November 2008 Church & State | People & Events

Religious Right activists and their political allies are attacking the new visitors’ center at the Capitol Building in Washington, asserting that it ignores the role Christianity played in American history.

The center, due to open Dec. 2, has been under construction for several years. The structure, which cost $600 million in taxpayer monies, is too secular, according to the Religious Right.

A government Web site about the center reports that the building “will provide visitors to the Capitol with a variety of amenities, including an exhibition gallery, orientation theaters, a 550-seat cafeteria, gift shops, and restrooms all within a secure public environment that will provide visitors shelter from the unpredictable D.C. weather.”

Leading the campaign against the center is David Barton, founder and president of Texas-based WallBuilders, a Religious Right organization  that claims the United States was founded to be a “Christian nation.”

In an e-mail to supporters, Barton charged 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.”

Added Barton, “No wonder a congressman has dubbed it the ‘$600 million dollar godless pit.’” Barton also charged that the center contains historical errors, although he failed to provide examples.

WallBuilders has produced a video, now posted on YouTube, that refers to the center as a “$621 million shrine to political correctness” and urges Americans to write or call House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other members of Congress asking them not “to use our federal tax dollars to further secularize America.”

U.S. Rep. J. Randy Forbes (R-Va.), a frequent booster of Religious Right causes, quickly joined the crusade and 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 grouses 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 annual anti-abortion 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 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.)

Last month, The Washington Times reported that Barton and his allies won a concession when officials at the Center announced that the words “In God We Trust” will be chiseled in stone in a prominent spot, as well as the text of the Pledge of Allegiance.

Americans United says the federal government has an obligation to make sure visitors of all faiths and none feel welcome at the center and that history is portrayed accurately and not according to distorted Religious Right propaganda. The organization will continue to monitor the situation.