WASHINGTON — A California Republican congressman wants to do a little writing on the walls of Washington's newest federal building. If Rep. Dan Lungren gets his way, Congress will spend nearly $100,000 to engrave the words "In God We Trust" and the Pledge of Allegiance in prominent spots at the Capitol Visitor Center, the $621 million center that opened in December.
Lungren's proposal drew only a whimper of opposition this month when the House voted 410-8 to approve it. Now, however, Lungren finds himself tussling with a national atheists and agnostics group.
The Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation Inc. sued last week to stop the engraving, accusing Lungren of trying to force his religious beliefs on as many as 15 percent of all U.S. adults. That comprises "atheists, agnostics, skeptics and freethinkers, none of whom possess a belief in a god," according to the lawsuit.
"It really is a Judeo-Christian endorsement by our government, and so Lungren is wrong," said Dan Barker of Madison, Wis., a co-president of the foundation. "Lungren and others are pro-religious, and they want to actually use the machinery of government to promote their particular private religious views. That is unconstitutional, and that's what we're asking the court to decide."
The Senate has approved a similar plan introduced by Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation alleges that Congress is trying to make belief in God synonymous with citizenship and "discouraging nonbelief" among Americans, a contention that Lungren rejects.
Lungren, a former California attorney general, said that while the proposed engravings incorporated religious references, they didn't violate the Constitution.
"What we're doing is making a specific historical reference to the beginnings of this republic," he said. "To ignore this or to forbid this statement or something like it to appear is to distort history. ... We're not trying to change history."