The Freedom From Religion Foundation, a state/church watchdog and the nation's largest association of atheists and agnostics, filed a federal lawsuit today to stop the prominent engraving of "In God We Trust" and the religious Pledge of Allegiance at the Capitol Visitor Center in Washington, D.C.
The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in the western district of Wisconsin.
Last week, the House and the Senate passed resolutions directing the Architect of the Capitol to engrave "In God We Trust" and the Pledge of Allegiance in prominent places in the Capitol Visitor Center, which is "the entrance for the thousands of tourists who visit the Capitol every day." The engraving project is expected to cost up to $150,000, a figure attributed to U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., the Senate sponsor.
DeMint had threatened to hold up the opening of the Capitol Visitor Center last December, because he said the Center failed to recognize the purportedly integral role of religion in our federal government. DeMint said the cost of the mandated engraving would correct the alleged historical whitewash of the original design, welcome God back into the Center and highlight the "all important relationship between faith and freedom in America."
U.S. Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, claimed that without the engravings of "In God We Trust" and the Pledge of Allegiance, the Visitor Center would reflect an effort "to scrub references to America's Christian heritage" and to eradicate "the role of Christianity in America."
The Madison, Wis.-based Foundation, with 13,500 members, including members in every state and in the District of Columbia, is an organizational plaintiff, along with taxpayers and Foundation Co-Presidents Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor.
The suit names Stephen Ayers, acting Architect of the Capitol, who is responsible for the U.S. Capitol Complex, including the Capitol Visitor Center. The Foundation's legal Complaint points out that the Center is "conceived as an extension of the Capitol rather than a stand-alone facility; the Capitol Visitor Center is intended to be and is the sole point of entry to the seat of American government."
The Complaint notes that the selection of "In God We Trust" as a motto, and the insertion of "under God" into the formerly secular Pledge of Allegiance, were both adopted belatedly in the 1950s during the Cold War. The godly motto, adopted in 1956, did not appear upon paper currency until 1957. The pledge was tampered with by Congress in 1954, after generations of schoolchildren had learned the original, godless version composed in 1892. Both changes were the result of religious lobbying. The Congressional Report accompanying the 1954 pledge act, which openly disapproved of atheism, read: "The inclusion of God in the pledge . . . would serve to deny the atheistic and materialistic concepts of communism."
The Foundation Complaint said the Congressional appropriations "will give actual and apparent government endorsement and advancement of religion," while excluding nonreligious Americans.
" 'In God We Trust' excludes and treats as outsiders the millions of adult Americans, including as many as 15% of all adults, who are not religious, i.e., atheists, agnostics, skeptics and freethinkers, none of whom possesses a belief in a god; the mandated language diminishes nonbelievers by making god-belief synonymous with citizenship."
The lawsuit seeks a judgment declaring the Congressional directive unconstitutional and an order enjoining the defendant from engraving "In God We Trust" and the Pledge of Allegiance in the Capitol Visitor Center.