Government Bureaucrats Suppress Religious Freedom
By Congressman Joe Pitts
Over the last several months, there has been a disturbing trend in government agencies to censor elements of religious expression. Though I would imply no coordinated effort in this regard, the events represent an increasing occurrence of the very worst in government: unelected Washington bureaucrats, making decisions about the rights of individuals to express their religious convictions.
The cases have not received much coverage in the news. This is, in fact, one of the greatest problems with bureaucrats making policy. Elected representatives debate legislation in the open, and are held accountable at regularly scheduled intervals by way of elections. Bureaucrats simply create rules and begin to enforce them. Bureaucrats have never been elected by anyone and will not have to answer to the public for their rulemaking in the future.
In September, a New York Times article uncovered a campaign to censor religious materials by the Bureau of Prisons. According to the Bureau, the campaign was an effort to prohibit literature that incites radicalism in the federal prison population, a worthy goal. However, instead of attempting to remove literature that may incite violence, they simply created a limited list of approved texts and ordered prison libraries to purge all others.
Religious experts who saw the lists were often puzzled by some of the choices that made the lists, as well as some that didn't. This decision was nothing other than censorship of religious literature, from a population that has no other means to obtain such texts. Prisoners would be denied their ability to practice their faith because one of their chosen religious texts did not make a list that some staff member at the Bureau created.
Another case took place right here on Capitol Hill. Private citizens may place requests with their Members of Congress to have American flags flown over the U.S. Capitol. The Architect of the Capitol, an unelected bureaucratic office, oversees and carries out this process. The flags come with a certificate issued by the Architect's office which indicates the date the flag was flown. It can also include a brief message written by the individual requesting the flag.
In July, it was discovered the Architect's office was removing references to God from these certificates, including an Eagle Scout who wanted to honor his grandfather "for his dedication and love of God, Country, and family." Apparently the policy was in place to keep from offending people. As if anything is more offensive than unelected bureaucrats telling Members of Congress and their constituents what is offensive and what is not while prohibiting their free expression of religion.
Another case here at the Capitol arose when it recently came to the attention of some Members of Congress that the new Capitol Visitors Center would be stripped of references to God. The CVC, as it is known on Capitol Hill, is a several hundred million dollar project to provide a secure and accommodating place for tourists who come to visit the Capitol. Apparently our nation's founding principles based in Judeo-Christian beliefs, our motto "In God We Trust," and the pledge of allegiance itself, were not worthy of a place in the educational materials that will be present when the CVC opens. Even right here under the noses of Congress, faceless bureaucrats are willing to effectively rewrite our nation's history in an attempt to keep from offending anyone.
Just a few blocks down the National Mall comes another example. The top of the Washington Monument is a capped with an engraved aluminum piece that includes the Latin phrase "Laus Deo" which translates into "Praise be to God" in English. In October, it became known that the National Park Service had removed this reference from an educational display in the visitor's gallery inside the Monument. The action seemed directly contradictory of the Park Service's stated mission to "preserve unimpaired the natural and cultural resources and values of the national park system for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations."
Finally, after allegedly receiving a single complaint on the issue, the Department of Veterans Affairs recently banned a popular flag folding ceremony from funerals in all National Cemeteries because it referenced God and the national motto "In God We Trust." The traditional ceremony includes a recitation with each of the thirteen folds of the American flag. Again, a bureaucrat somewhere in a Washington office building saw fit to ban the ceremony, censoring the graveside expression of religion of grieving family members.
Many of these policies have been overturned after Members of Congress launched protests, while other are being reconsidered. I can think of nothing more offensive than purging our nation of its historical references to God and the banning of religious expression. This nation was founded in the quest for religious freedom. No one, least of all government bureaucrats, has the right to limit free expression of religion or the authority to erase our nation's history.