Congratulations to our Ray Soller for pretty much single-handedly setting the historical record straight about whether George Washington said "So help me God" at his inauguration. There is no reason except legend to believe so: there is absolutely zero first-hand testimony.
[USA Today picked up the story, but rudely omitted Mr. Soller's contribution.]
On the silly front, there was a jumble today when Chief Justice John Roberts administered the oath to Barack Obama. See the comments under this news report---partisans from left and right blamed the other "side" for the screw-up.
Even more troubling is that here's the video, and the commenters can't even agree about what they saw!
For the record, it seems Obama jumped in early with the first line, then Roberts proceeded to put the word "faithfully" in the wrong place, and then it all went a bit squirrelly after that. But hey, I could be wrong. But some commenters charged Roberts with being as stupid as Dubya, and others charged that Roberts screwed up on purpose just to make Obama look bad. Some from the right flatly asserted it was Obama who screwed up the "faithful" part.
Sometimes I do wonder about our chances around here of ever finding any truth, when people can look at a video and disagree about what they see. There are no videos of the Founding.
To return to "So help me God" for a moment, the secular activist Michael Newdow [for whom Ray Soller did research] recently sued to bar Justice Roberts from using "so help me God" in the oath for Obama to repeat, since the phrase doesn't appear in the oath of office as written.
Newdow lost his bid for an injunction, but will appeal with an eye to 2013.
When Justice John Paul Stevens administered the oath to VP Joe Biden today, he said, "So help me God" for Biden to repeat, which he did.
However, Justice Roberts instead made it a question---"So help you God?"
"So help me God," replied President Obama.
Newdow's initial bid for an injunction was denied on First Amendment grounds of Obama's right to free expression of religion. It's possible that by turning the phrase into a question, Justice Roberts may have found a clever way around Newdow's very narrow argument that the Chief Justice, as a government official, cannot issue religious tests. Since one may swear or affirm in taking the oath, to tell the Chief Justice beforehand that one intends to swear might be enough to dodge the prohibition against religious tests.
Now, whether that argument would hold up throughout the appeal process, who knows? But I have no doubt that the Chief Justice rephrased "So help me God" as a question precisely with Michael Newdow and his ilk in mind. Or perhaps it was President Obama's idea. I think we'll find out more about this...