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Obama ends oath with 'So help me God'

By Bill Mears, CNN Supreme Court Producer
updated 3:04 PM EST, Wed January 23, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Obama used family Bible at Sunday's swearing-in; Will use two others on Monday
  • 'So help me God' not required part of presidential oath, but has been said
  • Legal challenge fell short before 2009 inauguration

Washington (CNN) -- At his request, President Barack Obama is ending his inaugural oath with: "So help me God."

Those four words are not legally or constitutionally required, unlike other federal oaths that invoke them as standard procedure.

Historians have wrangled over whether George Washington established precedent by adding the phrase on his own during his first Inaugural acceptance, but the Library of Congress website states he did.

Abraham Lincoln was reported to have said it spontaneously in 1861 and other presidents over the years have followed suit.

A Bible is traditionally used in administering the oath.

Opinion: Presidents should not swear in on a Bible

Obama took the official oath on Sunday at the White House with his left hand on the family Bible of his wife, Michelle.

President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama head out for their first dance together at the Commander-in-Chief's Ball, honoring U.S. service members and their families, at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center on Monday, January 21. President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama head out for their first dance together at the Commander-in-Chief's Ball, honoring U.S. service members and their families, at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center on Monday, January 21.
Photos: Best of 2013 inauguration
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Photos: Best of 2013 inauguration Photos: Best of 2013 inauguration
100 years of inaugurations in 2 minutes

At Monday's ceremonial swearing-in at the Capitol, he will use Bibles from Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr.

Obama took the oath with the same Lincoln Bible in 2009 when he made history as the first African-American president.

The Constitution lays out the exact language to be used in the oath: "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."

Four years ago, a California atheist, Michael Newdow, objected and went to federal court to prevent Chief Justice John Roberts from prompting the president-elect to repeat the "so help me God phrase."

Newdow, along with several non-religious groups, argued the words violate the constitutional ban on government "endorsement" of religion.

The high court ultimately rejected the lawsuit two years ago, and no such legal challenges are expected this time.

Lyndon Johnson's 1965 swearing-in marked a change from tradition.

His wife Claudia, known better as Lady Bird, held the Bible, a job previously managed by the high court's clerk.

Spouses have since had the honor.

13 reasons to follow the inauguration on CNN's platforms and nowhere else

CNN's Kevin Liptak contributed to this report.

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