Contrary to White House claims, inaugural prayer is NOT a “200-year-old tradition”. On the contrary, there were no such services until 1931 for President Roosevelt. (FYI, George Washington’s service was a separate event, after his inauguration at a separate location, and there were no such events again until Roosevelt — facts that the White House clearly omits).
Neither is inaugural prayer a form of religious freedom or expression. It’s quite the opposite; an authority figure leading all Americans in a purely religious exercise for one specific religion. It is using the most-watched political event in the country to preach Christianity to the entire citizenry, regardless of religious belief or desire to be led in prayer.
In free countries, the government does not tell people when or to which deity to pray — at least they’re not supposed to. We have seen that “calls to prayer” are broadcast over loudspeakers on the streets in theocratic nations, and most Americans find such behavior backwards and oppressive. However, on January 20th, YOU will be called to pray to Jesus, religious or not, Christian or not, like it or not.
We think that’s wrong, and we invite people of all theological beliefs to stand with us on this issue.
Inaugural prayer is divisive, intrusive, unnecessary, and unpatriotic. The President of the United States is entitled to practice whatever religion he desires, pray, swear on a Bible, etc. However, the President who promised to be a “uniter, not a divider” should remember that religion is the most divisive issue in the world, and not use his position to preach his personal religious beliefs on the rest of us.
United we stand.
David P. Silverman is the national spokesperson for the American Atheists.