(RNS) After years of fights over religious monuments on public land, a county courthouse in Northern Florida will soon be the home of the nation’s first monument to atheism on public property.

American Atheists monument celebration invitation photo courtesy Dedication of an Atheist monument at Bradford County Courthouse Facebook page (http://on.fb.me/15O6AMq)

American Atheists monument celebration invitation photo courtesy Dedication of an Atheist monument at Bradford County Courthouse Facebook page (http://on.fb.me/15O6AMq)


This image is available for Web publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

On June 29, the group American Atheists will unveil a 1,500-pound granite bench engraved with secular-themed quotations from Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin and its founder, Madalyn Murray O’Hair, among others, in front of the Bradford County Courthouse in Starke, Fla.

The New-Jersey-based group, which has a membership of about 4,000 atheists, humanists and other non-believers, won the right to erect the monument in a settlement reached in March over a six-ton granite display of the Ten Commandments on the same property.

  • “An atheist believes that a hospital should be built instead of a church. An atheist believes that a deed must be done instead of a prayer said. An atheist strives for involvement in life and not escape into death. He wants disease conquered, poverty banished, war eliminated.” – Madalyn Murray O’Hair

American Atheists sued Bradford County after the erection of that monument last year, claiming its place on the courthouse lawn represented a government endorsement of religion.

Both monuments were paid for by private money. Businessman Joe Anderson paid for the Ten Commandments monument through the Christian Men’s Fellowship, a local group, and the atheist monument was paid for by American Atheists with a grant from the Stiefel Freethought Foundation.

The Bradford County Courthouse photo courtesy Dave Muscato via Flickr (http://flic.kr/p/eBTxj1)

The Bradford County Courthouse photo courtesy Dave Muscato via Flickr (http://flic.kr/p/eBTxj1)


This image is available for Web publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

The dueling monuments illustrate an ongoing battle over public displays of religion across the country that have gone beyond the annual December dust-ups over creche displays on civic property. Just this year, there have been legal wranglings over Ten Commandment displays in Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and in another Florida county.

  • “Question with boldness even the existence of a god; because, if there be one, he must more approve the homage of reason than that of blindfolded fear.” - Thomas Jefferson

Charles C. Haynes, a First Amendment scholar and director of the Newseum’s Religious Freedom Education Project, says atheists are adopting a new strategy in challenging religion in the public sphere: if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.

“This is a tactic that is becoming more common,” Haynes said. “If we can’t get religious symbols out of public spaces, then we will put ours up to counter them. If the government allows one groups to put up a display, then it must allow others.”

That strategy has been bolstered by Supreme Court rulings that have found private religious expressions on public property do not violate the First Amendment so long as other expressions are equally allowed. In 2005, the court ruled a Ten Commandments monument on the grounds of the Texas state capitol was permitted because it had historical significance, was privately funded and did not promote one religion over others.

  • “It will never be pretended that any person employed in that service [writing the Constitution], had interviews with the gods, or were in any degree under the inspiration of Heaven.” - John Adams

Of course, the strategy can be adopted by any group – religious or non-religious. Will Sexton, an attorney for Bradford County, said that since American Atheists announced their monument last month, the county has received requests for monument applications from several groups, though he did not know if they were religious in nature. So far, no additional monuments have been approved.

Guidelines for privately-funded, public monuments on the Bradford County Courthouse lawn require that the monuments 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.” Both the Ten Commandments and the atheist monument meet those requirements, Sexton said.

The atheist monument – which looks like a backwards, lower-case letter “h” – is engraved with the words of several Founding Fathers, as well as a quotation from the Treaty of Tripoli, signed by President John Adams in 1797. It reads, “The government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion.”

American Atheists president David Silverman will attend the June 29 unveiling. The monument, he said, is his group’s attempt to assert its equality.

“This is not an attack on religion, but rather religion’s monopoly,” he said. “The words on our monument do not deride or mock, but rather they clarify and correct assertions that Christianity has some kind of special place in America over other religious positions. It does not.”

  • “Where a religion is good, I conceive it will support itself; and when it does not support itself, and God does not take care to support it so that its professors are obliged to call for help of the civil power, ‘tis a sign, I apprehend, of its being a bad one.”  - Benjamin Franklin

He added that American Atheists has plans for other monuments in other public places.

“Everywhere a religious monument is displayed, we will attempt to place an equalizer,” Silverman said. “And I would like to encourage all religious groups, sects or cults to follow suit. Everyone has the same rights in America, and those rights are lost if not defended.”

KRE/LEM END WINSTON

[Editor's note: Religion News Service has received support from The Stiefel Freethought Foundation to support its coverage of atheists and other non-theists.]

50 Comments

  1. John Morelock

    In its simplest form isn’t this a monument to something they don’t believe in; a deity they cannot see, feel, or hear, but still believe does not exist?

    Sorry, just wanted to write something that silly in a public place.

    • You are exactly right, John Morelock, and the wisdom of the Framers about that “silly” and extremely dangerous attitude is what prompted them to include the separation of our politics and government from all religion and its churches. They knew their history.

      The mix of churches and government is not just “silly,” it’s downright disruptive and dangerous. We are seeing that again in our time by the current “awakening” of religious extremism on the right as they attempt to impose their religious beliefs into our government.

      It should be no surprise that religion permeates the political right that opposes true democracy in this country and is the base of do-nothingism in our state and federal governments.

      • gilhcan: “Framers … to include the separation of our politics and government from all religion and its churches.”

        Can you cite where in the “Framers” documents it states “separation of church and state”?

        First Amendment reads: “…freedom OF religion,” not freedom FROM religion.

        • Separation of Church and State is implied by that Great Document,my friend.Just because they didn’t use the term,doesn’t mean it’s meaning hasn’t been addressed.Just like the Bible never says the word ”Rapture” doesn’t mean it’s not talked about.And “Satan”or “The Devil” is never once mentioned in Genesis,but,does that mean Genesis isn’t talking about it? Freedom of Religion IS Freedom FROM Religion.Jefferson himself said,”It is not my business whether my neighbor has one God or fifty God’s,or no God at all.” If religious laws govern a free Republic,then we’re not a democracy at all,we’re a theocracy,and that’s what many immigrants came here to escape in our entire history.Look how well theocracy served old Christian Europe and the current Middle East and Modern Israel…they are all travesties against human freedom.Your comments disgust any intelligent person.

      • Christians are taxpayers too. For true separation of church and state, why not propose individual Christians exempt from federal and state taxes to fund government entities such as schools, parks and libraries?

        • Sure,and why not exempt Gays and Lesbians from paying taxes for a military you don’t want them to join…or how about exempting them from paying taxes for schools since you don’t want them to have kids?Christians will pay their fair share if churches start paying taxes.If we let all taxpayers dictate the way everybody lives,then nobody will be free at all.Muslims,Christians,Jews,Athiests,Evolutionists,Ancient Alien Ancestor Theorists…..hmmm…they all pay taxes…if everybody gets to dictate the law to everybody else then nobody is free,you imbicile! You are under the protection of the U.S. Constitution,and you pay taxes like everybody else…EVERYBODY ELSE.Just because you bought a ticket to see a play in a theater,doesn’t mean you get to rewrite the script,change the music,and replace cast members to suit yourself…others bought tickets to this play as well.The founding fathers wrote the script,arranged th music,and hired the actors(branches of Govt.) and we all can sit and enjoy the performance…now,get off the stage,sit down in your seat,and let all the other ticket holders enjoy what they’ve paid for!!! Hypocrite.

    • Mr. Thompson, God will destroy it. Read this. 1 Now the Philistines took the ark of God and brought it from Ebenezer to Ashdod. 2 Then the Philistines took the ark of God and brought it to the house of Dagon and set it by Dagon. 3 When the Ashdodites arose early the next morning, behold, Dagon had fallen on his face to the ground before the ark of the LORD. So they took Dagon and set him in his place again. 4 But when they arose early the next morning, behold, Dagon had fallen on his face to the ground before the ark of the LORD. And the head of Dagon and both the palms of his hands were cut off on the threshold; only the trunk of Dagon was left to him. 5 Therefore neither the priests of Dagon nor all who enter Dagon’s house tread on the threshold of Dagon in Ashdod to this day.

      • You’ve got to be kidding me.Out of all the horror,violence,and Religious blasphemy that God allows people to commit on this planet,you seriously think that our Great Creator is going to send a lightning bolt down to destroy that thing?You make God out to be some kind of immature,all-powerful,insecure,child. You are the one committing blasphemy with your primitive interpretations of God’s mind.I think the monument is offensive to people who don’t believe in letting people make choices for themselves.It’s pisses you off more than it offends God.Christian fanatics will destroy the monument,to God’s embarrassment and to the disappointment of our Noble Non-Christian Founding Fathers.

    • Then you certainly do not know your religion history and how loaded it always was–and is–with discord and violence, including religion. The avoidance of that violence is precisely the reason why the Framers added the First Amendment to our Constitution. The awful contention we continue to witness between extremists in Islam and Christianity, even between branches of Christianity, is caused by a mixing of government and religion. Study your history of religion and churches to cure your blithe, dark attitude.

  2. I’m not affiliated with any religion, but from what I gather one of these monuments describes guidelines for a good life (however flawed they may be). The other monument simply points out to question the basis of the first. Why not engrave great thoughts by Godless people on their instead, instead of just drawing the focus back to religion itself? Seems a contentious thing to me.

    • Emily, one or two of the things on the Atheist monument are calling out the religious monument, but most of it is quotes from the founding fathers and founding documents, which were, on the whole, non-religious.

      • The inclusion of anything of the Founders is irrelevant. In so far as atheism relates to religion, it has no more place on or in public places than the Ten Commandments or anything else of theism. It violates the First Amendment of our Constitution.

    • Dead wrong thinking! There should be nothing, absolutely nothing, pro or con, relating to religion in public places. That’s exactly what the purpose of the First Amendment was all about. The total history of the ugly violence of human rights involved in religion, including Christianity, was the very reason for maintaining a separation between religion and its churches and our politics and government by the First Amendment.

    • ‘Guidelines for a good life?’ Like going to church?

      There ARE some great thoughts’ displayed.(Like Thomas Jefferson’s
      urging us to question God’s existence.)

      The TWO Commandments:

      1. Don’t harm anyone. 2. Be productive.

  3. This is stupid! As long as we non-theists are trying to get this secular nation to follow its Constitution and maintain the required separation between church and state, because of the awful evil that historically resulted from any combination, we should respect the same principle and not be inflicting others with our non-belief. It’s all about religion, and that has absolutely nothing to do with our secular Constitution for our secular governing. It’s constitutionally forbidden!

  4. It is no surprise that this madness is taking place in the South where the illiterate mythology of religion has always caused problems that invade our secular government and civil society.

  5. anyone notice the picture of the flyer in the story says june 29th 3012 99 years away. Does not seem like that big a story to report on it 99 years before it happens. #epic fail

  6. In regards to this quote An atheist believes that a hospital should be built instead of a church. An atheist believes that a deed must be done instead of a prayer said. An atheist strives for involvement in life and not escape into death. He wants disease conquered, poverty banished, war eliminated.” – Madalyn Murray O’Hair The sad part is, that is what a true follower of Christ should want too. Not to run away, but to run into, we should desire to see disease conquered, poverty banished, war eliminated…..the Church if truly following Christ will live these things out in tangible ways, through His power and strength…..

  7. So that is why we have so many Bertrand Russell and Friedrich Nietzsche Memorial Hospitals. All these years Christians and Jews were building churches/Synagogues and Atheist where building hospitals. As far as the monument goes let it be. America is not a Christian country but I thank God for my religious freedoms that allow me to be a Lutheran minister were I hold the hands of the sick in prayer in the local hospitals. I could not do that in North Korea.

  8. The real reason for why you are correct about who builds hospitals, David, is that the Christians have sucked the blood and money out of ignorant people and why the Roman Catholic Church is one of the wealthiest and most powerful organizations in the world. Of course they can build the hospitals with their loose change. They have the money.

    • Gil Gaudia

      I must say your wrong. Christians and Catholic that I’ve seen just put the money in the basket…There’s no sucking nothing. Get your facts straight

      • Ummm…I’m sorry…but churches of all types tell you to tythe(put money in the basket) in order to do your true duty as a Christian….entire sermons are preached on it.Using God’s pleasure at giving and His frowning when you don’t give to manipulate people into giving to a HUMAN ORGANIZATION is “sucking” money in my book.During the ages when the Churches ruled the governments of the Old World,they were ruthless in their drive to control the economy.Once,in Europe,it was illegal for anybody to produce and sell beer except for the Church.Why doesn’t everybody do like the Founding Fathers did and study a little history and human nature….then it’ll become clear why they wanted Freedom….for religion and personal choice. Most sensible Athiests don’t really give a damn about the Ten Commandments being displayed publicly…it’s when Religious Laws are being forced upon the General Public,and the display of the Commandments are giving Religious Groups the false impression that their philosophy is just as strong,deep-rooted,and undeniable as Islam is in Iran….God help us all!!!!

  9. The atheist have not build a monument, but a really cool, simple and the perfect platform so that Christians may Pray and Leave a FREE Bible each day, so others may come and find and read the True Word of God, and so decide on their own what is Truth… and what is not. Atheist will not raise monuments across the US, they will raise pulpits (without knowing) for the Glory of God. Christians should take turns in visiting these monuments, so they may preach to others each and every day. I urge Christians to visit these Great Pulpits build by human hands (as a ministry) to sit around and/or stand and preach the Word of God to curious visitors. Atheist without knowing are building greater platforms for Christians to preach from :) Thank You Jesus, God is Amazing! AMEN!

    • I’m kind of pros of you for having the strength of your convictions, enough to be willing to stand around at a monument all day passing out books. it’s too bad you believe in things without proof, the human rights movements around the world could better use a person of your zeal.

  10. All well and good but this monument placing does nothing to ensure the neutrality of government relative to a position on religion or lack thereof. All references to a supreme being as well as references negating such a concept should be removed from public property. This includes courts, schools, courthouses, libraries, etc.

  11. Would love to debate these guys. Have challenged them before and they are TOO busy to state what they stand for. Let me correct that, what they don’t stand for is what they believe. Can prove the existence of God in less than 2 minutes. No one has ever disagreed!

    • The existence of God is not the issue here,Mr.Mead. I believe in God vehemently…but,I am forced to always side with Athiests when it comes to separation of Church and State(which is in the Constitution,not by name,but by definition). Please do your duty as an American,and defend everybody’s right to decide their own beliefs,and encourage Christians to NOT force their religion down everybody else’s throats by making it mandated by our law.As a Christian,you know Jesus said,”If I be lifted up,I will draw all men unto me.” Let God’s word spread through His light shining through your life….not by regulating Christianity and turning people off to Him…God’s bigger than all of us…He doesn’t need us to protect Him and going ape-shit just because somebody else said something we don’t like.Going crazy because somebody offends our beliefs isn’t a very Christian thing to do…it sounds very Muslim to me.

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