Court backs 'God'


POSTED: Saturday, January 17, 2009

“;So help me God.”;

It's still in the script for Tuesday.





        “;Prayers for the Nation”; is the theme of a Monday evening service at St. Andrew's Cathedral at Queen Emma Square.

The 5:30 p.m. service of prayer and reflections will ask God's blessing of the future of the United States on the eve of the inauguration of Barack Obama as 44th president. It will also remember the nation's history and celebrate the life of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.


Hawaii's Episcopal Bishop Robert Fitzpatrick and the Rev. Timothy Sexton, provost of the Episcopal cathedral, will lead the service.



U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton shot down Thursday an effort by California atheist Michael Newdow to keep those words from being used at the end of the oath of office in which Barack Obama vows to assume the Atlas load of being president.

You remember Atlas, the Greek god who carried the world on his shoulders. Oops, maybe we should edit that out: a reference to those old pagan beliefs might offend Christians as well as atheists.

Newdow, who has tried unsuccessfully to have “;under God”; deleted from the Pledge of Allegiance and U.S. currency, claimed that the theist affirmation as well as the prayers to be said at the Tuesday ceremonies by Christian ministers are unconstitutional and violate the “;separation of church and state.”;

The court found that Newdow and 30 other plaintiffs could not prove that there would be harm done by allowing the prayers. The judge said the oath the president-elect chooses to say and the prayers invited by the inauguration committee are not the same thing as prayers in school, which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional.

That was about kids being forced by the power structure they are in to say something or listen to something not in their family's belief system. This is about adults choosing to add God to the mix of triumphant politics and social gaiety.

Oops. Should we delete gaiety, is it offensive? There is that gay issue surrounding the ministers in the inaugural spotlight. Gay rights activists were screaming at Obama's choice of the Rev. Rick Warren to offer the invocation because the California pastor, arguably the best-known evangelical Christian minister in the country, backed the Proposition 8 ban on same-sex marriage. Conservative Christians are offended at Obama's statesmanlike balance that also gave an inauguration weekend gig to the Rev. Gene Robinson, the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church. He will speak tomorrow at the Lincoln Memorial steps.

Good grief. If the brief efforts to tap into a higher power for help for this beleaguered country are offensive, we will all have advance warning to save ourselves. Those standing in the frigid mall can clap their mittened hands over their ears. Those watching at home may leave the room.

Many will be reassured to know that someone assuming humungous power believes in something outside himself, something against which to measure himself—ethics, virtues, standards and limits. A huge majority of Americans understand the yardstick, and many of them are not Christian.

God aside—if you want to do that—it can just be a touching link in history. George Washington added “;so help me God”; when he took the oath in 1789, according to the National Archives. It has been used in most inaugurations since then.

Does anyone remember that much ado was made when John F. Kennedy was sworn in with a Catholic Bible? Predictions that the White House would become an outpost of the Vatican proved, in time, to be unfounded.

Some folks will be closely scrutinizing the book held between Obama and Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. to be sure it is not the Quran. Will the use of a Bible and the presence of all these Christian ministers—even more are on the program—finally put an end to that conspiracy theory? Probably not. Would an oath sworn to God under one of his other names be less sincere, less faithful, less binding? Not really.

Speaking of which, the American Muslim Taskforce on Civil Rights and Elections, a coalition of 12 major Islamic organizations, plans to celebrate the inauguration with a symbolic release of “;peace doves,”; 44 of them, one for every president including Obama.

It will be done outside the Masjid Muhammad, a mosque in Washington, D.C. The Council on American-Islamic Relations, a civil rights organization, will hold an open house Tuesday at its Capitol Hill headquarters to celebrate the inauguration.

The doves will be released Monday, the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, rather than on Tuesday.

That would seem to be a diplomatic, humanitarian decision. If the doves were sent out from a mosque on inauguration day, would they be shot down as potential terrorists?

We can just hope and pray that the creatures don't leave splatters of droppings on any significant historic or inauguration site. May they behave as the symbols of peace that they are and not ruffle the feathers of any sensitive souls just waiting to be offended by something.