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Jesus at Inaugurations: It’s the Same Old, Same Old

January 24, 2001
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

For those Jews taken aback by the invocation of “Jesus the Christ” and “the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit” at President Bush’s inauguration, rest assured: This was nothing new.

According to the Anti-Defamation League – which has fielded a number of inquiries since Saturday’s inauguration festivities at its New York headquarters and regional offices – Jesus has been referred to in each inauguration of the past 60 years.

“We’ve heard from members of the community about this, through e-mails and phone calls, who were disturbed by what they heard,” said Abraham Foxman, national director of the ADL. “But we’re not responding because this is not unusual.

“That’s the tradition. We would have liked it to be a bit more inclusive,” Foxman said. “But on the other hand, the new president is entitled to have his moment of personal faith.”

The ADL had attracted headlines during the presidential campaign when it publicly criticized the Jewish vice presidential candidate, Joseph Lieberman, for invoking God and religion too often.

But the Christian flavor of inaugural ceremonies dates to the very first.

In a 1996 article in the Columbia Law Review titled “Rethinking the Constitutionality of Ceremonial Deism,” Steven Epstein wrote that “formal prayers by Christian ministers have been associated with presidential inaugurations since the inauguration of George Washington.”

“Although the venue of inaugural prayers [has] moved from the church to the Capitol the Christian nature of the prayers has remained to this day.”

Consider the following, all of which have been cited in the Congressional Record:

During the second Clinton inauguration in 1997, an invocation was given in the name of “Father and God” and ended invoking “the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.”

On Jan. 20, 1993, the prayer for President Clinton and Vice President Al Gore included “in the name of the One who was called Wonderful Counselor, the mighty God, the everlasting Father and the Prince of Peace.”

On Jan. 20, 1989, the prayer for President Bush mentioned “in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.”

At the first inauguration of President Reagan in 1981, the prayer called on the “Lord of lords and King of kings, even Jesus Christ” to help us “stand proudly as American citizens.”

At the 1977 inauguration of Jimmy Carter, the prayer stated we “build a nation here on Earth that in its manner of life anticipates Thine everlasting kingdom in heaven…in the name of Jesus Christ, Thy Son and our Savior.”

At the 1961 inauguration of John F. Kennedy, two religious leaders recited “In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.”

And in 1937, a minister called on God to “bless abundantly our Chief Magistrate,” Franklin Delano Roosevelt, “through Christ, our Lord.”

Foxman attributed this year’s inquiries to “an anxiety in the community about the future” under the new Bush administration, “about whether or not there will be an effort to lower the wall of separation between church and state, and an effort to push Christianity.”

However, Foxman added, “there’s no question that if Joe Lieberman were elected, we would have heard the Shehecheyanu, so that would have balanced it.”

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