The Bradford County courthouse in Starke, Florida is getting a new monument. Well, it’s a bench, actually. A bench engraved with atheistic quotes. It will be the very first atheist monument on government property. This is, as Joe Biden would say, a big effing deal.
The courthouse already has one monument: a six-ton stone slab bearing the Ten Commandments. That monument was paid for by a Christian Men’s Fellowship group. The American Atheists filed a lawsuit last year to have it removed, claiming that it violated the First Amendment. The atheist group was able to reach a settlement with the county – this new stone bench.
American Atheists President David Silverman said in a news release:
“We have maintained from the beginning that the Ten Commandments doesn’t belong on government property. 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 unveiling will take place on June 29 at noon, marking a milestone in the history of American free speech. While there are many courthouses in the country that boast some kind of Ten Commandments monument, there are none – indeed, no government building of any kind – that have a monument representative of any other religious or non-religious groups. But this is America and our First Amendment enshrines both freedom of (and from) religion and freedom of speech. For this reason alone, the American Atheists’ monument will be groundbreaking.
As for the Community Men’s Fellowship, they are taking it very well. On their Facebook page, they wrote:
“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. As for us, we will continue to honor the Lord and that’s what matters.”
Now that’s what I call gracious. Their page is public so, if you feel so moved, you can go leave a message thanking them for being both Christian and American. I did.
As for what will be on the atheist monument, The American Atheists’ press release tells us that an excerpt from the Treaty of Triploi will figure prominently. That paper, which was written by then-president John Adams includes the statement:
“The United States is in no sense founded on the Christian religion”
There are also quotes from Thomas Jefferson, Madalyn Murray O’Hair, Benjamin Franklin and even a few excerpts from the Bible. Those will quote biblical punishments for breaking the Ten Commandments. An interesting choice.
Many commenters on both the Facebook page and the press release page have expressed concerns that the bench will be defaced, covered with graffiti or otherwise damaged. One person even suggested a camera be placed nearby to make it easier to catch anyone who does such a thing. Another expressed the sentiment that it would be nice if other religions could place monuments as well. That certainly would be a wonderful picture of interfaith (and non-faith) harmony. As we say in my faith, “So Mote It Be.”