Use of Jesus' Name in Bush's Inauguration Discussed

January 27, 2001

Source: The Boston Globe

On January 27, 2001, The Boston Globe reported that "Jesus was a popular figure at President Bush's inauguration." The invocation by the Rev. Franklin Graham was closed with a prayer "'in the name of the father, and of the son, the Lord Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit.'" The benediction by the Rev. Kirbyjon H. Caldwell ended with the words, "'We respectfully submit this humble prayer in the name that's above all other names, Jesus the Christ.' Newspapers around the country have been publishing letters from readers offended by the distinctively Christian phraseology, and Harvard Law School Professor Alan Dershowitz penned an op-ed piece for the Los Angeles Times declaring that Graham 'excluded the tens of millions of Americans who are Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Shintoists, Unitarians, agnostics and atheists from his blessing by his particularistic and parochial language. The plain message conveyed by the new administration is that George W. Bush's America is a Christian nation, and that non-Christians are welcome into the tent so long as they agree to accept their status as a tolerated minority rather than as fully equal citizens,' Dershowitz wrote." Defenders of the prayers, however, argue that there is no other way for a Christian to pray. Critics such as the Rev. Preston Williams, a Presbyterian minister and Professor of theology at Harvard Divinity School, say that the situation called for more careful attention to appropriate language; Williams said "'I didn't find it to be particularly upsetting, but it doesn't seem to be particularly fitting for our presidential inaugural to be enclosed with a particular Christian reference.'"

Bush did win some support for his speech, "which referred to God as 'a power larger than ourselves,' [and] which promised to include 'church and charity, synagogue and mosque.'" Tahir Ali, chairman of the Massachusetts chapter of the American Muslim Alliance, said, "'It would have been nice to see other faiths represented in the benediction, but I didn't pay too much attention to that...The speech outweighed it, because in the speech he was trying to reach out and get all communities involved," said Ali. Mark Silk, director of the Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life at Trinity College, says that we are going to continue to hear Jesus invoked in the public square, as part of "'the return of the evangelical voice to public life.'"