Congress

'God' now allowed on certificates for Capitol flags

The setting sun casts an orange glow on the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. (Chuck Kennedy/MCT)
The setting sun casts an orange glow on the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. (Chuck Kennedy/MCT) MCT

WASHINGTON — While the war, immigration and federal spending priorities defy solutions, conservative lawmakers claimed victory Thursday on one front:

They've compelled the architect of the U.S. Capitol to reverse a ban on using the word "God" in the framed certificates that mark honorary American flags flown over the Capitol.

"Today, we won a great victory for American traditions, religious freedoms and freedom of expression," said Rep. Michael Turner, an Ohio Republican.

Turner and 160 fellow lawmakers demanded that the ban be lifted in a letter Turner sent to Stephen T. Ayers, acting architect of the Capitol.

"When one of our services or policies doesn't effectively serve members of Congress or the American public, it needs to be changed immediately," Ayers said in a statement.

The protest started when "God" was left out of a certificate that Ohio teenager Andrew Larochelle, an Eagle Scout, received commemorating a flag flown in honor of his grandfather, Army veteran Marcel Larochelle.

"Removing 'God' out of that certificate was removing a major piece of what my dad stands for," Paul Larochelle, Andrew's father, said in an interview Thursday from Dayton. "We're delighted they're going to do what's right."

Andrew was at school and unavailable for comment.

Tens of thousands of Americans each year, through their congressional representatives, request that flags be flown over the Capitol to honor loved ones.

The Stars and Stripes is raised, unfurled and lowered about 275 times a day on three flagpoles over the Capitol. The banners are then folded and delivered to those who requested the ceremonies, along with certificates of authenticity.

Guidelines for requesting the honor had said "political and/or religious expressions are not permitted on the flag certificate." As of Thursday, that restriction no longer applies.

A flag honoring Marcel Larochelle, Andrew's grandfather and Paul's father, flew over the Capitol on Aug. 30. Andrew's message for the certificate cited his grandfather's "love of God," but when he received it, the reference to God was gone.

The family inquired about the omission, learned it wasn't accidental and publicized it. Outraged radio talk show hosts and bloggers urged their followers to flood congressional offices with calls and e-mails.

"We're glad that justice has been done," said Randy Sharp, a spokesman for the American Family Association in Tupelo, Miss., which helped stoke anger over the omission.

The group operates 180 Christian radio stations in 34 states, Sharp said, including Missouri, Texas, the Carolinas, Washington, Kentucky, Kansas, Georgia, Illinois, Mississippi and Pennsylvania.

"I'm pleased that the Architect of the Capitol is no longer censoring the Architect of the Universe," Rep. Tom Feeney, R-Fla., said in a statement.

(Lesley Clark contributed.)

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