In Washington, separation of church and state isn’t just a principle of governance, it’s an architectural and geographic rule as well. Pierre L’Enfant envisioned a national church on Eighth Street. A patent office was built on the site instead. More than 100 years later, the city finally got its National Cathedral — far from Capitol Hill, in the upper northwest corner of town. The downtown skyline is dominated by monuments to men; the Holocaust Museum and altarpieces in the National Gallery of Art are the closest things to religion you’ll find on the Mall. Washington, of course, has its believers, but they practice too many faiths to fit under one roof.
Now, though, the Good Book is coming to town in a big way. The Museum of the Bible — backed by the evangelical owners of the craft store Hobby Lobby, who famously took their objections to contraception and Obamacare to the Supreme Court — is set to open in 2017, just off the Mall. The proximity of the museum to the world-class Smithsonian and the Capitol has raised eyebrows. How will it fit in among the venerable institutions lining the Mall? How will it function in a multicultural city? And what version of the Bible will we get?