Drew Zahn is a WND news editor who cut his journalist teeth as a member of the award-winning staff of Leadership, Christianity Today's professional journal for church leaders. A former pastor, he is the editor of seven books, including Movie-Based Illustrations for Preaching & Teaching, which sparked his ongoing love affair with film and his weekly WND column, "Popcorn and a (world)view."More ↓Less ↑
Entrance to new underground visitors center in Washington, D.C.
Forty-four U.S. legislators have signed on to defend the national motto, “In God We Trust,” and the Pledge of Allegiance – which contains the word “God” – from an attempt by an atheist group to have the words erased from the face of the newly built Capitol Visitor Center.
The atheist and agnostic organization filed suit in U.S. District Court versus Stephen Ayers, acting architect of the Capitol, alleging the words now engraved on the visitors center violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The FFRF claims that the use of tax dollars to add the engravings lacks a secular purpose and has the primary effect of endorsing a religious viewpoint.
The ACLJ brief, however, claims the atheists’ lawsuit “borders on the frivolous,” argues that the national motto and Pledge of Allegiance accurately reflect our nation’s historical foundation on a belief in God and contends that the constitutionality of both “God” references is well established in case law.
“The fact is that Congress acted appropriately and consistent with the Constitution with the inclusion of the national motto and the Pledge of Allegiance in the Capitol Visitor Center,” said Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the ACLJ, in a statement. “These expressions echo the sentiments found in the Declaration of Independence and recognize the undeniable truth that our freedoms come from God. This challenge is another misguided attempt to alter history and purge America of religious references. We’re hopeful it will meet the same fate as other flawed challenges and be rejected by the court.”
“Plaintiffs’ crusade, targeting of religious expression in the federal government, serves no purpose other than to waste judicial resources at a time in our Nation’s history when those resources are needed in cases involving real threats to American liberties,” the brief asserts. “Moreover, if Plaintiffs are successful, it will undoubtedly embolden further challenges to other religious expressions in government venues, including the several religious works of art and various religious inscriptions in the Capitol Complex, as well as the prayer rooms in House and Senate office buildings.”
Further, the brief states, “While the First Amendment affords atheists complete freedom to disbelieve, it does not compel the federal judiciary to redact religious references in every area of public life in order to suit atheistic sensibilities.”
National Motto at new visitors center in Washington, D.C.
The brief concludes, “Under existing case law, there is very little upon which to stake an argument that displaying either the national motto or the Pledge of Allegiance violates the Establishment Clause. All authority on point is against such a contention. The Establishment Clause was never intended as a guarantee that a person will not be exposed to religion or religious symbols on public property, and the Supreme Court has rejected previous attempts to eradicate all symbols of this country’s religious heritage from the public’s view. Although enterprising plaintiffs can find support for just about any proposition in the Court’s multifarious Establishment Clause pronouncements, a claim that display of the national motto or the Pledge of Allegiance violates the First Amendment borders on frivolous.”
As WND reported, when the $600-plus million Capitol Visitor Center was first built, it contained no reference to the Pledge of Allegiance or “In God We Trust.”
With acres of marble floors and walls, photographs of Earth Day, information about an AIDS rally and details about industry, the expansive facility – which is nearly three-quarters the size of the Capitol itself – contained exhibition galleries, theaters, a 550-seat cafeteria, gift shops and many other features but did not originally have plans to include America’s Christian heritage.
U.S. Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Va., however, spearheaded an effort by eventually 108 members of Congress to pressure the Committee on House Administration and the Senate Rules and Administration Committee to make changes.
“When I along with several other members of the Prayer Caucus first toured the newly constructed Capitol Visitor Center,” Forbes said in a September statement, “we were troubled to learn that the center was stripped of all references to America’s religious heritage and it contained a number of factual inaccuracies, including incorrectly stating that our national motto was ‘E Pluribus Unum’ and inaccurately representing Capitol church services.”
Among those raising questions was longtime martial arts champion, actor and now WND columnist Chuck Norris. In a column at the time he cited other examples of censorship of faith, including the fact the opening words in Article 3 in the Northwest Ordinance were excluded from an exhibit. Those words are: “Religion, morality, and knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.”
Instead, the exhibit read, “Schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.”
As WND reported, however, after more than a year of fighting to restore references to our nation’s spiritual history in the center, Forbes, Norris and their like-minded Americans prevailed. The engraving of our national motto “In God We Trust” was unveiled last month.
“This was accomplished due to the efforts of so many individuals in Congress and across the country who were willing to stand up on behalf of our nation’s religious heritage,” Forbes said in response. “Thousands of visitors will walk through the center each day. The efforts of the individuals that have joined in this issue have enabled those visitors to experience a more accurate depiction of our nation’s heritage written in stone.”
The case of Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc. v. Ayers was filed in the United States District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin, where the ACLJ also filed its brief seeking dismissal of the lawsuit.
Those lawmakers represented in the brief include Forbes, U.S. Senators Jim DeMint, James Inhofe and Roger Wicker, and U.S. Representatives Robert Aderholt, Todd Akin, Michele Bachmann, Roscoe Bartlett, Rob Bishop, Marsha Blackburn, Roy Blunt, John Boehner, John Boozman, Dan Burton, Eric Cantor, Mike Conaway, Virginia Foxx, Scott Garrett, Bob Goodlatte, Ralph Hall, Gregg Harper, Jeb Hensarling, Bob Inglis, Sam Johnson, Walter Jones, Jim Jordan, Steve King, John Kline, Doug Lamborn, Don Manzullo, Thaddeus McCotter, Patrick McHenry, Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Jeff Miller, Randy Neugebauer, Mike Pence, Joseph Pitts, John Shadegg, John Shimkus, Bill Shuster, Mark Souder, Zack Wamp, Joe Wilson and Don Young.