It’s Time To Abolish the Inaugural Prayer

Here in the Deep South, there used to be a long-standing tradition of prayer in schools, led by school administrators. To this day, some high schools have prayer before the beginning of football games, even when the legality of it is questionable. Even when a school system complies, there are often organized protests, like in my home town, where the student recite the Lord’s Prayer in protest during the game. Atheists, it is claimed, are simply being thin-skinned.

Today I read that Louis Giglio’s invitation to pray at the President’s inauguration has been declined. Why? Because of a sermon he preached about 15 years ago that declared homosexuality to be a sin. Giglio himself declined the invitation because he was afraid that it would distract from his ministry’s purpose. It was a gracious of him to do that.

But here is the question that all my evangelical friends need to wrestle with: are the inaugural prayers going to continue? And if so, who will do them? Evangelicals who believe that homosexuality is a sin are no longer welcome. So who is going to pray? If you eliminate all ministers from that pool who believe homosexuality is a sin, who do you have left? Would it bother you if the only people who were ever invited to pray were people you considered heterodox in faith?

Now we find ourselves in that uncomfortable position that the atheist at the football game was in. And since we all cried about prayer staying, and since we put the atheist down for his thin skin, prayer remained. All may not be lost though. If we hurry up and apologize to the atheist, he may join us in protest over this practice.

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  • Will

    Good article. I just want to post a couple of questions. 1. Why is the legality of a prayer in schools questionable? and 2. If a “Christian” president wants to have a prayer at his inauguration, shouldn’t he be free to decide who that person will be? If Romney had been elected he should have the right to have a fellow Mormon pray for him. People get so caught up on “seperation of church and state” and have taken that to mean that the founding fathers did not want religion in politics at all when nothing could be farther from the truth. Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptists was used to calm them because they feared government stepping into religion not the other way around. If the founding fathers had truly wanted seperation of church and state as people like the FFRF define it today then they would have been up in arms about prayer and “religious” inferences at political events back in the late 1700’s and some of the greatest speeches and documents would not have contained so many references to God. I do not believe that we should force our beliefs on others but I also don’t believe that we should stay silent for fear of offending someone. We also shouldn’t be afraid to call sin what it is. You can call out sin and love the sinner at the same time. Homosexuality is a sin and the Bible is clear on that. Giglio has handled this situation as a class act.

  • Brad Williams


    1) Students can pray at school. The prayers simply cannot be faculty led, and they cannot be coerced. I agree with this, as I do not want the school’s administrators and teachers leading my children in prayer when I do not know them.

    2) If the President wants someone to pray for him, he can ask. Giving a public pulpit to his “prayer” may not be explicitly promoting a religion, but it will always alienate a certain part of the constituency he is to serve. Anyone who wishes can learn President Obama’s religious background, and everyone knows, unless they they’ve been under a rock, that Romney is a Mormon. But they don’t have to invite people to publicly pray for them at their inauguration. This is a secular culture, and this is a government installation, not a religious service.

    My two cents. ;)

  • Joe Canner

    I tend to agree with your proposal, given that there are very few candidates who seem to be able to satisfy everyone, leaving the job to those who have no strong beliefs about anything.

    I do, however, question this sentence: “Would it bother you if the only people who were ever invited to pray were people you considered heterodox in faith?”

    Are you saying that those who believe homosexuality is not a sin are “heterodox in faith”? That seems a bit extreme. That view of homosexuality may be heterodox with respect to sexual ethics (although become less so all the time), but I’m not sure what it has to do with “faith”. Or perhaps I am misreading you…

  • Gus Mastrapa


  • Rusty Yates

    Personally I would rather not have an inaugural prayer. The idea of elected officials having to bow to superstition much less believing in it is truly disconcerting. With the pretend god being the greatest mass murderer ever envisioned by man and the savior sending billions to be tortured in hell for all eternity, it seems a bad choice. How does one pray to the to worst characters in all literature and hope to be a better person? How does it help the nation to worship an evil god?

  • DKeane

    One quibble: ” …some high schools have prayer before the beginning of football games, even when the legality of it is questionable”. I don’t think there is any question that they are illegal.

  • Will

    @Brad I agree that prayer or any religious practice should not be faculty led. I would not want a child of mine being led by someone who I did not know either. My problem with this whole Louis Giglio thing is that Obama DID want someone to pray for him and asked for him and now because Mr. Giglio preached against homosexuality 10-15 years he has been pressured to remove himself from this event. Obama is also using two Bibles at this event…should those be removed as well? The inauguration is a “public pulpit” and i agree with Joe that our elected officials seem to not have strong convictions about anything. However, even though seperation of church and state is not in the Constitution the First Amendment states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”. It just sounds to me like this is prohibiting Mr. Obama’s free exercise thereof. :)

  • DKeane

    “It just sounds to me like this is prohibiting Mr. Obama’s free exercise thereof. :)”. As a citizen on the country no one is prohibiting his free exercise of religion – he can meet with Giglio on his own time and the two can wax poetic about the mysteries of God’s creation. But as a public official, this is being done on my dime (and Jews and Muslims and Scientologists…), they should remove the tradition.

  • abb3w

    1) The question of whether Mr. Giglio should remove himself is not one of establishment, but one of politics. Given the stance of Mr. Giglio on the question seems to differ from President Obama, it seems a reasonable question as to whether or not President Obama would prefer to risk the potential positional association, or prefer instead to find another preacher to perform the function
    2) In so far as President Obama is a Christian, the use of a Bible is a traditional (though theologically dubious) means for Christians choosing to take oath, and that affirmation is not mandated over an oath, the use of a Bible for the occasion seems appropriate. The use of multiple Bibles seems tacky, but that’s more a political concern, which hazard the President apparently accepts.
    3) While the phrase “separation of church and state” (by whichever spelling) is not in the Constitution verbatim, neither are “checks and balances” nor “limited government”; rather, the ideas referenced by those phrases are. Much as the right to swing my arm is circumscribed by the presence of your nose, the national right to freedom from Religious establishment may circumscribe some of the right of Free Exercise for anyone saying (in more formal wording) “I’m from the government; I’m here to help you”.

  • Will

    As a tax paying Christian a lot of policies and cermonies that I don’t agree with are being done on my dime as well. I’m not saying anything should be forced on anyone, all I am saying is that if President Obama wants someone to pray at his inauguration then he should have that right. He didn’t set aside his citizenship when he was elected and he shouldn’t be forced to set aside his religion. If he doesn’t want to have a prayer that’s fine but saying he shouldn’t be allowed to have one seems to go against all the freedoms that the Constitution is supposed to protect.

  • Will

    @abb3w I agree about the Giglio thing…Giglio removed himself so as not to draw attention away from the event and Obama agreed because he doesn’t share the same views on homosexuality. However if the Bible for the oath is a tradition and it’s ok, then why isn’t the tradition of prayer ok? I just think that groups like the FFRF and others like them take it way too far to try and remove every hint of religion whatsoever which clearly wasn’t the intent of the founding fathers and we don’t elect atheists to every public office. He professed to be a Christian when he ran for office and anyone that voted knew that and shouldn’t be shocked if he wants a prayer at his inauguration.

  • DKeane

    @ Will

    A lot of secular ceremonies and policies that you disagree with. So he should have the right to have a Wiccan prayer or how about my kids basketball coach, should he be allowed to pray in front of my kids during a trophy ceremony? As an American I find these prayers exclusionary on all levels of government.

    BTW, I am a member of FFRF and I agree with their stated goal of safeguarding separation of church and state. If you want to pray/proselytize/put up idols – do it on your own time/dime. I’d even go so far to suggest that if people feel strongly enough that a prayer is needed for the inauguration – watch it on a big screen in your home/church/yard and pray away – just don’t make it a part of government service.

  • Will

    @DKeane If we elect a Wiccan president then I have no problem with him/her having a Wiccan prayer. That’s my point. You can’t have seperation of church and state unless you elect atheists to all positions of government. Most people have a religion that influences their decisions on a daily basis with regards to what they believe is right and wrong. I believe that it is wrong for the government to tell people what they can and can’t believe or practice. Anyone with strong enough convictions and a belief that is deeply rooted in whatever they believe will make decisions based on it. There is a difference in the freedom of religion (which is what I believe the seperation of church and state is truly about and should be safeguarded) and freedom from religion. Nobody is forcing you to watch the inaugration either.

  • Excellent article-thank you. I’ve written the inaugural committee to express similar concerns (see below), and they haven’t responded-too busy raising funds, I suspect.

    There has always been a SEPARATE prayer service connected with the inauguration, since the days of G. Washington. Only in 1933 did Presidents start including official prayers in the ceremony. Who gave them that right? It’s a civic ceremony by the people of the nation, not the President’s private hoopla. My research indicates that ALL of the official prayer-sayers so far have been Christian (Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox) and Jewish. What about the rest of us Americans, who don’t subscribe to any of those varieties of religion? It’s an imposition, and I resent it.

    Related question: if they insist on this (purely political) policy of having prayers at inaugurations, why not limit it to denominations whose historical roots are in America-Unitarian, LDS, Christian Scientist, Nation of Islam, for instance? I’m aware that Watchtower wouldn’t participate. OK,
    I understand that these maverick outfits would offend too many people, and it IS a political policy.

    Thanks again.