Court Snubs Lawsuit Over Visitor Center’s Nod To God

A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit challenging engravings of “In God We Trust” and the Pledge of Allegiance at the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center in Washington.

Congress passed a resolution in 2009 ordering the Visitor Center to display the national motto and the Pledge, which refers to “one nation under God.” The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) claimed Congress acted unconstitutionally and filed suit.

U.S. District Court Judge William Conley of Madison, Wisc., dismissed the case on Sept. 29, holding that FFRF did not have “standing,” the right to sue. He said the Wisconsin-based organization’s plaintiffs did not make a sufficient link between their taxpayer status and the money spent on the engravings. 

Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the FFRF, questioned the decision.

“Congress authorized the religious engravings and controls the purse strings for the Capitol architect who had to pay for the engravings,” she said. “How can that not show a ‘nexus’?”

The group is considering whether to refile on other grounds.

Shortly before the Center opened late in 2008, Religious Right groups began attacking it for allegedly slighting the role of religion in American history. Their allies in the House of Representatives and Senate, led by U.S. Rep. Randy Forbes (R-Va.) and U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), tried to force the Center to add bogus “Christian nation” history to its exhibits.

That gambit failed, but Congress did agree to require that “In God We Trust” be chiseled on the Center’s walls.

Americans United pointed out that the Religious Right attacks on the Center were unfounded. In fact, several Center historical exhibits contain religious content, but that just wasn’t sufficient for the sectarian lobbyists. (See “Capitol Crime,” February 2009 Church & State.)