On Jan. 20, millions of Americans witnessed a major religious ceremony held on the steps of the U.S. Capitol: the presidential inauguration. If you doubt this statement, consider the following facts.
The inauguration began with an invocation given by a Protestant minister, the Rev. Franklin Graham, the son of famed evangelist Billy Graham. The reverend strongly recommended that the new president look for spiritual guidance and values in leading the nation.
Next came a musical offering by the Manual High School Choir, which sang "America the Beautiful." The song contains such lyrics as "God shed His grace on thee" and, in the repeat lyrics "God mend thine every flaw."
Then came the swearing-in of Richard Cheney as the new vice president. Webster defines this action as: "to invoke the name of a sacred being in an oath." And this is precisely what happened in this obviously religious procedure. With his left hand on the bible and his right hand raised, Cheney proceeded to take the oath of office that ended with "so help me God."
This was followed by a soloist, a member of the military, who sang two selections, one of which was "God Bless America." This religious song, written by Irving Berlin, has a preamble that states: "Let us all be grateful for a land so fair, as we raise our voices in a solemn prayer: God Bless America, land that I love . . . ."
George Walker Bush was next sworn in by the chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Bush had his hand on the bible and ended his oath with the usual "so help me God."
If people expected a secular inaugural address (which came next in the ceremony) from a man who, during his presidential campaign, stated that his favorite philosopher is Jesus Christ, they would have been greatly disappointed. Although the speech was not exactly a sermon, it did include such spiritual comments as "I know this is in our reach ['to build a single nation of justice and opportunity'] because we are guided by a power larger than ourselves who creates us equal in His image."
He also stated that "church and charity, synagogue and mosque lend our communities their humanity, and they will have an honored place in our plans and in our laws," and "when we see the wounded traveler on the road to Jericho, we will not pass to the other side." These two pronouncements obviously provide the Christian justification for, and approval of, the welfare state.
Near the end of his brief inaugural address, President Bush declared: "We are not this story's author, who fills time and eternity with His purpose. Yet His purpose is achieved in our duty, and our duty is fulfilled in service to one another."
This is an unambiguous expression of a significant and basic Christian belief that permeates government and serves as the fountainhead of numerous local, state, and federal laws.
President Bush ended his speech with "God bless you all, and God bless America."
A benediction followed that was given by another Protestant minister, and the ceremony ended with the singing of the national anthem.
Appropriately, the inaugural weekend concluded with a Sunday-morning prayer service held at the Washington National Cathedral, a church that was chartered by Congress. In his book, The Bible in Stone, Robert Kendig wrote: "In 1893, President Benjamin Harrison signed the charter for the Protestant Episcopal Foundation that had previously been passed by Congress. This Charter has been called the 'cathedral's birth certificate.'"
The presidential inauguration is one of the most explicit and revealing ceremonies that clearly shows the true religious nature of government in America. Government at all levels in the United States is dominated by Christians, mostly Protestants, who incorporate their Christian philosophy into their legislative proposals and laws. Therefore, government in this nation is no more secular than the government found in the Vatican.
Make no mistake about it, America is a Christian nation, and has been throughout its entire history. So when you see the widespread corruption in government, you will know who to blame.
And if you are very wise, you will also see that you cannot turn to religion, based on the supernatural, as a source of moral guidance.
Foundation member Thomas L. Johnson is professor emeritus of biological sciences at Mary Washington College. This originally appeared in the Free Lance-Star [Fredericksburg, VA], Feb. 4, 2001.