Government should avoid bringing religion into official business. If the President-to-be-sworn-in wants to acknowledge his personal feelings about the roll of God in the election and his upcoming presidency, then he can offer prayers before he goes to the event, or host a private religious service. But to have an official swearing in with preachers proclaiming and beseeching God's blessing upon this country, or worse, leading the assembled in a prayer, is inappropriate in a secular democracy. It establishes a hegemony of the religious over the non-religious, and more often than not of one or two religious groups over all the other religions.
Take the case at hand. Obama has clearly tried to be inclusive in the religious aspect of his inauguration. While Pastor Rick Warren's invitation drew a lot of attention, he is far from the only religious figure who will be offering prayers.
V. Gene Robinson, the first openly gay Episcopal bishop, will be leading prayers during the Sunday kickoff to the inauguration. On Inauguration day, Obama plans to follow in the footsteps of many incoming presidents who attended services at St. John's Church, an Episcopalian institution known as the "Church of the Presidents," before the swearing-in. Warren will be giving the invocation during the actual swearing in ceremonies, and Rev. Joseph Lowery, a Methodist considered the dean of the civil rights movement, will give the inaugural benediction. At the National Prayer Service, which closes out the ceremonies, Rev. Sharon Watkins, the first woman president of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), another Protestant denomination, will deliver the sermon. She will be joined by Ingrid Mattson, the first woman president of the Islamic Society of North America, and three rabbis -- Reform Rabbi David Saperstein, Conservative Rabbi Jerome Epstein and Orthodox Rabbi Haskel Lookstein -- all of whom will say a prayer at the service. Traditionally, the incoming president invites the Roman Catholic archbishop of Washington, currently the Most Rev. Donald Wuerl, to lead a prayer during the service as well.
While this is an impressive array, it is more glaring for who is left out, than for who is included. For instance, all the faiths represented belong to the Abrahamic tradition. What of the over 1 million Hindus and the 1.5 millions Buddhists who call America home? Even within the Christian tradition, Protestants clearly dominate, and less populous groups such as the Mormons (whose number in America is similar to Jews and Muslims) and Jehovah's Witnesses (well over 2 million sous) are left out completely. Major branches, such as the Lutherans, who are three times as populous as the well-represented Episcopalians, and the Presbyterians, who are twice as large, are shut out as well.
Which doesn't even mention the some 38 million folks who identify as non-religious, or the 1.2 million atheists. (statistics derived from this survey)
There is simply no way to be truly inclusive, unless you parade a long line of religious figures across the stage, at which point it becomes almost farcical, as though we are grabbing at any understanding of God to bolster our nation. Better then, to allow each denomination and religious tradition to offer prayers for the President privately, in their houses of worship.