Home / News / House introduces the 'Congressional Hope for Uniform Recognition of Christian Heritage (CHURCH) Act of 2012'
House introduces the 'Congressional Hope for Uniform Recognition of Christian Heritage (CHURCH) Act of 2012'

House introduces the 'Congressional Hope for Uniform Recognition of Christian Heritage (CHURCH) Act of 2012'

On March 8, Texas Rep. Louie Gohmart (R) introduced the Congressional Hope for Uniform Recognition of Christian Heritage (CHURCH) Act of 2012 (H.R. 4182).  His bill was co-sponsored by 27 other Republican representatives.  The bill directs " the Architect of the Capitol to acquire and place a historical plaque to be permanently displayed in National Statuary Hall recognizing the seven decades of Christian church services being held in the Capitol from 1800 to 1868, which included attendees James Madison and Thomas Jefferson."  It has been referred to the House Committee on House Administration.

The text of "CHURCH Act of 2012" reads:

To direct the Architect of the Capitol to acquire and place a historical plaque to be permanently displayed in National Statuary Hall recognizing the seven decades of Christian church services being held in the Capitol from 1800 to 1868, which included attendees James Madison and Thomas Jefferson.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,

SECTION 1. SHORT TITLE.

    This Act may be cited as the `Congressional Hope for Uniform Recognition of Christian Heritage (CHURCH) Act of 2012'.

SEC. 2. ACQUISITION AND DISPLAY OF HISTORICAL PLAQUE RECOGNIZING THE SEVEN DECADES OF CHRISTIAN CHURCH SERVICES BEING HELD IN THE CAPITOL.

    (a) Acquisition- The Architect of the Capitol shall enter into an agreement with a private entity for the design and fabrication of a historical plaque to be permanently displayed in National Statuary Hall recognizing the seven decades of Christian church services being held in the Capitol from 1800 to 1868.
    (b) Design- The plaque designed and fabricated pursuant to the agreement entered into under subsection (a) shall be of such size and design as may be provided under the terms of the agreement, except that the plaque shall contain the following statement:
    `The first Christian church services in the Capitol were held when the Government moved to Washington in the fall of 1800. They were conducted in the Hall of the House in the north wing of the building. In 1801, the House moved the church services to temporary quarters in the south wing, called the `Oven', which it vacated in 1804, returning services to the north wing for 3 years. During church services, the Speaker's podium was used as the preacher's pulpit.
    `Within a year of his inauguration, President Thomas Jefferson began attending church services in the Chamber of the House of Representatives. Throughout his administration (1801-1809), Thomas Jefferson permitted and encouraged church services in executive branch buildings. Sermons regarding the Old and New Testaments of the Bible were even conducted in the Supreme Court chambers while the judicial branch was located in the old north wing of the Capitol.
    `The term `separation of church and state', not found in the Constitution, was rather first used by Thomas Jefferson in a letter to the Danbury Baptists. Though Jefferson saw no problem with having nondenominational Christian services in government buildings, he affirmed that the Government should not choose an official Christian denomination. The worship services in the Government-owned House Chamber–a practice that continued until after the Civil War–were acceptable to Jefferson because they were nondiscriminatory and voluntary.
    `President James Madison, the recognized author of the Constitution, followed Jefferson's example. In keeping with Madison's understanding of the first amendment, church services were permitted in the halls of State on Sundays during his administration (1809-1817). However, unlike Jefferson, who rode on horseback to attend church in the Capitol, Madison traveled in a coach pulled by four horses. The services were interrupted in 1814 after the interior was burned by the British and had to be repaired.
    `Preachers of every Christian denomination preached Christian doctrine in this Chamber. On January 8, 1826, Bishop John England (1786-1842) of Charleston, South Carolina, became the first Catholic clergyman to preach in the House of Representatives. The first woman to preach before the House, and likely the first woman to speak officially in Congress under any circumstances, was the English evangelist, Dorothy Ripley (1767-1832), who conducted a service on January 12, 1806.'.
    (c) Presentation Ceremony- The Architect of the Capitol is authorized to use National Statuary Hall for a presentation ceremony for the plaque on a date determined by the Architect. The Architect of the Capitol and the Capitol Police Board shall take such action as may be necessary with respect to physical preparations and security for the ceremony.
    (d) Display- Upon receiving the plaque designed and fabricated pursuant to the agreement entered into under this section, the Architect of the Capitol shall display the plaque permanently in a place of prominence in National Statuary Hall.

SEC. 3. USE OF EXISTING FUNDS.

    Any amounts obligated or expended by the Architect of the Capitol to carry out this Act shall be derived from funds available to the Architect as of the date of the enactment of this Act.

Besides authorizing a plaque, the intent of this bill appears to be to enshrine into law that the separation of church and state is not a constitutional issue.

GovTrack gives this bill an 8 percent chance of passing.

GovTracker on HR 4182

The co-sponsors, all Republican, include:

Rep Michelle Bachmann [MN-6] Rep Joe Barton [TX-6] Rep Kevin Brady [TX-8] Rep John Campbell [CA-48] Rep Steve Chabot [OH-1] Rep Tom Cole [OK-4] Rep John Abney Culberson [TX-7] Rep Charles J. "Chuck" Fleischmann [TN-3] Rep John Fleming [LA-4] Rep Bill Flores [TX-17] Rep J. Randy Forbes [VA-4] Rep Trent Franks [AZ-2] Rep Andy Harris [MD-1] Rep Vicky Hartzler [MO-4] Rep Tim Huelskamp [KS-1] Rep Duncan D. Hunter [CA-52] Rep James Lankford [OK-5] Rep Cynthia M. Lummis [WY] Rep Randy Neugebauer [TX-19] Rep Alan Nunnelee [MS-1] Rep Joseph R. Pitts [PA-16] Rep Reid J. Ribble [WI-8] Rep David P. Roe [TN-1] Rep Steve Scalise [LA-1] Rep Jean Schmidt [OH-2, recently lost the primary)
Rep Marlin A. Stutzman [IN-3] Rep Rob Woodall [GA-7]

Some of the religiously themed art in federal buildings features ancient Greek and Roman deities, such as The Apotheosis of Washington in the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol.  Others do not limit religious-mythological significance strictly to the Christian faith, such as the "great lawgivers" friezes depicted at the Supreme Court, which many Christian nationalists mistake for Moses and the Ten Commandments.

About D. Beeksma

One of the growing crowd of American "nones" herself, Deborah is a prolific writer who finds religion, spirituality and the impact of belief (and non-belief) on culture inspiring, fascinating and at times, disturbing. She hosts the God Discussion show and handles the site's technical work. Her education and background is in business, ecommerce and law.
  • Sheldon

    Deborah, I fully agree with your assessment that this is an attempt to enshrine into law that the separation of church and state is not constitutional… an attempt to sneak religion through the government's back door.

    "The term `separation of church and state', not found in the Constitution, was rather first used by Thomas Jefferson in a letter to the Danbury Baptists."

    While this is true, the context in the mentioned letter should be taken into consideration as well as the intent of the Establishment and Free Exercise clauses. It should also be noted that The Danbury Baptists were a religious minority concerned about the dominant position of the Congregationalist church. Below, is the context in which Jefferson used those famous words, "separation of church and state.

    "Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his god, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their "legislature" should "make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," thus building a wall of separation between church and State. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties."

    It is clear that Jefferson much desired that church and state affairs should be separate.


    "practical distinction between Religion and Civil Government is essential to the purity of both, and as guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States."

    -James Madison (1811 letter to Baptist churches)


    "I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute—where no Catholic prelate would tell the President (should he be Catholic) how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishoners for whom to vote—where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference—and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the President who might appoint him or the people who might elect him. I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish—where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source—where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials—and where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against all. [...] I do not speak for my church on public matters—and the church does not speak for me. Whatever issue may come before me as President—on birth control, divorce, censorship, gambling or any other subject—I will make my decision in accordance with these views, in accordance with what my conscience tells me to be the national interest, and without regard to outside religious pressures or dictates. And no power or threat of punishment could cause me to decide otherwise. But if the time should ever come—and I do not concede any conflict to be even remotely possible—when my office would require me to either violate my conscience or violate the national interest, then I would resign the office; and I hope any conscientious public servant would do the same."

    -John F. Kennedy (Sept 12, 1960 Address to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association)

    • http://www.houseofbetazed.com Mriana

       I agree with you, Sheldon and that's why I think, if this passes, we're in trouble.

    • Deborah_B

       Well said, Sheldon!

  • http://www.houseofbetazed.com Mriana

    Oh my.  If this thing passes, we're in trouble.  This can't be good.

    • Deborah_B

       I have not seen much reporting on this at all.  Church/state activists need to know about it.

      • http://www.houseofbetazed.com Mriana

         Well, I tweeted it and posted it to my FB page, so hopefully others will see it.

        • Deborah_B

           Awesome.  Thanks!

          • http://www.houseofbetazed.com Mriana

             You're welcome

  • Deborah_B

    "The term `separation of church and state', not found in the
    Constitution, was rather first used by Thomas Jefferson in a letter to
    the Danbury Baptists. Though Jefferson saw no problem with having
    nondenominational Christian services in government buildings, he
    affirmed that the Government should not choose an official Christian
    denomination."

    They are also seeming to imply that Jefferson wanted Christianity to be recognized by the government as the nation's religion, but just no particular denomination can be specially selected as the "official" version by the government.

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