July 23, 2009

Why Atheists Object to Engraving "In God We Trust" on the Capitol Visitor Center

US Capitol Visitors Center Silver DollarImage by Orbital Joe via Flickr
As you know, both houses of Congress have approved a bill requiring "In God We Trust" to be engraved in the Capitol Visitor Center. You may also know that the Freedom From Religion Foundation has filed suit to stop the addition on the grounds that it reflects an unconstitutional government endorsement of religion. Not surprisingly, I applaud their efforts. This is a great opportunity for advocates of church-state separation and accurate U.S. history to educate those now being misled by Christian extremists and revisionists.

Iowa Republican Rep. Steve King, the sponsor of the bill to require the engraving, has claimed that the FFRF's suit is an effort to silence those who want to talk about their religion. This is not at all what is going on, but it does reveal why it is important for us to explain the real issues.

Rep. King also claims that the FFRF is trying to strip the U.S. of our religious heritage.
I think in the end it makes it more clear what they are trying to do and that strengthens my case and the case of people who want to have an accurate depiction of history.
Again, that is not what is happening here. The FFRF and those of us who support their efforts are opposed to the engraving for the following reasons:
  1. Placing "In God We Trust" on a government building amounts to blatantly unconstitutional endorsement of religion by the government (i.e., a violation of the Establishment Clause).
  2. The U.S. government is tasked with representing the people - not just those who believe in gods - but all the people.
  3. "In God We Trust" is not an accurate statement. Many Americans do indeed trust in god(s); many others do not believe in any god(s).
  4. "In God We Trust" is inherently exclusionary. It defines the in-group as those who believe in a particular god and excludes everyone else.
  5. The fact that "In God We Trust" became the national motto of the U.S. in 1956 no more implies that it is part of our national heritage than the fact that many of our "founding fathers" owned slaves implies that slavery is part of our national heritage.
Rep. King says that he welcomes public debate about religion. Fair enough. Let's give it to him.