A Little Legislative Intervention on the Almighty's Behalf
By Ben Pershing
On Monday night, the Senate passed a bill to spend more than $3 billion on congressional operations. The measure would boost funding for entities ranging from the Library of Congress to the Government Accountability Office and -- most importantly, to some -- bringing God to Capitol Hill.
During consideration of the appropriations bill, the Senate approved by voice vote an amendment from Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) "to direct the Architect of the Capitol to engrave the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag and the National Motto of 'In God We Trust' in the Capitol Visitor Center." The chamber quickly agreed to DeMint's request and moved along, but to him and other critics, the amendment's adoption represented a victory in their war against the alleged secularization of the visitors' center.
As Capitol Briefing wrote in December, just after the $621 million center opened to the public, some conservatives complained that its exhibits downplay the importance of religion in American history and exalt the glories of national government instead of God. In particular, critics were incensed that the center includes an engraving of the phrase "E Pluribus Unum" with a note saying that it was the "national motto."
"Unfortunately, the way the Capitol Visitor Center has been built and the way the displays have been set up, it conspicuously ignores America's unique religious heritage and the role that heritage played in the founding of the Republic," DeMint said during Monday's debate. "Indeed, the original exhibits now there seem to suggest the federal government was the solution to all our problems and the fulfillment of all human aspirations, as if we were a government with a nation instead of the other way around. Even the national motto was misrepresented -- as out of many, one."
In fact, "In God We Trust" is the national motto, and DeMint wanted those words as well as the Pledge -- including the phrase "under God" -- carved in a place of prominence in the visitors' center. The leaders of the Senate Rules and Administration Committee agreed with DeMint that those changes should be made, but they haven't actually happened yet. Thus, Monday's amendment, which should serve to force the issue.
For their part, visitors' center officials have sought to emphasize that "In God We Trust" appears already in one part of the center and, "References to religion and faith are included in the context of several historic exhibits, and several religious items appear in the displays." (Under DeMint's plan, the engraved "E Pluribus Unum" will not be removed from the center but the reference to its being the national motto will be.)
The House's version of the legislative branch spending bill passed that chamber last month without similar language, but the amendment should make it into the final conference report without controversy.
UPDATE 5:46 PM: Looks like the House is also getting in on the act, though not via an appropriations bill. The chamber is scheduled to vote on these two bills tonight:
H.Con.Res. 135 - Directing the Architect of the Capitol to place a marker in Emancipation Hall in the Capitol Visitor Center which acknowledges the role that slave labor played in the construction of the United States Capitol (Rep. Lewis (GA) - House Administration)
H.Con.Res. 131 - Directing the Architect of the Capitol to engrave the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag and the National Motto of "In God We Trust" in the Capitol Visitor Center (Rep. Lungren - House Administration)
July 7, 2009; 4:50 PM ET
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