The choice of clergy members to speak at previous inaugurations has drawn criticism, including Barack Obama’s choice of Pastor Rick Warren in 2008 because of Warren’s anti-gay-marriage stance. Trump’s inaugural committee chose some clergy members, including Jackson and White, who were associated with Trump during his campaign, as well as others like Rodriguez, who spoke out against Trump’s views on immigration and other issues of importance to his Hispanic Christian community.
“It’s a particular honor that shows the greatness of America,” said Hier, the first rabbi chosen for an inauguration since Ronald Reagan’s second inauguration in 1985. When Hier’s selection was announced Wednesday, he mused about what his parents — who fled anti-Semitism in Poland and moved to America before the Holocaust — would think about his role. “Whatever you turn to in the Torah, one can find connections and relevance to whatever period of history human beings live in. So that’s not going to be a challenge.”
Trump chose more clergy than his predecessors, who since 1989 have picked just one or two people to pray at their inaugurations.
Graham previously prayed at the inauguration of George W. Bush in 2001. The son of famed evangelist Billy Graham who now runs the association named for his father and the charity Samaritan’s Purse, Graham defended Trump throughout his campaign against charges that the businessman went against Christian values. When many Republicans were expressing disgust in October over the release of a tape showing Trump speaking crudely about women on the set of Access Hollywood, Graham wrote on Facebook, “The crude comments made by Donald J. Trump more than 11 years ago cannot be defended. But the godless progressive agenda of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton likewise cannot be defended. . . . The most important issue of this election is the Supreme Court.”
Jackson, pastor at Great Faith Ministries International Church in Detroit, hosted Trump for a visit to his church in September. And White, who runs a major ministry based in Florida, helped orchestrate Trump’s meeting with hundreds of evangelical leaders in June and has been called one of his top spiritual advisers.
“In American history Inauguration Day is one of the most sacred and important celebrations we have as a people, not only because it signifies the peaceful transition of power but also because on this day ‘We The People’ appeal to the favor, blessing and guidance of God on our country, on our people and on our new leadership,” White said in a statement.
She is the only woman among the six people who will pray at the inauguration, and the second woman ever to pray at an inauguration, after civil rights leader Medgar Evers’s widow, Myrlie Evers-Williams, became the first in 2013.
Rodriguez, on the other hand, debated whether to even show a video message that Trump recorded in May for the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, which he runs. “I’m actually very opposed to his rhetoric on most issues,” Rodriguez said about Trump at the time. “At the top of the list, his rhetoric on immigrants, on immigration, is unacceptable.”
Dolan, too, has criticized Trump’s stance on immigration. As the archbishop of New York, he is the most prominent Catholic official in the United States. On Wednesday, he said in a statement, “I am honored to have been asked to offer a reading from Scripture at the upcoming presidential inauguration, and look forward to asking Almighty God to inspire and guide our new President and to continue to bless our great Nation.”
Hier, the founder of the Los Angeles-based human rights organization Simon Wiesenthal Center, strongly denounced Trump when the candidate first floated the idea of temporarily banning all Muslims from entering the United States. But on Wednesday, he was upbeat about the man whose presidency he will help ring in.
“I have every confidence that President-Elect Trump will do the right thing for America,” he said. He said he planned to pick a selection from the Torah to read that would inspire Americans to take action themselves to improve their communities.
The music at Trump’s inauguration will also have a religious flavor: The Mormon Tabernacle Choir, known for its patriotic music at several previous inaugurations and other national events, will sing in the ceremony.
This post, which was originally published on Dec. 28, 2016, has been updated.