Federal Court Rejects Atheist Lawsuit Challenging National Motto and Pledge of Allegiance Displays at Capitol Visitor Center

October 1, 2010 - 3:05 AM
Freedom From Religion Foundation says it won't give up effort to remove carvings.

U.S. Capitol Visitor Center

The U.S. Capitol Visitor Center. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Congress)

(CNSNews.com) - A federal court judge in Madison, Wis., has dismissed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of engravings of the National Motto -- “In God We Trust” -- and the Pledge of Allegiance at the Capitol Visitor Center in Washington, D.C.

U.S. District Judge William M. Conley ruled that the atheist Freedom From Religious Foundation did not have the legal standing to sue the Architect of the Capitol – the office responsible for the Capitol building and grounds – to remove the engravings and that it was pointless to try to stop the engravings, since they have already been made.

The judge noted that under prior Supreme Court precedents, taxpayers can only bring legal challenges for perceived injuries if the injuries are directly tied to specific appropriations by Congress.

“Plaintiffs fail to establish standing because they cannot point to any specific congressional appropriation for the allegedly unconstitutional concurrent resolution,” Conley wrote.

Conley did not rule on the merits of the legal challenge or whether the National Motto and Pledge were constitutional.

Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice, said he was “extremely pleased” that the judge agreed that the suit should be dismissed.

Sekulow represented 50 members of Congress who defended the National Motto and Pledge, arguing that the atheist group's lawsuit "border(ed) on frivolous."

"This challenge was another misguided attempt to alter history and purge America of religious references,” Sekulow said.

The Madison, Wis.-based Freedom From Religion Foundation will be re-filing the lawsuit, according to the group’s president, Annie Laurie Gaylor.

“(The dismissal) was not unexpected,” Gaylor told CNSNews.com. “We were planning to re-file it anyway in Washington, D.C., because there was a jurisdictional problem.”

Gaylor said the group “ain’t giving up (sic).”

“We did not lose on the merits, it’s procedural. And the merits we want to address, because the administration did write a brief on the merits and it’s just full of distorted history and the distorted perception of the separation of church and state that is required by our Constitution.”

Sekulow, however, said that arguments made on behalf of the displays “accurately reflected the historical fact that our nation was founded on a belief in God and that the constitutionality of both is well established in case law.”

He added: “The National Motto and the Pledge of Allegiance displayed in the Capitol Visitor Center merely echo the sentiments found in the Declaration of Independence. In our view, Congress acted appropriately by including these expressions in the center -- expressions that are consistent with the Constitution."

The 50 members of Congress included 47 members of the House and three members of the Senate: Sens Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), James Inhofe (R-Okla.) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.); Rep. Randy Forbes (R-VA.), the chairman of the the chairman of the Congressional Prayer Caucus; Reps. Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.); Todd Akin (R-Mo.); Rodney Alexander (R-La.); Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.); Roscoe Bartlett (R-Md.); Rob Bishop (R-Utah); Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.); Roy Blunt (R-Mo.); John Boehner (R-Ohio); John Boozman (R-Ark.); Dan Burton (R-Ind.); Eric Cantor (R-Va.); Mike Conaway (R-Texas); Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.); Scott Garrett (R-N.J.); Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.); Ralph Hall (R-Texas); Gregg Harper (R-Miss.); Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas); Bob Inglis (R-S.C.); Sam Johnson (R-Texas); Walter Jones (R-N.C.); Jim Jordan (R-Ohio); Steve King (R-Iowa); John Kline (R-Minn.); Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.); Don Manzullo (R-Ill.); Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.); Thaddeus McCotter (R-Mich.); Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.); Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.); Candice Miller (R-Mich.); Jeff Miller (R-Fla.); Jerry Moran (R-Kan.); Randy Neugebauer (R-Texas); Mike Pence (R-Ind.); Joseph Pitts (R-Pa.); Ted Poe (R-Texas); John Shadegg (R-Ariz.); John Shimkus (R-Ill.); Bill Shuster (R-Pa.); Mark Souder (R-Ind.); Todd Tiahrt (R-Kan.); Zack Wamp (R-Tenn.); Joe Wilson (R-S.C.), and Don Young (R-Alaska).