1953 January 20

Eisenhower Breaks Precedent: Begins Inaugural Address with a Prayer


Dwight D. Eisenhower, sworn in as president just moments before, began his inaugural address on this day with a prayer, and asked his audience, on the scene in Washington and on national television, to join him. It was the first time any president had said a prayer in an inaugural address.

Eisenhower’s action set the stage for several measures designed to endorse religion, either officially or unofficially, by the government. The phrase “under God” was added to the pledge of allegiance, and Eisenhower spoke at the first National Prayer Breakfast on February 5, 1953, which immediately became a required event for presidents.

In a more direct form of government endorsement of religion, Congress added the phrase “under God” was added to the Pledge of Allegiance on June 14, 1954.

Learn more about the corporate role in promoting religion in the 1950s: Kevin Kruse, One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America (2015)

Learn more about the context of the times: Jeremy Gunn, Spiritual Weapons: The Cold War and the Forging of an American National Religion (2009)

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