At past inaugurations, ceremonial prayers uttered on behalf of the incoming president drew about as much attention as the flags on the podium.
Not this year.
Barack Obama’s choice of clergy is under scrutiny like no other president-elect before him, alternately outraging Americans on the left and the right as he navigates the minefield of U.S. religion.
“I can’t recall any prayers drawing so much attention,” said Charles Haynes, senior scholar at the First Amendment Center who specializes in religion in public life.
Gay advocates assailed Obama, while many conservative Christians were heartened, when he invited the Rev. Rick Warren, a Southern Baptist who opposes gay marriage, to deliver the inaugural invocation on Tuesday.
The tables turned when Obama asked V. Gene Robinson, the first openly gay Episcopal bishop, to lead prayers at Sunday’s kickoff for the inauguration at the Lincoln Memorial. Gay rights groups rejoiced, while some conservative Christians wrung their hands.