The nation's largest association of atheists and agnostics filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday to stop the engraving of "In God We Trust" and the Pledge of Allegiance at the Capitol Visitor Center in Washington.
The Madison, Wis.-based Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) argues that the government's funding of the engraving – which they claim could cost up to $150,000 – "will give actual and apparent government endorsement and advancement of religion," while excluding nonreligious Americans.
"'In God We Trust' excludes and treats as outsiders the millions of adult Americans, including as many as 15% of all adults, who are not religious, i.e., atheists, agnostics, skeptics and freethinkers, none of whom possesses a belief in a god; the mandated language diminishes nonbelievers by making god-belief synonymous with citizenship," the foundation's complaint states.
FFRF filed the lawsuit after the House and the Senate passed identical resolutions last week directing the Architect of the Capitol to engrave "In God We Trust" and the Pledge of Allegiance in prominent places in the Capitol Visitor Center, which is "the entrance for the thousands of tourists who visit the Capitol every day."
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."
He and around 108 other lawmakers had sent a letter to the Architect of the Capitol in early last fall, expressing their concerns with inaccurate and incomplete historical religious content in the Capitol Visitor Center, including the phrase "E. Pluribus Unum" - Latin for "from many, one" - erroneously described as the national motto rather than "In God We Trust."
"Historical buildings like the Capitol Visitor Center are there to tell the story of our nation. When religious history is removed from these displays, the American public is not able to observe an accurate depiction of our nation's story," said Virginian Senator and Congressional Prayer Caucus Founder J. Randy Forbes after the $621 million attraction opened late last year.
"The current CVC displays are left-leaning and in some cases distort our true history," added Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina.
Last year, around 12,000 people signed a petition circulated by former U.S. House speaker Newt Gingrich that urged Congress to ensure the CVC "historically correct and accurately reflects the centrality of 'our Creator' in the founding of America and in its historic development."
"The fundamental principles of the freedom we enjoy in this country stem from our Founding Fathers' beliefs in a higher power, beliefs put forth in the Declaration of Independence and manifest throughout our Constitution," stated DeMint.
"If we cease to acknowledge this fact, we may cease to enjoy some of the freedoms we take for granted," the South Carolina senator added. "We must not censor historical references to God for the sake of political correctness. And we must truthfully represent the limited form of government the Constitution lays out so that our 'government of the people, by the people, and for the people, shall not perish from the earth.' So help us God."
In its legal complaint, FFRF said the CVC was "conceived as an extension of the Capitol rather than a stand-alone facility" and "is intended to be and is the sole point of entry to the seat of American government."
FFRF's lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in the western district of Wisconsin, seeks a judgment declaring last week's Congressional directive unconstitutional and an order enjoining the defendant from engraving "In God We Trust" and the Pledge of Allegiance in the Capitol Visitor Center.
The suit names Stephen Ayers, acting Architect of the Capitol, who is responsible for the U.S. Capitol Complex, including the Capitol Visitor Center.