In the WSJ Steven Waldman observes that presidential inaugural prayers used to be ecumenical (e.g., Truman used a Protestant minister, a Catholic priest, and a rabbi) but now all 12 prayers since 1989 will have been delivered by Protestants. This tendency, he argues, compromises the ceremony.
But Waldman, a leading historian of religion and politics, undermines his credibility by asserting that presidentially mandated sectarian prayers are a great infringement on the First Amendment. Yet the First Amendment restricts only Congress’s legislative powers—do read the text!--not the President’s authority. Thus George Washington proclaimed (with Congress) a day of Thanksgiving.
The founding generation was honoring the intent of a document that concludes itself “done in Year of our Lord” 1787 and of Independence the twelfth. Presidents have the duty, as Waldman implicitly recognizes, of prudently bringing together the abiding sacred with the changing secular realms. That is in fact what our Constitution and Declaration challenge Americans to do.