Who Should Be Allowed to Pray for President Obama?

It seems preposterous, but there’s a major debate over who is worthy to invoke the presence and blessing of the Almighty on the leaders of this land we love!

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In the past, that honor has been reserved for men of the cloth. No woman had ever given an inaugural prayer. In 1937, the first time that the ceremonies included an invocation – generally an opening prayer that God bless and guide the proceedings – was given by the Chaplain of the U.S. Senate, Episcopal Clergyman ZeBarney Thorne Phillips. The 1937 benediction – a closing prayer often asking God to bless and protect attendees as they return home – was given by Catholic priest John A. Ryan, a professor at the Catholic University of America. 

For Obama's second inauguration, the benediction was going to be

offered by anti-sex-trafficking activist Louis Giglio. However, Giglio was abruptly disinvited when he was deemed unworthy for the role.

The Rev. E.L.R. Elson praying at Dwight D. Eisenhower’s 1957 inauguration.


At a number of inaugurations throughout history, multiple prayers were offered. In Dwight D. Eisenhower’s January 20, 1953, ceremonies, the Catholic archbishop of Washington prayed, then a Jewish rabbi, followed by Eisenhower himself. The final benediction was offered by an Episcopal bishop.

At the January 20, 1969, inauguration of Richard Nixon, five prayers were offered: first, African Methodist Episcopal Bishop Charles Ewbank Tucker, then Los Angeles Rabbi Edgar F. Magnin, followed by His Eminence Iakovos, Greek Orthodox Archbishop for North and South America, and Southern Baptist Evangelist Billy Graham. The final benediction was offered by Catholic Archbishop Terence J. Cooke.

Archbishop Michaal Iakavos at Nixon’s inauguration

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Rob Kerby, Senior Editor
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