Making (Up) History: Religious Right Forces Try To Tilt Capitol Visitor Center

Today Religious Right activists and their politician allies are all worked up about the Capitol Visitor Center, which is scheduled to open in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 2.

They are complaining that the Center, funded by more than $600 million in taxpayer dollars, is too secular and doesn't display America's "Christian heritage." Apparently, they would rather push their own version of American history -- that America is a "Christian nation" -- so citizens who are non-Christian feel second-class when they tour our nation's capitol.

Leading the campaign to promote these historical inaccuracies is David Barton, founder and president of Texas-based WallBuilders, a Religious Right organization pushing Barton's sectarian version of American history. Barton has no credentials as a historian, and his historical accounts are based on "Christian nation" propaganda.

In a WallBuilders email alert last Friday, Barton writes that the Visitor Center has "deliberately censored mentions of God from both the Capitol's historical and current aspects." He discusses how he has worked with Congress to "correct bad information in the Center," but claims that in the last two years, "there has been a real reversal in the willingness of Visitor Center officials to make changes. Therefore, it is now time to get the public involved."

In a YouTube video produced by Wallbuilders, the group refers to the Center as a "$621 million shrine to political correctness" and urges Americans to write or call Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other members of Congress asking them not "to use our federal tax dollars to further secularize America."

Last week, U.S. Rep. J. Randy Forbes (R-Va.) announced that 108 members of Congress, including members of the Congressional Prayer Caucus, signed a letter to the Architect of the Capitol complaining about the lack of references to God in the Center.

The letter complains that the Center includes photos from Earth Day celebrations and an AIDS rally but does not include photos from the National Day of Prayer or the March for Life events.

The letter isn't Forbes' first foray into Religious Right activism. In December 2007, the Virginia congressman introduced a resolution that would declare the first week in May as "American Religious History Week." The measure also asked Congress to accept that "political scientists have documented that the most frequently-cited source in the political period known as The Founding Era was the Bible," among other inflammatory historical inaccuracies.

The version of American history pushed by Barton and Forbes is their own skewed version. For the rest of us, we have learned since kindergarten that our founding fathers had enough sense to keep religion out of government and government out of religion in order to preserve religious liberty for all.

I'm pleased that the new Capitol Visitor Center hasn't yielded to Religious Right propagandists. I hope it doesn't do so now.