This Week in God

THIS WEEK IN GOD…. First up from the God Machine this week is a church-state story that we’ve been following, about the ongoing complaints about the new visitor center that opened in December on Capitol Hill.

Some religious right activists and far-right lawmakers, led in large part by South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint (R), are outraged that the visitor center is largely secular. For example, near the center’s entrance, there’s an engraving: “We have built no temple but the Capitol. We consult no common oracle but the Constitution.” The quote comes from Rufus Choate, who served in the House and Senate in the 1830s, and DeMint described the quote as “offensive.”

This week, Roll Call reported that some GOP lawmakers are pushing a bill that would spend $150,000 in taxpayer money to etch a reference to “In God We Trust” as the national motto into stone, and placed prominently in the Capitol Visitor Center.

“There are number of references or appropriate religious references in the Capitol Visitor Center, but this is something I think is important,” said Rep. Dan Lungren (Calif.), the bill’s lead sponsor and the top Republican on the House Administration Committee. “We do have ‘In God We Trust’ over the rostrum in the House … [and] it has a relationship to the Founding Fathers’ documents.”

Actually, Lungren’s wrong; “In God We Trust” doesn’t appear in any of the “Founding Fathers’ documents.” Literally, not one. In fact, the nation’s founders chose “e pluribus unum” as a national motto — a reference to the nation’s unique diversity — and Lungren, the Heritage Foundation, and other conservatives want references to it replaced.

Lungren’s bill, submitted last Wednesday, currently has four co-sponsors in the House. Expect that number to grow.

Also from the God Machine this week:

* Liberty University, the evangelical college in Virginia started by televangelist Jerry Falwell, caused some controversy last week when it yanked official recognition for the on-campus student group for Democrats. This week, my friends at Americans United for Separation of Church and State asked the Internal Revenue Service to review the tax-exempt status of the school, arguing that Liberty, as a tax-exempt institution, cannot legally favor one political party over another.

* Bill Donohue of the Catholic League, oddly enough, will not oppose Sonia Sotomayor’s Supreme Court nomination. “I like the fact that she is not brandishing her religion,” Donohue told Steven Waldman. “I do not want Catholic judges to rule as Catholics but as judges. I am all for Catholic legislators having a Catholic-informed opinion, but a judge has a different charge. Unless something pops that we don’t know about, I am not going to oppose her. Indeed, the experiences I had working with the Puerto Rican community lead me to quietly root for her.”

* And finally, in Miami, the Rev. Alberto Cutie, a Cuban-American priest, is a celebrity, often referred to as “Father Oprah.” He has hosted shows on Telemundo, is a syndicated Spanish-language columnist, and headed the archdiocese’s Radio Paz and Radio Peace broadcasts, heard throughout the Americas and in Spain. Cutie ran into a little trouble recently when he was photographed showing quite a bit of affection for his girlfriend — which is generally frowned upon among Roman Catholic priests. This week, Cutie left the Catholic Church, was received into the Episcopal Church, and announced his wedding engagement.