God once more can show up on flag certificates, after acting Architect of the Capitol Stephen Ayers announced Thursday that he is reversing a policy that struck the deity from all messages that accompany flags flown over the Capitol.
“My review revealed that, in fact, these rules have been inconsistently applied and that it is inappropriate and beyond the scope of this Agency’s responsibilities to censor messages from Members,” Ayers said in a press release. “The Architect’s role is to certify that flags are appropriately flown over the U.S. Capitol, and any messages on the flag certificates are personal and between a Member of Congress and his or her constituents.”
Since 2003, the AOC has adhered to a written guideline that prohibits any religious expression on the certificate, and over the years the Architect has removed words and phrases such as “God” and “in the year of our Lord” from all messages. Ayers released new guidelines Thursday without that policy, meaning there are absolutely no restrictions on religious messages.
Controversy over the previous policy began last week, after Rep. Michael Turner (R-Ohio) submitted a certificate on behalf of a 17-year-old constituent. The message read, “This flag was flown in honor of Marcel Larochelle, my grandfather, for his dedication and love of God, Country, and family.” However, Ayers approved the certificate only after the word “God” was removed.
Turner called on fellow Members to object to this censorship, and dozens responded, putting out press releases and calling for Ayers to resign. Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) sent a letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Wednesday, asking her to step in and tell the AOC to drop the policy. Boehner got a call Thursday morning from Pelosi, said Brian Kennedy, Boehner’s spokesman.
“Leader Boehner is certainly pleased that the Speaker [has] recognized the need to scrap this new policy, but we’re waiting to see exactly how it’s going to be resolved,” Kennedy said. “He isn’t going to accept anything except full restoration of tradition.”
Drew Hammill, Pelosi’s spokesman, said the Speaker heard that the Architect was addressing the situation and called Boehner to relay that information. Pelosi said Thursday that she believed the Architect’s office “came to its own conclusions.”
The 2003 policy of religious expression had “not been much of an issue until now when [the Architect] has refused some of the requests,” Pelosi said at a press conference. “I don’t think the Architect’s office should be in the role of censoring what Members want to say.”
The House Administration Committee had been working this week on a compromise — specifically, allowing Members control over the personal messages while also getting a certificate of authenticity from the Architect. Now the Architect simply will allow personal messages of up to 300 characters, and the certification process will be much the same.
“Flying the flags over the Capitol is an important constituent service for Members of Congress,” Ayers said in the release. “When one of our services or policies doesn’t effectively serve Members of Congress or the American public, it needs to be changed immediately.”
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.