Prayer issue hangs over inauguration

Sacramento BeeJanuary 15, 2009 

The traditional element of prayer at the presidential inauguration can't seem to find universal blessing this year.

Two of the clergy tapped to participate in President-elect Barack Obama's inaugural festivities have drawn a wave of criticism – leading to disagreements about who should say the prayers, what they should say, and even whether prayer should be part of next week's events at all.

Today, Sacramento resident and atheist activist Dr. Michael Newdow will argue in Washington, D.C., District Court that prayer and any reference to religion should be removed from the inauguration.

This action comes on top of what has already become a divisive matter, with gay rights activists and traditionalists sparring over the politics behind the clergy leading the prayers.

"Is it possible to please everyone? I don't think so. But this year, it's been really difficult," said the Rev. Thomas Reese of the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University in Washington. "People seem to be pretty upset."

The selection of the Rev. Rick Warren to offer the invocation Tuesday infuriated gay rights supporters who asked Obama to rescind the invitation. Warren, considered the most influential pastor in the country, endorsed Proposition 8, the California measure that banned same-sex marriage.

Now, evangelists are mad.

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