Use of Jesus' Name in Bush's Inauguration Discussed

January 24, 2001


On January 24, 2001, USA Today reported that "when President George W. Bush called out to churches, synagogues and mosques in his inaugural address on Saturday, his speech came sandwiched between two prayers invoking Jesus by name, rather than the usual blessing for the new administration with overarching references to God. While many thrilled to hear clergy make the nation's greatest podium a pulpit for Jesus, others complained that such prayers leave out many Americans." Martin Marty, a leading scholar of American religious history, author and Lutheran minister, said "he found Bush's speech 'encompassing and generous.' But he was surprised by prayers in Jesus' name. 'It implied that if you didn't join in, you were an outsider...People don't mind the prayers, they mind that assumption of exclusivism and Christian privilege. This is an event not only for the president, it's for all the people of the United States. The problem with saying Jesus is that it cuts off access to the Father for Muslims, Jews and others.'" Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, found it "'entirely appropriate'" that Bush, a Methodist who reads his Bible daily, invited the pastors of his choice, 'but they should have been more encompassing in their words.'" Caldwell, leader of the benediction, defended his prayer. "'It is never my intention to insult anyone who hears a public prayer that I offer!...I was not proselytizing, trying to make others believe like I believe...I am a Christian, I was invited by a Christian president to offer a prayer. I would have been misrepresenting who I am and arguably even why I was there had I not prayed in Jesus' name.'"