Presidential Oath Does Not Officially Require 'So Help Me God'

Every four years when the President of the United States takes the oath of office and recites the words required by the U.S. Constitution, he officially begins a new term. But one phrase that U.S. presidents are not required to say are the words "So Help Me God."

Article 2, Section 1 of the Constitution requires that before presidents can assume their duties they must take the oath of office. The completion of this 35-word oath ends one president's term and begins the next.

Although historians continue to debate whether George Washington uttered the phrase, "So Help Me God," other popular presidents such as Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and Andrew Jackson apparently did not use the phrase at the end of their oaths.

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It is believed that the first time the phrase was used came in 1865 when the Sacramento Daily Union reported that President Abraham Lincoln finished his oath by using the phrase and then kissed the Bible. But many historians maintain the first time it was noted was during Chester Arthur's inauguration in 1881.

Since then, presidents have said "So Help Me God" at the end of their oath. However, the phrase was first prescribed under the Judiciary Act of 1789 for all U.S. judges and officers except the President. President Theodore Roosevelt concluded his oath by saying, "And thus I swear."

According to Wikipedia, "Although the phrase is mandatory in these oaths, the said Act also allows for the option that the phrase be omitted by the officer, in which case it would be called an affirmation instead of an oath: 'Which words, so help me God, shall be omitted in all cases where an affirmation is admitted 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.

In 2009, Chief Justice John Roberts administered the oath to President Obama but stumbled through part of the paragraph, causing the new president to do the same. As a result, Obama asked Roberts to stop by the next day so he could recite it again so no one could make the case he was not officially sworn into office.

Since the constitution mandates the oath be given on the 20th of January and since it falls on a Sunday this year, Obama will again recite the oath twice. He will officially take the oath in the Blue Room on Sunday and again during the inauguration ceremony on Monday outside the U.S. Capitol.

The popular ceremony, attended by thousands, has already been marked by controversy. 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.

Replacing him will be the Rev. Luis Leon who serves at St. John's (Episcopal) Church in Washington, D.C., and who supports same-sex marriage.

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