North Carolina evangelist Franklin Graham, who came under fire the last time he gave the prayer at a presidential inauguration, is among six clergy who will pray and offer readings at Donald Trump's Jan. 20 ceremony at the U.S. Capitol.
The Presidential Inaugural Committee announced Wednesday that Graham, who heads the Charlotte-based Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, will be among those giving an invocation, a benediction and readings at the Trump inauguration. The others: Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Rabbi Martin Hier, Bishop Wayne T. Jackson, the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez and Pastor Paula White.
Graham did not endorse Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign. But he did back one of Republican Trump’s most controversial proposals, to temporarily bar Muslims from entering the United States. And last week, Graham joined the president-elect at a Trump “Thank You” rally in Mobile, Ala. He told the crowd that he believed that God had intervened in the election to give Trump the win.
“I don't have any scientific information. I don't have a stack of emails to read to you,” Graham said at the gathering, according to the Washington Examiner. “But I have an opinion: I believe it was God. God showed up. He answered the prayers of hundreds of thousands of people across this land who had been praying for this country.”
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Billy Graham, Franklin’s famous Charlotte-born father, offered prayers at the presidential inaugurations of Richard Nixon (in 1969), George H.W. Bush (in 1989) and Bill Clinton (in 1993 and 1997).
Trump is the second president-elect to tap Franklin Graham to offer a prayer at his inauguration.
In 2001, at George W. Bush’s first inauguration, the younger Graham sparked controversy by invoking Jesus during his prayer. Many Jews and Muslims were outraged.
He asked the American people to “acknowledge You alone as our Lord, our Savior and our Redeemer. We pray this in the name of the Father, and of the Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit.”
A second Protestant minister, the Rev. Kirbyjon Caldwell, also prayed at the first Bush inauguration and also used Christian language, invoking “the name that’s above all other names, Jesus the Christ.”
Days later, Harvard Law School professor Alan Dershowitz, writing in the Los Angeles Times, blasted Bush for choosing Franklin Graham to give the prayer, saying “the very first act of the new Bush administration” defied the U.S. Constitution by favoring one religion over others.
Dershowitz wrote: “Invoking ‘the Father, the Son, the Lord Jesus Christ’ and ‘the Holy Spirit,’ Billy Graham's son, the man selected by President George W. Bush to bless his presidency, excluded the tens of millions of Americans who are Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Shintoists, Unitarians, agnostics and atheists from his blessing by his particularistic and parochial language.”
Graham, who also heads Boone-based Samaritan’s Purse, could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
Grahgam spent most of 2016 traveling the country, holding rallies in state capitals to urge Christian voters to cast their ballots for “godly leaders.” After a tape was released in October showing Trump speaking crudely about women, Graham wrote in a Facebook post that the comments could not be defended. But he added that “the godless progressive agenda of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton likewise cannot be offended.” He appeared to suggest that Christian voters, instead, keep their focus on what kind of justices Trump and Clinton would nominate for the U.S. Supreme Court. Clearly, Graham preferred Trump’s promise to name conservative justices who would favor overturning Roe v. Wade, the 43-year-old high court ruling throwing out state laws banning abortion.
Trump won 81 percent of white evangelical voters and 52 percent of the overall Catholic vote. But he lost Latino Catholics and got the support of only 24 percent of Jewish voters.
Among the other clergy who will pray at the Trump inauguration, Dolan, as leader of the Catholic archdiocese of New York, agrees with Trump’s anti-abortion views. But the cardinal denounced Trump’s tough stands on immigration.
Rodriguez, who heads the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, also opposed what he believed was Trump’s harsh rhetoric about immigrants.
Rabbi Hier, founder of the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center, which promotes human rights, criticized Trump when the candidate first suggested that Muslims be temporarily banned from entering the country.
The other two clergy chosen have had ties to Trump: White, who runs New Destiny Christian Center in Florida, and Jackson, pastor of Great Faith Ministries International Church in Detroit.
The Washington Post and the Associated Press contributed.