Atheists Want God Stricken from Inaugural Oath

Curator Clark Evans displays the burgundy velvet, gilt-edged Lincoln Inaugural Bible at the Library of Congress Tuesday, Dec. 23, 2008, in Washington. President-elect Barack Obama will take his oath of office on the bible Jan. 20, becoming the first president to use it since Abraham Lincoln at his swearing-in on March 4, 1861. (AP Photo/Lauren Victoria Burke)

WASHINGTON (AP) -- President-elect Barack Obama wants to conclude his inaugural oath with the words "so help me God," but a group of atheists plans to go in front of a federal judge in hopes of stopping him.

California atheist Michael Newdow sued Chief Justice John Roberts in federal court in hopes of getting an injunction against the inclusion of those words in the inaugural oath. Newdow and other atheists and agnostics also want to stop the use of prayers in the inaugural celebration.

Newdow, best known for losing a Supreme Court battle to get the words "under God" taken out of the Pledge of Allegiance, lost similar challenges to the use of religious words and prayers at President George W. Bush's inaugurations.

Obama already has contacted Roberts and told him that he wants the words "so help me God" included in his oath of office, said Jeffrey P. Minear, lawyer for Roberts.

The Justice Department and attorneys general from all 50 states have filed motions at the federal court asking for the lawsuit to be thrown out.

The National Archives says that George Washington added the words "so help me God" to the presidential oath of office at his 1789 inaugural, and most presidents have used it since. However, some have argued that the first eyewitness account of a president using those words came at President Chester Arthur's inauguration in 1881.

Named in the lawsuit are Roberts; Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.; and the two pastors invited to the event, the Rev. Rick Warren and the Rev. Joseph Lowery.

U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton will hear arguments on Thursday.

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