As Inauguration Week presses on, our debate about the role of religion in public life reaches a quadrennial peak. This year, the Washington National Cathedral is under fire from some of its Episcopalian constituency for its participation in the Trump Inaugural.
Designated by Congress as our “national house of prayer,” the Cathedral has often played a role in the inauguration of presidents, as well as significant national events such as state funerals, memorial services for American heroes, and services following national tragedies. Should the Cathedral shirk its historic role in 2017 because the incoming president is an obnoxious fool? A larger-than-usual number of people are upset about the Cathedral’s participation, and I understand why.
There are also people who would prefer that religious institutions, leaders, and symbols be completely excluded from these kinds of events. For them, no president – no matter how personally worthy or godly – should receive public prayers, blessings, or any manifestations of religion. It’s simply not proper, helpful, or appropriate to incorporate the trappings of faith, or even of civil religion, into government.
But that’s not the argument we’re having.