FFRF statement on religious engraving case at Capitol

“FFRF will soldier on” in challenging the religiously-motivated engraving of  ‘In God We Trust’ and the religious Pledge of Allegiance at the Capitol Visitor Center, the Freedom From Religion Foundation announced today.

FFRF’s federal lawsuit, filed in July 2009, was dismissed on lack of taxpayer standing Sept. 29 by newly-appointed U.S. district Judge William M. Conley, Western District of Wisconsin.

The U.S. House and Senate passed resolutions ordering the Architect of the Capitol to engrave “In God We Trust” and the Pledge of Allegiance prominently at the Capitol Visitor Center. The center now serves as the sole point of entry to the seat of American government. Visitors must pass through it to get into the Capitol.

The resolution passed after religious-right lobbying in a crusade also widely promoted by Newt Gingrich, and after expressly religious purposes were stated by sponsors.

Sen. Jim DeMint, R-SC, the Senate sponsor of the resolution, had threatened to hold up the opening of the center in December 2008, complaining it shortchanged the importance of religion in federal government. 

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."

Representative Dan Lungren, Republican from California, sponsored the resolution in the House of Representatives, for the express purpose of emphasizing the role of religion in the United States government.

The judge dismissed the taxpayer standing of individual plaintiffs Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor, who serve as FFRF co-presidents, claiming there was no clear “nexus” showing Congress had specifically authorized money for the engravings. Yet the Senate approved the resolution on July 6, 2009, as part of an express appropriation bill.

The Foundation contended that the stated purpose of the resolution “is intended to and does give the appearance of linking the legislative process to the purported religious beliefs of the members of Congress,” such as Rep. King’s statement in urging passage of the directive that “our Judeo-Christian heritage is an essential foundation stone” of the U.S. government.

The legal complaint noted that the engravings “exclude and treat as outsiders millions of adult Americans who do not believe in a god," and “the mandated language diminishes non-believers by making god-belief synonymous with citizenship.”

FFRF is considering its options, including refiling the case on grounds other than taxpayer standing.

But, noted Gaylor, the courts are carrying to extremes the requirement that a “specific” congressional appropriation be passed to fund unconstitutional actions it mandates or approves. “Congress authorized the religious engravings and controls the purse strings for the Capitol architect who had to pay for the engravings. How can that not show a ‘nexus’ “?

FFRF, Gaylor and Barker had sued Stephen Ayers, acting architect of the Capitol. They sought a judgment declaring the Congressional directive violated the Establishment clause of the First Amendment and an order enjoining the prominent engraving, which has since taken place and cost at least $100,000 – $150,000.

Read Legal Complaint
Read Judge’s Ruling

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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