oath on Sunday with his left hand on the family Bible of his wife, Michelle. At Monday's ceremony, which will be held with the traditional parade and balls, the president will use Bibles from Lincoln and King.
Obama has said two people he admires "more than anybody in American history" are King and Lincoln. "The movements they represent are the only reason that it's possible for me to be inaugurated," the president said in a video released by inaugural planners.
Activist Myrlie Evers-Williams, the widow of slain Mississippi civil rights leader Medgar Evars, will deliver the invocation on Monday. She's the first woman and lay person to have this honor. The Rev. Luis León of St. John's Episcopal Church in Washington, who supports same-sex marriage, will deliver the closing prayer at the ceremony. Pastor Louie Giglio of Atlanta, who has preached passionately on human trafficking, will not be giving the benediction because of a sermon he delivered in the mid-1990s saying homosexuality is a sin. It is unclear whether Giglio was asked to step aside or did so voluntarily, although publicly both sides are saying he resigned.
Many believe the phrase Obama is voluntarily adding was used for the first time by President Abraham Lincoln in 1865, according to the Sacramento Daily Union. But some historians maintain the first time it was noted was during Chester Arthur's inauguration in 1881.
The exact language to be used in the presidential oath, as laid out in the Constitution, is: "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 phrase, however, is explicitly prescribed in oaths as early as the Judiciary Act of 1789 for all U.S. judges and officers except the president – though the Act also allows for the phrase to be omitted by the officer, in which case it would be called an affirmation instead of an oath.
But some Americans have tried to get rid of the phase by suing in federal court. In 2009 Michael Newdow filed suit to eliminate the phrase, however the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case.