Forget the Rev. Rick Warren’s bigotry or the absence of Gene Robinson from the public broadcast of We Are One, because there’s another controversy brewing over the inauguration. Namely, the monopoly enjoyed by protestants, and the regular absence of priests, rabbis, and yes, even imams.
No shaloms or assalamu alaikums going around D.C. today, because as Time reports:
… for the sixth straight presidential Inauguration, rabbis won’t have a place on the dais. And the Jewish faith isn’t the only religious tradition that continues to be snubbed. Since 1985, only Evangelical Protestants have played a part in the swearing-in ceremony. That will continue again this year when megachurch pastor Warren delivers the invocation and the Rev. Joseph Lowery, an African-American Evangelical, offers the benediction. At a time when the United States is more religiously diverse than at any other point in its history, and Obama’s entire campaign was built on the notion of a newfound inclusiveness and multiculturalism, it seems a glaring omission.
Of course, the inaugural prayer, like the United States itself, is a young phenomenon. It only began in 1937, when Franklin D. Roosevelt made it a regular ceremony. In recent years, delivering the honor fell to evangelical Billy Graham, in 11989, when George H.W. Bush asked him on stage for the opening and closing prayers. Bill Clinton invited him back in 1993 and 1997, and Graham’s “prayed in fairly broad terms, referring just to ‘God’ and using the formulation ‘I pray’ instead of ‘we pray’ to make clear that he was not imposing his Christian prayer on the entire citizenry.”
But the absence of non-Christian religious leaders was felt even more deeply starting in 2001, when Graham’s son Franklin ended his invocation with an exclusive statement: “We … acknowledge you alone as our Lord, our Savior and our Redeemer. We pray this in the name of the Father, and of the Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit.” This was not a prayer offered on behalf of all Americans but on behalf of Christians alone. It bookended George W. Bush’s Inauguration with a benediction by Kirbyjon Caldwell that declared, “We respectfully submit this humble prayer in the name that’s above all other names, Jesus the Christ,” and instructed, “Let all who agree say ‘Amen.’ ” If you didn’t agree, there was apparently nothing for you to do but shuffle your feet.