(Photo: AP Images / Susan Walsh)
A federal district court dismissed a lawsuit challenging the engravings of "In God We Trust" and the Pledge of Allegiance at the Capitol Visitor Center in Washington.
U.S. District Court Judge William Conley ruled on Wednesday that the Freedom From Religion Foundation, which filed the lawsuit last summer, lacked standing.
"FFRF did not establish taxpayer standing because they could point to no specific Congressional appropriation for funding the engraving of the Motto and Pledge. Rather, any funds spent in carrying out Congress’s direction to engrave the Motto and Pledge came from general appropriations to the Architect of the Capitol," the American Center for Law and Justice reported.
The ACLJ had filed an amicus brief, representing 50 members of Congress, asking the court to reject the suit and arguing that the inclusion of the motto and pledge in the visitor center was consistent with the First Amendment.
"The words of both the motto and the Pledge echo the conviction held by this Nation’s Founders that our freedoms come from God," the conservative legal group had contended. "While the First Amendment affords atheists complete freedom to disbelieve, it does not compel the federal judiciary to redact religious references in every area of public life in order to suit atheistic sensibilities.
"This challenge is another misguided attempt to alter history and purge America of religious references."
Just ahead of the opening of the Capitol Visitor Center in 2008, conservative lawmakers protested the factual inaccuracies and the omission of historical religious content in the Center.
During an initial tour, Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) noticed that the phrase "E. Pluribus Unum" – Latin for "from many, one" – was erroneously described as the national motto rather than "In God We Trust."
Congress passed a joint resolution directing Ayers to engrave "In God We Trust" and the Pledge of Allegiance prominently in the center.
FFRF filed suit, complaining 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." The Madison, Wis.-based organization sought a judgment declaring the Congressional directive violated the Establishment clause of the First Amendment.
Lawmakers, meanwhile, argued that the true and accurate story of the history of America needs to be told.
"Our country’s first national document, the Declaration of Independence, spoke to unalienable Rights given to American’s by our Creator," said Rep. Gregg Harper (R–Miss) in a statement Friday. "Numerous sources point to our founders’ collective reliance on God for direction and wisdom as they drafted the United States Constitution.
The clear intent of the congressional resolution, he said, was to install two "important reminders (motto and pledge) of our country's foundation."
FFRF is considering refiling the case on grounds other than taxpayer standing.