For all the talk about separation of church and state, religion has long played a conspicuous role in U.S. presidential inaugurations.
Most presidents were sworn in on their family Bible. That was Lincoln's plan, too. But when March 4, 1861 - Inauguration Day - arrived, the Lincoln family Bible was still packed with the first family's belongings, en route from Springfield, Ill., to the White House. So a Bible purchased by Thomas Carroll, clerk of the Supreme Court, was used. Today, the 1,280-page book, bound in burgundy velvet, belongs to the Library of Congress.
Obama - another son of Illinois - will be the first president since then to be sworn in using the Lincoln Bible. The scene will be rich in symbolism: Lincoln, the 16th president, freed the slaves; Obama, the 44th, will become the country's first African American president. And like Lincoln, Obama will take office at a time of national crisis.
This year, in addition to picking Cabinet members, President-elect Obama has reached across the Christian spectrum to choose four very different ministers for high-profile roles. They'll speak at Tuesday's swearing-in ceremony, which starts at 11:30 a.m., and at inaugural events Wednesday. Some also spoke on Sunday.
The National Prayer Service at the National Cathedral on Wednesday will include non-Christian clergy: Rabbi David Saperstein of the Religion Action Center of Reform Judaism will read a Psalm, and Ingrid Mattson, president of the Islamic Society of North America, and Uma Mysorekar, president of the Hindu Temple Society of North America, will say prayers.
Bishop Gene Robinson
The first minister to be heard during inaugural festivities will be Robinson, a gay Episcopal bishop who delivered the invocation at a Sunday kick-off concert at the Lincoln Memorial. An early supporter of Obama --- he endorsed him in August 2007 --- the New Hampshire-based Robinson, 61, remains an adviser to the president-elect.
Some suggest Obama named Robinson to calm anger among gays and lesbians who had objected to the selection of conservative the Rev. Rick Warren to give the inaugural invocation. Adding Robinson also sends a signal that, as the bishop himself put it, Obama intends to be "president of ALL the people." As the first openly gay, noncelibate priest to become a bishop in any major Christian denomination, Robinson has been a lightning rod since his 2003 election. He's a hero to many liberals, but theologically conservative Episcopalians, including some bishops, have left the U.S. branch of the worldwide Anglican Communion in reaction to what they consider an affront to biblical teaching.
The Rev. Rick Warren
To give the opening prayer at Tuesday's inauguration, Obama tapped Warren, 54, an evangelical pastor from California whose mega-selling book, "The Purpose Driven Life," has turned him into the most influential figure in American Christianity.
In picking the Southern Baptist, Democrat Obama reached out to conservative Christians who have been reliable Republican voters for years. The choice rankled many Obama supporters, including gays and lesbians. Though Warren has tried to broaden the evangelical agenda to include poverty, climate change, AIDS and genocide, he is more traditionally conservative on abortion and homosexuality --- issues on which he and Obama disagree. Particularly galling to gays and lesbians: Warren endorsed California's Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage.
The Rev. Joseph Lowery
A veteran of the civil rights movement who marched with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Lowery, 87, will give the closing prayer at the inauguration. Since co-founding the Southern Christian Leadership Conference with King in 1957, Lowery, a Methodist, has been outspoken in his opposition to the Iraq War.
His inclusion in this historic pageant, which will feel to many Americans like the fulfillment of King's dream, is Obama's way of paying respect to those who paved the way for him and younger African Americans. Or, in the lexicon of the black church, it's the "Joshua generation" acknowledging its debt to the "Moses generation" that fought in the trenches in the 1950s and '60s in the South.
The Rev. Sharon Watkins
To end inaugural activities with a sermon at Wednesday morning's National Prayer Service, Obama chose Watkins, the first woman to play such a role in the traditional event at Washington's ornate National Cathedral.
Watkins heads the Christian Church (also called the Disciples of Christ), a liberal denomination with nearly 700,000 members in the U.S. and Canada. She's spoken out against the Iraq War and torture. In a statement, Watkins said she hopes her message "will call us to believe in something bigger than ourselves and remind us to reach out to all of our neighbors to build communities of possibility."
Billy and Franklin Graham
Billy Graham, 90, won't be at Tuesday's event, but he's been a pastor to presidents since the 1950s, participating in nine inaugurations. In 1969, the native Charlottean spent the last night of Democrat Lyndon Johnson's presidency in the White House, then gave the prayer the next day at Republican Richard Nixon's first inaugural. In 1993 he said goodnight to the GOP Bush family, then woke up to give the invocation at Democrat Bill Clinton's swearing in.
In 2001, George W. Bush asked Franklin Graham to fill in for his ailing father and deliver the invocation at that inauguration. He caused a firestorm when he ended the prayer by invoking "the Son, the Lord Jesus Christ" --- a direct reference, law professor Alan Dershowitz wrote, that excluded him and other non-Christians from Graham's blessing at a national public event. But Franklin Graham was hardly the first clergyman to refer to Christ. In 1969, at Nixon's inauguration, Billy Graham prayed "in the name of the prince of peace who shed his blood on the cross that men might have eternal life."
To read the Grahams' inaugural prayers and sermons: www.wheaton.edu/bgc/archives/inaugural01.htm
Did you know ...
There's no proof George Washington added "So help me God" after taking the oath as America's first president?
It was believed Washington set this presidential precedent in 1789. But historians now say there's no evidence.
The first eyewitness account of a president saying "So help me God" was in September 1881, when Chester Arthur, the 21st president, was sworn in after the assassination of President Garfield.
Presidents Eisenhower and George H.W. Bush began their inauguration addresses with prayers?
Eisenhower, the 34th president, and Bush, the 41st, both asked people to bow their heads, then said their own prayers.
"Give us, we pray, the power to discern clearly right from wrong," Eisenhower said. "Especially we pray that our concern shall be for people regardless of station, race or calling."
Bush, calling his prayer his first act as president, called on his "Heavenly Father" to "write on our hearts these words: 'Use power to help people.'"
The Library of Congress plans to collect videos and audios of sermons about the inauguration of Barack Obama, America's first black president?
For decades, the library's American Folklife Center has been documenting citizens' reactions to historic events. Interviews were recorded the day after the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor and in the weeks after the 9-11 attacks in 2001.