The Freedom From Religion Foundation is delighted to announce that the National Capital Memorial Advisory Commission has unanimously voted to support the proposal for a memorial to Thomas Paine in Washington, D.C. Today’s vote was a critical step to get the Department of the Interior and related agencies to support the bill.
While HR 6720, introduced by Rep. Jamie Raskin, to authorize construction of a memorial to Thomas Paine, must still pass Congress and clear other hurdles, the support from the advisory commission is a shot in the arm for the project.
During the hearing, Raskin gave a master class to the commission on why Paine is a figure of great historical significance to the United States and to the American people. FFRF Governmental Affairs Director Mark Dann, representing the Thomas Paine Memorial Association, thanked Chair Peter May and members of the advisory commission for scheduling the hearing.
Margaret Downey, president of the Thomas Paine Memorial Association, told the commission, “A Thomas Paine memorial highlighting his life and work may very well help heal divides in this country under the banner of true American liberty.”
Identifying herself as both an FFRF legal fellow and a registered Republican in Wisconsin, Karen Heineman said that as a conservative, she regards a decision to place a monument of this patriot not as a “revolutionary” decision, but “an action long overdue.”
Mandisa Thomas, founder of Black Nonbelievers, spoke passionately about Paine’s anti-slavery stance, noting that he was a founding member of America’s first abolitionist group. “Thomas Paine should be memorialized, not only as a pioneering Founding Father, but also as a pioneering anti-slavery activist who made an indelible mark on America’s social and political landscape,” she added.
Charis Hoard, of Ohio, who just graduated with a Master’s degree, represented the Generation Z perspective. “Celebrating Paine’s legacy with a memorial consecrates America’s fight to continuously improve itself and bring about a brighter future for all,” said Hoard.
Gene Jones, with a Florida veterans group, testified, “As veterans, we say Paine conceived of the American idea and he kept it alive at its lowest ebb. spoke about Paine, one of the nation’s first veterans, from a veterans perspective.”
The advisory commission members include: director of National Park Service (chairman), the chair of the National Capital Planning Commission, the architect of the Capitol, the chair of the American Battle Monuments Commission, the chair of the Commission of Fine Arts, the mayor of the District of Columbia, the administrator of the General Services Administration and the secretary of the Department of Defense, or delegated staff.
One of the commission members mentioned being surprised to learn there is not already a memorial to Paine in the nation’s capital.
Dann notes, “With this support, we can go back to the Natural Resources Committee and ask the chair to call for a markup.” He says that the Paine association can also start meeting with Senate offices that may have an interest in helping get the bill through the Senate.
Dann thanked Beth Porter, who is a legislative affairs specialist, National Capital Region secretary, National Capital Memorial Advisory Commission, and her team, who have been so generous with their time.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 37,000 largely nonreligious members across the country, including members in all 50 states and in the District of Columbia. FFRF works to protect the constitutional separation between state and church and to educate about nontheism.