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AP Story Section

January 20, 2009

In inaugural prayers, a nod to many faiths

The clergy were Protestant, and so was the new head of state.

But the inauguration Tuesday of President Barack Obama aimed for a much broader audience: an increasingly diverse America, where people want their beliefs acknowledged in the nation's most important ceremony.

In his address, Obama referred to God and Scripture, saying, "the time has come to set aside childish things," from 1 Corinthians.

But he also reached out to American secularists, calling the United States, "a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus — and nonbelievers." The Center for Inquiry and the Council for Secular Humanism, based in Amherst, N.Y., called recognition in the inaugural address "truly historic and remarkable."

Evangelical pastor Rick Warren, whose participation drew criticism from liberals and gay rights groups, directly invoked Jesus as expected in his invocation, but did so personally.

"I humbly ask this in the name of the one who changed my life," he prayed.

He also quoted from the most important prayer in Judaism, the Sh'ma, when he said, "Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God. The Lord is One," and he called God "the compassionate and merciful one," a phrase from Muslim devotion.

"His was as inclusive a prayer as an evangelical can give," said Richard Mouw, president of Fuller Theological Seminary, a leading evangelical school in Pasadena, Calif.

The Rev. Joseph Lowery, a United Methodist considered the dean of the civil rights movement, focused on poverty and social justice.

"Lord, on the complex arena of human relations, help us to make choices on the side of love, not hate. On the side of inclusion, not exclusion. Tolerance, not intolerance," he said.

He called the stage where Obama took his oath "this mountaintop," a reference to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s final speech. Lowery also quoted from the song known historically as "The Negro National Anthem."

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