STARKE, Fla. — The first monument in the country dedicated to atheism is set to be displayed in front a county courthouse in Florida later this month.
The monument is part of a settlement between officials in Bradford County, Florida and the organization American Atheists of Cranford, New Jersey. Last year, American Atheists sued the county for permitting the display of the Ten Commandments on the premises, which was placed by a group known as Community Men’s Fellowship.
The county had asked the Fellowship to remove the Decalogue, but the men refused to do so. Therefore, instead of forcing the matter, it was agreed to allow American Atheists to erect their own display outside of the courthouse in the free speech area.
“We have maintained from the beginning that the Ten Commandments doesn’t belong on government property,” stated American Atheists President David Silverman in a press release. “There is no secular purpose for the monument whatsoever and it makes atheists feel like second-class citizens. But if keeping it there means we have the right to install our own monument, then installing our own is exactly what we’ll do.”
The group plans to place a 1,500 pound granite bench near the Ten Commandments monument, which will feature quotes from American Atheists founder Madeline Murray O’Hair, founding fathers Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, as well as an excerpt from the Treaty of Tripoli. An area of the monument will also feature the ten Biblical punishments for violating the Ten Commandments, such as the death penalty for murder and adultery.
Will Sexton, who represented the county in the lawsuit, stated that the Ten Commandments monument does not amount to a government establishment of religion, and neither does the atheist bench.
“In October 2011, the county adopted a set of monument placement guidelines that created what we saw as a free speech forum in the courtyard,” he explained. “What the atheists agreed to is something they could have originally been approved for without a year of money and litigation.”
Community Men’s Fellowship stated that it is satisfied with the results of the settlement as well.
“We want you all to remember that this issue was won on the basis of this being a free speech issue, so don’t be alarmed when the American Atheists want to erect their own sign or monument. It’s their right,” the group wrote on its Facebook page. “As for us, we will continue to honor the Lord, and that’s what matters.”
Earlier this year, a similar battle against a Ten Commandments display outside the Dixie County Courthouse in Cross City, Florida ended when a district court judge dismissed a lawsuit filed by the ACLU on behalf of an offended atheist. A man only identified as “John Doe” from North Carolina claimed that the monument kept him from purchasing property in the county.
“Were it not for the presence of the monument on the Dixie County Courthouse steps, we would have continued to look for … property in Dixie County,” he wrote. “And we would do so again immediately if the monument were removed.”
However, the ACLU later filed a motion to dismiss the matter, admitting that the case had no legal standing as the complainant no longer desired to move to the area.