Is the Capitol Visitor Center 'Left-Leaning'?
By Ben Pershing
The massive new Capitol Visitor Center has been open to the public for four days now, and the reviews so far have generally been good. A few critics have found the design to be uninspiring, and others have complained about the cost of the much-delayed, $621 million project.
But another subset of critics has emerged this week, and their complaints have nothing to do with the center's price tag or its architectural aesthetics. Their charge: That the CVC's exhibits are too liberal and deliberately ignore or downplay the importance of religious faith in the history of Congress and the nation as a whole.
The theme has been picked up by conservative commentators. David Brody of the Christian Broadcasting Network writes, "God is real. I have no doubt about that but good luck trying to find him inside the Capitol Visitor Center." And former Speaker Newt Gingrich has begun a petition -- with more than 11,000 signatures to date -- proclaiming: "We the undersigned petition Congress to ensure that the new Capitol Visitor Center is historically correct and accurately reflects the centrality of "our Creator" in the founding of America and in its historic development."
What exactly is their complaint?
DeMint spelled out some of the charges back in September in a speech on the Senate floor. Having toured the CVC's exhibits, DeMint said he found them "to be politically correct, left leaning, and secular in nature." Specifically, DeMint objected to a quote enshrined at the center's door from 19th-century Rep. and Sen. Rufus Choate (Whig-Mass.): "We have built no temple but the Capitol. We consult no common oracle but the Constitution."
DeMint suggested that several other passages in the center's presentation of history downplayed the importance of faith and religion. He was particularly upset that the phrase "E Pluribus Unum" was engraved next to a mockup of the Capitol Dome, along with a note explaining that it was the "national motto." As the South Carolinian pointed out, the national motto is actually, "In God We Trust."
At least some of DeMint's complaints were addressed before the center opened this week. "In God We Trust" was engraved in a place of prominence in the center, and the incorrect national motto reference was removed. The Pledge of Allegiance was also added, with its phrase, "One nation, under God." But that's not enough for DeMint, who said Tuesday that "more needs to be done."
Obviously aware of these potential controversies, CVC officials included this in the "Frequently Asked Questions" section of the center's site:
Q: Does our national motto, "In God We Trust," appear in the Capitol Visitor Center? What about other religious references?
A: Yes, our national motto does appear in the Capitol Visitor Center in the House Theater exhibit. References to religion and faith are included in the context of several historic exhibits, and several religious items appear in the displays.
Some examples include Article 3 of the Northwest Ordinance in its entirety; a copy of the Pledge of Allegiance and the prayer said at the opening of the current Congress; a copy of the Bible used to administer the oath of office to Senators until 1882; portraits of the first House and Senate chaplains; information about religious services regularly held in the Capitol in the 1800s, and an unaltered display of the U.S. Constitution highlighting the First Amendment which established our country's right to the freedom of religion.
Beyond religion, DeMint and a few other critics also allege that the CVC's exhibits reflect a broadly liberal worldview.
In an op-ed published by McClatchy this week, Matthew Spalding of the conservative Heritage Foundation complains that the CVC's presentation of American history "is Congress' temple to liberals' 'living Constitution,' the eternal font of lawmakers' evolving mandate to achieve the nation's ideals." And, he adds, the exhibit "details the unfolding of liberal progress and the rise of modern administrative government. Everything is about movement away from America's sins (slavery, treatment of Indians, Vietnam) toward congressionally led enlightenment (direct election of senators, voting rights, the New Deal, Medicare)."
So, who was responsible for creating all these allegedly biased and faithless exhibits? Some crazed, atheistic, liberal historian? No -- Congress.
As Eva Malecki, spokeswoman for the Architect of the Capitol, pointed out to Capitol Briefing: "The development and approval of exhibit content in the Capitol Visitor Center was overseen by the Capitol Preservation Commission, a bipartisan commission composed of Senators and Representatives, which also was responsible for overseeing the construction of the Visitor Center."
She added that the CPC has the authority to alter the center's exhibits, should it so desire. So will DeMint keep lobbying his colleagues to make some changes? Capitol Briefing has faith that he will.
December 5, 2008; 12:20 PM ET
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