CVC Watch

Posted December 10, 2007 at 6:32pm

The debate over whether God gets recognized in the Capitol Visitor Center doesn’t appear to be going away anytime soon. [IMGCAP(1)]

Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) introduced the Loyalty to Our Legacy Act last week, which would mandate that the Pledge of Allegiance and the motto “In God We Trust” be prominently displayed in the CVC. Co-sponsored by Sens. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) and David Vitter (R-La.), the bill also would prohibit the removal of any existing object from the Capitol grounds that includes religious or Judeo-Christian references.

The measure serves as companion legislation to a bill introduced in the House in October by Rep. Marilyn Musgrave (R-Colo.). Musgrave’s bill was introduced shortly after controversy erupted over whether “God” should be allowed on the certificates that guarantee that a flag was flown over the Capitol. (Acting Architect of the Capitol Stephen Ayers eventually revised AOC policy to allow religious references on the certificates.)

But the fact that DeMint introduced the companion measure months after the flag flap could be a sign that the fight over God at the Capitol isn’t just a flash in the pan.

“Any attempt to ban references to God in our nation’s Capitol [Visitor] Center is censorship of America’s proud heritage of faith, and our bill will put a stop to it,” DeMint said in a statement. “Acknowledgements of God have been an important part of our country’s traditions from the Declaration of Independence to the Pledge of Allegiance and the Capitol itself contains numerous references to faith.”

But not everybody agrees. Barry Lynn, the executive director of the nonprofit Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said Monday that the bill “smacks of a Christian loyalty oath.”

“This is designed clearly to promote religion,” Lynn said. “A popular religion, because they think there are some votes out there.”

DeMint spokesman Wesley Denton dismissed that argument as “ridiculous” on Monday.

“Religious heritage is something that is important,” Denton said. “Many Americans believe very strongly that our country wouldn’t be where it is today without our heritage and honoring God.”

But Lynn said that although they might not be vocal about it, many Members — including some Republicans — might shy away from legislation such as this. After all, not everybody wants to enter into a debate over religion, he said.

Lynn also downplayed the extent of religious references at the Capitol and other government sites. Many references to God displayed on government buildings come from speeches or other text written by important figures, Lynn noted. These monuments or other displays acknowledge a part of history, he said.

For example, God is referenced in the Gettysburg Address, which is displayed at the Lincoln Memorial. But the Lincoln Memorial is not designed to specifically promote God, Lynn said.

“This kind of stuff is completely off-base,” Lynn said of the CVC effort.

Denton argued that religion remains an important part of the American political process, noting the speech given last week by Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, in which the former Massachusetts governor noted that “freedom requires religion, just as religion requires freedom.”

“This is in the same vein,” Denton said.

The legislation has been referred to the Senate Rules and Administration Committee. No hearings have been scheduled yet, and a spokesman did not return a request for comment.

DeMint will continue to push for the measure come 2008, Denton said.

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While the fight over what will and won’t be displayed at the CVC continues, construction crews remain at work putting the finishing touches on the $621 million facility, which is more than 97 percent complete.

Workers are busy running through a range of punch-list items, from installing carpet to checking audio levels on stereo equipment in the facility’s theaters, according to the AOC. Crews also continue to run tests of the CVC’s complex fire- and life-safety systems.