Andrew L. Seidel, FFRF’s director of strategic response, has written a column for The Progressive magazine urging Joe Biden to stick to the Constitution and drop God from the presidential oath.
Seidel explains in “Leave God Out of the Presidential Oath” that the Constitution doesn’t contain the language “so help me God” for the swearing-in ceremony, and that the first 26 presidents adhered faithfully to the prescribed text. It wasn’t until the early 20th century that it became fashionable to proclaim piety while assuming the presidency:
Where did this presidential tradition come from?
In my recent book, The Founding Myth: Why Christian Nationalism Is Un-American, I set out to answer these questions.
Omitting God from the oath, it turns out, was no accident. The Founders deliberated this language at the Constitutional Convention in 1787, a deliberation that is mirrored in the first bill Congress passed under the Constitution and the first bill President George Washington signed into law.
As originally drafted, that law proposed Congressional oaths with clauses reading “in the presence of Almighty God” and “So help me GOD.” Both were edited out by the lawmakers.
The spoken words have been as deliberate as the written words. We know that Washington didn’t add the words to the oath. Edward Lengel, former editor-in-chief of the Papers of George Washington project, concluded, “any attempt to prove that Washington added the words ‘so help me God’ requires mental gymnastics of the sort that would do credit to the finest artist of the flying trapeze.”
Like so much U.S. mythology, including Rip Van Winkle, Ichabod Crane, and the Headless Horseman, we owe this Washingtonian myth to Washington Irving.
Seidel clarifies that the relatively recent presidential godly supplement suggests a desire to appear pious rather than actual piety. The explicit language of our Constitution’s presidential oath was good enough for George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, Seidel concludes. President-elect Joe Biden ought to return to our secular roots and the oath as it is written. Read the whole piece at The Progressive and please share it on your social media.