WASHINGTON – Atheist Michael Newdow (search) failed in his bid last week to remove prayer from President Bush's inaugural ceremony, but his complaint is unlikely to be the last in an effort to remove references to religion from the public discourse.
From U.S. currency to government buildings, there are myriad examples of what some say is an inextricable link between the U.S. government and God.
The Lincoln Memorial at one end of the nation's capital includes President Lincoln's second inaugural address, which makes six references to God in 700 words, shorter than an average news article.
Also in the memorial is a quotation from the Gettysburg Address (search), in which Lincoln said, "This nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom."
The Washington Monument includes a bible in its cornerstone. The Supreme Court has the Ten Commandments inscribed in four places. The Library of Congress, White House and Jefferson Memorial all have references to God.
The Declaration of Independence (search), in which the colonies separated themselves from England, includes the phrase: "We are endowed by our creator with certain inalienable rights."
But the Declaration of Independence is not a legal document governing the country. That's left to the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, the latter of which outlines a basis for the separation of church and state.
"Whenever government tends to touch religion it tends to degrade it. It compromises it. Real vitality comes from separating those institutions of government from those of religion, not combining them," said Rev. Barry Lynn, head of the organization Americans United for Separation of Church and State (search).
But former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich (search), who has revived the debate in a new book about the role of religion in the creation of the U.S. government, asked secularists what they think the Declaration of Independence meant when it spoke of "our creator."
"The America historically that has existed for over 300 years is an America in which the concept of the creator, the concept of providence, the concept of divine intervention has been very real," said Gingrich, who authored the book "Winning the Future: The 21st Century Contract With America."
Gingrich points out that the Capitol Building has the word "God" carved into its walls and painted on its entrances. Some artwork in the Capitol contains images of bibles and angels. Gingrich also mentions that the U.S. House was used for church services until after the Civil War.
However, Lynn said that's not the point.
"Clearly, there are many religious references on buildings across Washington, D.C., and no one is trying to sandblast them off. They are part of the history of the country. But as we enter this new century, what we ought to be doing is becoming increasingly concerned about the diversity of religious and nonreligious opinion," he said.
Already, steps are being taken toward removing religious references from new construction of public property. The newest monument on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., is dedicated to World War II. On it is a partial quote from a speech by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The phrase near the end of the speech, where Roosevelt says "So help us God," is omitted from the engraving.
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