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God and the CVC

Though four years late and $300 million over budget, we have every reason to hope that the Capitol Visitor Center will be a credit to all who advocated it — including us — as a security screening place for the Capitol, as a comfortable waiting area for tourists and as a rich educational experience on the history and workings of Congress.

The CVC’s 16,500-square-foot Exhibition Hall is designed to serve as a museum of Congress, and now that installation of exhibits, artifacts and documents is about to begin, Members of Congress are coming forward with demands for inclusion of tributes to God, blacks who served in Congress during Reconstruction, slaves who helped build the Capitol and Constantino Brumidi, whose art works adorn its interior.

The campaign to recognize God in the CVC, spearheaded by Rep. Marilyn Musgrave (R-Colo.), arises out of one of the weirder (and unnecessary) controversies to hit Washington, D.C., recently — the decision by acting Architect of the Capitol Stephen Ayers to eliminate references to the deity from Member messages to constituents accompanying flags flown over the Capitol.

Complying strictly with a guideline distributed to Members that prohibits any “religious or political expression” on the certificate, Ayers caused a firestorm when he removed “God” from a certificate from Rep. Michael Turner (R-Ohio) that honored the grandfather of an Eagle Scout for his “dedication and love of God, Country and family.”

After the uproar, during which Members called for Ayers’ firing, he sensibly reversed the policy. But now Musgrave is convinced that Ayers is anti-God and has sponsored a bill that would forbid the Architect from excluding material in the CVC that includes a religious reference or Judeo-Christian content.

And Musgrave’s move, predictably, has aroused the ire of activists in the separation-of-church-and-state movement, who claim that including references to God in the CVC will discriminate against visitors who are nonbelievers.

We suggest that everyone calm down and that those in charge of exhibits do the very best they can to give visitors true and compelling lessons about the history of Congress and the “national aspirations” over which the Constitution gives it authority. Those aspirations — freedom, unity, knowledge, common defense, general welfare and exploration — are etched into stone in the Exhibition Hall.

We do not see how it would be possible to tell the story of Congress without reference to the nation’s religious heritage, to the role of blacks, including the slaves who helped build the Capitol, or even to Brumidi. What we hope will not happen, as CVC exhibits are about to be mounted, is for special interests to leap in and demand specific recognition for every ethnic, economic or cultural group in the country. The CVC should be a museum of history, not a hodgepodge.