This Week in God

THIS WEEK IN GOD…. First up from the God Machine this week is an inauguration-related story, and a four-word phrase that will be included in the president’s oath of office.

A federal judge Thursday refused to order the words “so help me God” taken out of President-elect Barack Obama’s oath of office next week or to prevent ministers from praying at the inauguration celebration.

U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton turned down a request from a group of atheists and agnostics to force Chief Justice John Roberts not to add those words to the 35-word inaugural oath outlined in the Constitution.

Walton also complained about the lateness of the filing, saying that there was not enough time to get the case litigated and appealed before next week’s inauguration. He didn’t throw the case out, however, instead only refusing to order changes for the inauguration.

The suit also sought to prohibit the inauguration from featuring an invocation and benediction, but that didn’t work out, either.

I should note that while it’s widely believed that George Washington added the words “so help me God” when he took the oath in 1789, the evidence is murky. Newsweek had an item in the last issue noting, “[W]e have no idea what most 19th-century presidents have said about God as they were sworn in because for most of American history there were no microphones and no recording devices. Legend has it that George Washington said ‘So help me God’ at his Inauguration, but new scholarship shows that this story may be as apocryphal as the one about the cherry tree.”

Also from the God Machine this week:

* A right-wing outfit called the Christian Anti-Defamation Commission is protesting the Rev. Gene Robinson’s role in the inaugural festivities, urging parents to not let their children watch the event because Robinson is gay. The group also warned that Obama’s decision to include a progressive, gay pastor in his inauguration may cause God to destroy Washington, D.C. with “fire and brimstone.”

* Leaders of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture met with officials from the Obama transition team on Wednesday, and felt encouraged by what they heard. “He gave every indication that it’s going to happen, not necessarily on Day 1, but that it’s going to happen,” Linda Gustitus, the group’s president said. “So we’re encouraged. We still believe that it would be a very, very important statement to the nation and the world, were it to take place on Day 1.”

* And finally, remember Ted Haggard, the disgraced former pastor of New Life Church in Colorado Springs? He’s the subject of a new HBO documentary, in which he describes his sexuality: “Since Mike Jones, a male prostitute in Denver, exposed Haggard as a regular client, ‘my process has been very complex and very confusing.’ After much therapy and prayer, he does not think of himself as bisexual, Haggard said. ‘I think of myself as a heterosexual but with issues,’ he said. ‘Those labels just don’t work, and from the research, they don’t work for most people. The boxes don’t work for me,’ he said.”