Before the House and Senate passed resolutions last week directing the Architect of the Capitol to engrave the words “In God We Trust” and the Pledge of Allegiance at the Capitol Visitor Center, atheists, agnostics and other opponents threatened legal action. They made good on that promise this week.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation filed a lawsuit Tuesday in U.S. District Court in western Wisconsin claiming that engraving the words and the pledge on the government structure “will give actual and apparent government endorsement and advancement of religion” and at the same time exclude nonreligious Americans.
Congress wants the inscriptions displayed prominently at the underground visitor center, which opened in December. The Capitol draws an estimated 3 million tourists each year.
Identical resolutions passed last week in the House and Senate direct the Capitol’s architect to place the engravings at the entrance to the center, which, covering nearly 580,000 square feet, is the largest project in the Capitol’s 216-year history.
Congressional supporters said they expected a lawsuit, but they denounced it nonetheless.
Rep. Dan Lungren, California Republican, called the suit “patently absurd.”
Sen. Jim DeMint, South Carolina Republican, said omitting the motto “In God We Trust” represented “a complete and unacceptable whitewash of our national faith heritage.”
The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., wants a judicial order prohibiting the engravings and a ruling declaring the congressional directive unconstitutional.
” ‘In God We Trust’ excludes and treats as outsiders the millions of adult Americans, including as many as 15 [percent] of all adults, who are not religious, i.e., atheists, agnostics, skeptics and freethinkers, none of whom possesses a belief in god; the mandated language diminishes nonbelievers by making god-belief synonymous with citizenship,” the complaint states.
The foundation, a 501(c)3 organization, said it is the nation’s largest association of atheists and agnostics. On its Web site, it answers the question “What does the Foundation do?” with the initial response, “Files lawsuits!”