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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 1/21/09

Why God Does Not Belong at Inaugurations

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Inauguration Day 2009 was almost perfect. I'm still moved by it all.

I was impressed by the fact that an African American became President of the United States of America in my lifetime.

I was impressed by the crowd of almost two million people who braved the brutally cold weather to stand for hours and hours in Washington, DC, to witness history in the making.

I was impressed by Obama's eloquent, intelligent, passionate, compassionate, and hope-inspiring inaugural address, for the most part. (Exceptions outlined below.)

And I continue to be impressed by the fact that the American electorate has awoken from its 8-year-long fear-induced coma and has finally rejected the cruel and selfish neocon agenda.

Now, with all the niceties out of the way, I must take issue with the unnecessary religiosity of the occasion.

Foremost, of course, was Rick Warren's two-faced invocation. In it, he said:
Help us, O God, to remember that we are Americans, united not by race, or religion, or blood, but to our commitment to freedom and justice for all.
Yeah, freedom and justice for all -- unless you happen to be gay. After all, Pastor Warren campaigned heavily for California's Proposition 8, which demoted that state's gay and lesbian population to second-class-citizen status.

Rev. Warren's presence at the event continues to turn the stomachs of many of us who believe in our founding fathers' assertion that all men are created equal. (They did not provide a caveat excluding the homosexual ones.)

But that, however important, is only part of the problem. We also had the heavily Christian benediction by Rev. Joseph Lowery.

And Obama himself invoked God and Judeo-Christian scripture in his inaugural address, saying:
We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things.
The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.
Sorry, but we should not rely on any specific concept/version of God to validate the premise that all persons are equal. Equality is a civil right, not a dogmatic judgment.

And perhaps the most ironic thing is that Obama shortly thereafter praised and endorsed the religious diversity of this nation:
We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus -- and nonbelievers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.
Right. This is good. So why then impose Christianity on all the American people by making it such a significant part of our inaugural process?

With his racially, religiously, and culturally diverse background, Obama surely could have done better in this regard.

The religiosity of the Obama inauguration was a bit of an insult to this nation's non-Christians, even though I'm sure that the insult was not intentional.

To solve the problem, I suggest that future presidents respect the First Amendment, which rules that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion." And all those prayers at the inauguration sure seem like an establishment of religion within our civil pomp and circumstance.

If some more radical (read: other than mainstream Christian) religious viewpoints were included in the inauguration, there would surely be an outrage. But, since Christianity is the majority religion, its imposition -- however radical -- is tolerated.

And it feels too much like tyranny of the majority.
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Mary Shaw is a Philadelphia-based writer and activist, with a focus on politics, human rights, and social justice. She is a former Philadelphia Area Coordinator for the Nobel-Prize-winning human rights group Amnesty International, and her views (more...)
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