By Chris Lazare on June 2, 2013
The American Atheists have responded to a 5 foot Ten Commandment monument in Florida by erecting the first Atheist monument on public grounds in the United States. On June 29th the monument will be unveiled in front of Bradford County Courthouse across from the Ten Commandments monument. The 1,500 pound, granite bench will feature quotes from some of the most influential Americans including, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin and Madalyn Murray O’ Hair – the founder of the organization American Atheists. The monument will also include a quote from the Treaty of Tripoli, signed in 1796, which reaffirms, “the government of the United States is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion.” Also the new monument will have several quotes from the Bible which correspond to the Ten Commandments. For example, Deuteronomy 13:10 which states “Stone him to death, because he tried to turn you away from the Lord your God…” The first commandment states that “You shall have no other gods before me.”
“The monument emphasizes the role secularism has played in American history,” said Public Relations Director Dave Muscato. “And the Bible quotes make it clear that the Ten Commandments are not the ‘great moral code’ they’re often portrayed to be. Don’t kill, don’t steal? Of course. But worship only the Judeo-Christian god? That conflicts overtly with the very first right in the Bill of Rights, freedom of religion.”
The American Atheists filed a lawsuit claiming that having the Ten Commandments on display is a public endorsement of religion. The county still didn’t remove the monument, so the American Atheist countered the statue with one of their own. “We have maintained from the beginning that the Ten Commandments doesn’t belong on government property,” said American Atheist President David Silverman. “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.”
In 2011, the county developed a monument guideline which gives private organizations the ability to apply for monuments in the “free speech forum” of the courtyard. The guidelines say that monuments must commemorate “people, events and ideas which played a significant role in the development, origins or foundations of United States of America or Florida law, or Bradford County,” and cannot be permanent and cannot be “libelous, pornographic or obscene.” The new monument met all of these guidelines.
The monument is being funded by the Stiefel Freethought Foundation. It costs the organization 6,000 dollars. This isn’t first Atheist monument that will be on display in America. The other monument is the “atheists in foxholes” display, on private grounds, in Hypatia, Alabama. It was built in 1999 by the Freedom From Religion Foundation.