Last week, in a strong bipartisan vote of 410 to 8, the U.S. House passed a resolution requiring the Architect of the Capitol to engrave the National Motto “In God We Trust” and the Pledge of Allegiance in the new U.S. Capitol Visitor Center. This action is necessary to ensure that all of our nation’s traditions are adequately reflected in throughout the Capitol.
Washington has been described as a city of monuments. Many line our National Mall like sentries watching over America’s precious liberty. Our grand 209-year-old U.S. Capitol building is a monument in its own right to our democratic system of government. Its marbled halls display beautiful paintings which reveal our nation’s birth and stormy history, and statues of some of our most famous citizens line its corridors. The building is also a working museum where, among the thousands of tourists, lawmakers hold hearings and cast votes affecting the lives of all Americans.
The newest addition to the Capitol complex is a three level, 580,000-square-foot underground visitor center that lies just below the Capitol’s East Front. The facility, which was completed in December 2008, houses exhibits and two theaters, as well as additional meeting space for the U.S. House and Senate. The Capitol Visitor Center is already a very popular tourist destination – hosting more than 1.5 million visitors over the last seven months.
In the new Capitol Visitor Center, you can encounter interactive displays bringing the Capitol alive to its visitors. Also found here are historic documents, including the patent drawing for the Wright Brothers’ Flying Machine. However, you will not find a prominent display of our National Motto “In God We Trust,” or the Pledge of Allegiance. Both contain references to God which emphasize the significance of religion in the creation and nurturing of our republic.
Our national reverence to God is fundamental throughout our history. I joined 159 other House Members in cosponsoring the resolution calling for the display of both the National Motto “In God We Trust” and the Pledge of Allegiance in the new Capitol Visitor Center. In recent years, there have been attempts in the courts and also in governmental bureaucracy to limit or remove outright religious references in our public places. The most notable was the 2002 decision of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, located in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s district, declaring the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance unconstitutional.
In 2007, I led a successful effort to reverse one such prohibition of “God” in the U.S. Congress. When Andrew Larochelle, a 17-year-old Eagle Scout from Dayton, wanted to honor his grandfather’s “dedication and love of God, Country and family” with a flag flown over the Capitol, the Architect of the Capitol censored the word “God” from the flag certificate. We were informed that the use of “God” violated the rules prohibiting religious references in the certificates.
I strongly objected and responded by spearheading a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi signed by over 160 of my House colleagues demanding that this policy be overturned. Furthermore, I introduced legislation to permanently allow religious references on Capitol flag certificates. The Architect of the Capitol later reversed his position and restored the reference to God in Andrew Larochelle’s flag certificate.
Even though Speaker Pelosi chose not to vote, it was heartening to see over 90 percent of the House vote last week to display “In God We Trust” and the words of the Pledge of Allegiance in the Capitol Visitor Center. America’s religious traditions and freedom of expression must always be protected.