WASHINGTON – The Architect of the Capitol, responding to a public outcry, ruled Thursday that, from now on, the word "God" may be inscribed on certificates accompanying flags that have flown over the U.S. Capitol.
Acting Architect Stephen T Ayers said in a statement that the policy of disallowing political and religious statements on flag certificates has been inconsistently applied and does not fulfill the objectives of the office.
"It is inappropriate and beyond the scope of this agency’s responsibilities to censor messages from members," Ayers said.
"The Architect’s role is to certify that flags are appropriately flown over the U.S. Capitol, and any messages on the flag certificates are personal and between a Member of Congress and his or her constituents,” Ayers said.
“The Office of the Architect of the Capitol is a service organization. Flying the flags over the
Capitol is an important constituent service for Members of Congress. When one of our services or policies doesn’t effectively serve Members of Congress or the American public, it needs to be
changed immediately,” he added.
The issue gained widespread attention this week after 17-year-old Andrew Larochelle of Dayton, Ohio, inquired to his congressman, Rep. Michael Turner, why the personal inscription he requested to go with his flag was censored.
The message — to accompany a flag he had bought from Congress for $9 to be flown over the U.S. Capitol in honor of his grandfather Marcel LaRochelle — read: "In honor of my grandfather Marcel Larochelle, and his dedication and love of God, country and family."
The flag flew on Sept. 11, Marcel Larochelle's birthday. But when Andrew finally received the flag in the mail on Sept. 30, "God" was taken out of his note.
Andrew said he was surprised God's name had been omitted and couldn't understand why his free speech rights had been infringed. The Eagle Scout said he included God in his dedication because his grandfather is "very devoted to his faith."
"His faith life is just very vital to him, he is very God-centered and relies on God whenever he needs strength," Andrew told FOX News. "Without God in the certificate, it's almost like taking a piece of him away."
After Andrew inquired about the exclusion, Turner requested an explanation from Ayers and was told that the rules, which have been in practice since the 1970s but only codified in writing since 2003, don't allow religious expressions on flag certificates.
Turner and other House Republicans complained that the Capitol has many religious expressions and Congress begins each day with a prayer. They also noted that the message wasn't written by Congress but by one private citizen to another private citizen.
"This practice, which overturns a longstanding and long-cherished congressional tradition, has rightly drawn outrage from the American people, who have grown weary of endless attempts by politicians and bureaucrats to bar the word God and even the most tacit references to faith from our public institutions," House Minority Leader John Boehner wrote in a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday.
To compromise, Rep. Robert A. Brady, chairman of the House Administration Committee, which oversees the Architect of the Capitol's office, had suggested allowing a uniform certificate of authenticity and then giving each congressional member the latitude to handle personal inscriptions.
On Thursday Pelosi, who had defended Ayers' decision, said she did not try to influence his repeal.
"I don't think the architect's office should be in the role of censoring what members want to say on those documents ... and I spoke earlier to the minority leader about this issue and said that it was my understanding that the architect's office was going to put forth this statement," Pelosi said. "I think they, the architect's office, came to their own conclusion."
But that didn't sit well with many lawmakers, who said the job of operating the flag certificate program lies with the Architect's office. On Thursday, Ayers said after reviewing the rules, he concluded that they were inconsistently applied and should be changed.
"I have directed that the policy be changed and that new guidelines be reissued immediately,” he said. “I appreciate the Congress bringing this important issue to my attention, and I appreciate their support as we worked to resolve this situation to everyone’s satisfaction,” said Ayers.
FOX News' Major Garrett contributed to this report.