The Jesuit priest Thomas J. Reese gave some very interesting inauguration history in a recent article:
“…inaugurations did not start with a prayer until 1937. Perhaps the depression focused people's minds on God. Roosevelt had a Protestant and Catholic minister pray. Truman added a Jewish Rabbi. Eisenhower added a Greek Orthodox bishop. Jimmy Carter cut it back to a Protestant and a Catholic. Ronald Reagan had only a Presbyterian for his first inauguration but by his second he had two Protestants, a Catholic and a Jew. George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton had Billy Graham, with Clinton adding another Baptist in 1997.So what is the right thing for Pastor Warren to do? What is the purpose of his prayer? Who will be offended? God, Christians, Others?
Although there was no prayer at the inauguration of George Washington, after the inauguration, the participants marched off to St. Paul's Chapel for a prayer service led by the chaplain of the U.S. Senate, who used the Book of Common Prayer. Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson went to church before being sworn in. Jimmy Carter attended an interfaith prayer service at the Lincoln Memorial on inauguration morning. Ronald Reagan in 1985 and George W. Bush in 2005 attended a public prayer service at the National Cathedral on the day after the inauguration, a custom Obama will follow this year.
Obama will make his oath on the same bible used by President Abraham Lincoln. Washington began the tradition of swearing the oath on a bible, and it appears to have been followed by most presidents except John Quincy Adams, who used a volume on constitutional law. After the assassination of John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson was sworn into office on Kennedy's Roman Catholic missal because there was no bible on Air Force One.”
I think the most significant quote of Father Reese about this topic is the following:
“We who favor public prayer should be the first to acknowledge that a prayer at the inauguration will not magically save our nation nor will the absence of a prayer damn us.”My hope today isn’t found in a prayer, in a new president, or even a new start for our country; though I am happy for all of them, my hope rests firmly in Jesus.
Whom, by the way, Billy Graham didn’t mention in his inaugural prayers in 1989, 1993 or 1997.