President-Elect Barack Obama wants the words “so help me God” to be included when he takes the oath of office on Inauguration Day, according to a document filed in federal court yesterday.
In an affidavit, the counselor to Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. said that Obama’s staff had informed him that the president-elect specifically wished for Roberts to include the phrase when he administered the oath.
The affidavit figured heavily today in the Justice Department's opposition to the suit filed by a group of atheists who want to bar Roberts from using “so help me god” in the oath.
In the lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, the plaintiffs say that Obama could legally tack the words onto the oath himself without violating the First Amendment’s establishment clause. They just don’t think Roberts should be allowed to prompt him.
The Justice Department's lawyers — a list of heavy hitters including Assistant Attorney General Gregory Katsas, Deputy Assistant Attorney General John C. O’Quinn, Civil Division Assistant Director James Gilligan, and trial attorneys Brad Rosenberg and Eric Beckenhauer — essentially called that idea ridiculous.
“Plaintiffs’ legal theory — that the President of the United States has a First Amendment right to say the words 'so help me God' after taking the oath of office, but not to have the same affirmation administered to him — simply makes no sense,” they wrote in their opposition.
The Justice Department also noted that because Obama is not named as a defendant in the case, there isn't much the suit can do to stop him from having the oath administered the way he wants it.
“Nothing in the Constitution or the laws of the United States requires the Chief Justice to administer the presidential oath of office," its lawyers wrote. "Thus, if this Court were to issue an injunction against the Chief Justice...the President-Elect could merely exercise his prerogative to invite someone else to administer an oath that is followed by the phrase ‘so help me God.’”