Musgrave Wants God Involved in CVC

Posted October 19, 2007 at 6:21pm

God is referenced throughout the Congressional complex, from wall inscriptions to paintings and now to even the certificates that accompany flags flown over the Capitol.

But will God get recognized in the Capitol Visitor Center?

Rep. Marilyn Musgrave sure wants that to happen. The Colorado Republican introduced a measure Thursday that would require the Architect of the Capitol to permanently display the Pledge of Allegiance and the motto “In God We Trust” at the Capitol Visitor Center.

Musgrave’s legislation is part of her larger effort to ensure that the country’s religious history continues to be recognized at the Capitol, spokesman Aaron Johnson said Friday.

“As the new visitor center is being built, it’s been something that she feels is very important to honor the history of our country,” Johnson said. “These aren’t things that are offensive to people. It’s ingrained in our national heritage.”

Under the bill, the Architect also would be prohibited from removing or refusing to include language or other content from exhibits and materials at the CVC on the grounds that it includes a religious reference or Judeo-Christian content.

“It’s something that she wants to see happen, and she’ll push for it,” Johnson said. “It’s not unreasonable. I don’t think most people will find it unreasonable.”

Well, maybe not everybody.

“Visitors to the Capitol don’t all believe in God, and that’s what’s wrong with this motto. Some of us trust in God, but not all of us,” said Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Freedom from Religion Foundation, a Madison, Wis.-based nonprofit that works for the separation of church and state.

“Everybody is supposed to be equal in this country,” she added. “So, if you have the country endorsing religion, that means we aren’t equal.”

A spokeswoman for the Architect declined to discuss the matter Friday, saying the office does not comment on pending legislation.

The bill is expected to be referred to the House Administration Committee, which is chaired by Rep. Robert Brady (D-Pa.). Spokesman Kyle Anderson said Friday that the committee plans to review Musgrave’s bill and other measures that have been introduced to make additions to the CVC, but there are no immediate plans to act on any of them.

Musgrave’s bill follows an earlier AOC-related uproar over whether constituents should be able to include the word “God” on certificates that accompany flags flown over the Capitol.

Since 2003, the AOC had prohibited religious expression on flag certificates. But after a slew of Members (including Musgrave) led a protest about two weeks ago over that policy, acting Architect Stephen Ayers introduced new guidelines allowing for religious references.

Despite the change in policy, controversy continues to linger. Rep. Michael Turner (R-Ohio), who first drew attention to the flag issue, has introduced a bill that would require the AOC to allow the acknowledgment of God on flag certificates. Musgrave is an original co-sponsor of that measure.

“When she raised this issue with the Architect, I think she got a sense of how opposed he is to any expression of religion or religious heritage,” Johnson said. “It doesn’t settle well with her just with him coming up with a compromise solution.”

On Thursday, Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) introduced companion legislation in the Senate.

“Americans have enjoyed the right to freedom of religion,” DeMint said in a statement. “Our Founders understood the importance of this and put every safeguard in place to ensure that individual Americans could practice their religion in the way that they saw fit.”

There is a synergy between the row over the flag policy and Musgrave’s CVC measure, Johnson said, as the Congresswoman wants to ensure religion continues to be recognized on the Capitol campus.

There are many religious references in the Capitol already, Johnson pointed out.

Some are easily noticeable, such as the “In God We Trust” inscriptions in the House and Senate chambers. Others are a bit more subtle, such as “The Embarkation of the Pilgrims,” a Rotunda painting that features Pilgrim William Brewster holding a Bible and pastor John Robinson leading the group in prayer.

“Just walking through the Rotunda, you get a sense of the religious heritage there,” Johnson said.

But Gaylor warned against adding any new religious references to the Capitol complex.

“If it’s not there, nobody would miss it,” she said. “If it is there, it just creates conflict and division.”

More CVC Changes?

Musgrave isn’t the only Member who wants to add to the upcoming visitor center, although other proposals aren’t based on religious concerns.

Several measures already have been introduced this session that seek to add displays or other content to the CVC, although none yet have been approved by Congress.

The measure that appears to have made the most progress would posthumously grant a Congressional Gold Medal to Constantino Brumidi, the Italian immigrant who often is referred to as “the artist of the Capitol.” Brumidi’s medal would sit permanently in the CVC as part of a wider exhibit honoring his life.

Every Senator signed onto the bill, which was introduced by Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) and passed the chamber on May 21. Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.) introduced the companion measure in the House, and 155 Members had signed as of Friday afternoon.

But the bill lingers in the Financial Services Subcommittee on Domestic and International Monetary Policy, Trade and Technology, to which it was referred in April.

A spokeswoman for Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), who chairs the subcommittee, did not return a call seeking comment by press time. Gutierrez has not signed on as a co-sponsor of the measure.

Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-Fla.) also introduced a measure honoring Brumidi. Bilirakis’ bill, introduced in March, would require the Committee on the Library to obtain a statue of Brumidi to display in the CVC. Six Members, including Pascrell, have signed onto the legislation, which sits in the House Administration Committee.

The Foundation of Hellenes, which is based in Bilirakis’ district, would help with the design of the statue, a spokesman said. Former Rep. Mike Bilirakis (R-Fla.) introduced a similar measure in the 109th Congress.

“Hopefully it will move forward with the completion of the CVC,” the spokesman added.

Another CVC-display bill would require “a suitable exhibit which depicts the Congressional careers, accomplishments, and contributions of the 22 African-American Members of Congress who served during the Reconstruction and Post-Reconstruction Eras.”

Introduced in January by Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.), that measure also would require an exhibit that acknowledges the use of slave labor in the construction of the Capitol. The bill, which has attracted 41 co-sponsors, also sits in House Administration.

The measure probably won’t move very far, but that isn’t because there is a lack of desire to honor black Members. Butterfield and several of the bill’s co-sponsors met with AOC officials earlier this year to discuss CVC exhibits, and they were assured black contributions would be included, Butterfield spokesman Ken Willis said.

“We’re not going to pull the bill,” Willis said. “But we were assured that what we were looking for essentially … would be taken care of.”

The role of slave labor in building the Capitol is expected to be acknowledged in the CVC through another measure. Reps. Zach Wamp (R-Tenn.) and Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) have introduced legislation that would change the name of the CVC’s Great Hall to Emancipation Hall.

That measure has attracted 227 co-sponsors in the House and was brought forth for a hearing before the Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings and Emergency Management in September. Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) introduced similar legislation in her chamber.