- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 10, 2013

The festivities are still more than a week away, but President Obama and his inaugural planning team already are suffering political pain as they lay out the agenda for the big day.

The latest hit came Thursday when the evangelical Atlanta pastor whom Mr. Obama helped pick to give the benediction for the inauguration abruptly withdrew amid mounting complaints from gay-rights groups over his past comments condemning homosexuality and referring to it as a “sin.”

The Rev. Louie Giglio, pastor of the Passion City Church in Atlanta, whose selection for the Jan. 21 ceremony had just been announced Tuesday, said he withdrew because his participation would “be dwarfed by those seeking to make their agenda the focal point of the inauguration.”

“Neither I, nor our team, feel it best serves the core message and goals we are seeking to accomplish to be in a fight on an issue not of our choosing, thus I respectfully withdraw my acceptance of the president’s invitation,” Mr. Giglio said.

Mr. Giglio’s participation, in light of his past remarks, also would have made for an awkward pairing given the pick for Mr. Obama’s inaugural poet, Richard Blanco. Mr. Blanco, 44, will be the first Hispanic and the first openly gay man to participate in the inaugural ceremonies.

While gay-rights activists were quick to condemn Mr. Giglio’s comments, Mr. Obama’s inaugural organizers were taking heat from conservative groups who said the pastor had done nothing wrong and that his withdrawal was a victory for intolerance and political correctness.

“What is shocking is the intolerance of the Obama team that put such a high priority on forced acceptance of homosexuality that they totally disregard Pastor Giglio’s life work combating human trafficking,” said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council. “What we are seeing is the inauguration of a new era of religious intolerance in America.”

Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association said in a blog post, “The bullies at Big Gay won this round. Bigotry wins, while tolerance, diversity, truth, religious liberty and freedom of speech lose.”

At least one Hispanic group expressed unhappiness that Mr. Giglio had been so unceremoniously cast aside.

“I am very, very disappointed with Lou’s not participating in the inauguration,” said Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Leadership Conference, calling the Atlanta cleric “a good Christian, a conservative pastor with a wonderful church.”

“I hope and pray that the inaugural committee has the wisdom and the maturity and the broad optics to replace Lou with someone of kindred spirit,” Mr. Rodriguez said. “If not, then it becomes a de facto misbalanced or misaligned presentation, without different viewpoints.”

Controversial sermon

Critics highlighted remarks from a mid-1990s sermon Mr. Giglio gave in which he said: “If you look at the counsel of the word of God, Old Testament, New Testament, you come quickly to the conclusion that homosexuality is not an alternate lifestyle. … Homosexuality is not just a sexual preference, homosexuality is not ‘gay,’ but homosexuality is sin. It is sin in the eyes of God, and it is sin according to the word of God.”

The liberal blog ThinkProgress, an arm of the Center for American Progress, blasted Mr. Giglio for what it called his “rabidly anti-LGBT views.”

Addie Whisenant, a spokesman for the Presidential Inaugural Committee, said Mr. Giglio’s past comments “don’t reflect our desire to celebrate the strength and diversity of our country at this inaugural.” Ms. Whisenant said the inaugural organizers had not been aware of Mr. Giglio’s past comments at the time he was selected.

“As we now work to select someone to deliver the benediction, we will ensure their beliefs reflect this administration’s vision of inclusion and acceptance for all Americans,” she said.

In a statement Thursday, Mr. Giglio said that speaking about homosexuality “has not been in the range of my priorities in the past 15 years.”

“Instead, my aim has been to call people to ultimate significance as we make much of Jesus Christ.”

The Inaugural Committee said this week that Mr. Obama personally was involved in the selection of Mr. Giglio, citing his work with youths and raising awareness about human trafficking.

Mr. Obama said Mr. Giglio’s career reflects “the ideals that the vice president and I continue to pursue for all Americans — justice, equality and opportunity.”

Black market for tickets

The inauguration preparations also have been marred by reports that many of the tickets distributed for Mr. Obama’s inauguration — which are supposed to be free — are being peddled on eBay and Craigslist for up to $2,000 apiece.

The Associated Press reported that congressional offices and the Presidential Inaugural Committee, which are distributing tickets to inaugural events, are trying to clamp down on the black market. So far, their efforts haven’t stopped online entrepreneurs.

“These tix are going like hotcakes, and for FAR more than I am listing them for on here,” one anonymous seller boasted in a post Wednesday on the website Craigslist.

The seller, who did not return an email seeking comment, offered two seats to the Jan. 21 swearing-in at the Capitol for $4,000. Those tickets are supposed to be free from congressional offices. The Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies issued some 250,000 passes for lawmakers to dole out however they see fit. The Hill, a Capitol Hill newspaper, reported that one seller on Craigslist offered two tickets for $2,000 “from Senator Nancy Pelosi’s office.” The ad, which erroneously listed Mrs. Pelosi, the House minority leader, as a senator, has since been taken down.

Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill said her office is taking steps to ensure none of its tickets are scalped.

“Our office has implemented a number of procedures to ensure that no one is able to do such a thing with tickets through our office,” he said. “We will continue to monitor such websites and ask that any posts be taken down immediately.”

Unlike congressional tickets, those distributed by the Presidential Inaugural Committee can’t be resold without permission of the committee.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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