A group of atheists has proudly installed the nation’s first public monument to a nonbelief in God allowed on U.S. government property.
The stone bench sits alongside a granite slab that lists the Ten Commandments in front of the Bradford County courthouse in Starke, Florida and was unveiled on June 29.
Given the number of U.S. atheists, this move is not so surprising: a report from the Pew Research Center last year revealed that the number of Americans who do not identify with any religion continues to grow at a rapid pace. One-fifth of the U.S. public – and a third of adults under 30 – are religiously unaffiliated today.
The two monuments are side-by-side because American Atheists sued to try to have the six-ton statue of the Ten Commandments removed from the courthouse lawn in Starke, a small town in northern Florida. The Community Men’s Fellowship erected the monument in what is described as a free-speech zone. During mediation on the case, the atheist group was told that the Old Testament slab had to stay, but that it could have its own monument, too.
Separation Of Church And State
The United States was founded on the idea of separation of church and state, but many people still maintain that the country is a Christian nation, founded on Biblical principles. The fight between the two sides continues; most recently, in Georgia, a bill was passed last year allowing the Ten Commandments to be displayed in all Georgia government buildings, including schools.
So the battle is on, and American Atheists are not stopping at one. With the help of an anonymous donor who will foot the bill, the group has vowed to erect 50 more such monuments around the country on public sites where the Ten Commandments now stand alone.
There are in fact hundreds of Ten Commandments monuments and plaques across the U.S., many erected in the 1950s and ’60s by the Fraternal Order of Eagles, a charitable group based in Grove City, Ohio.
What Does An Atheist Monument Look Like?
The 1,500-pound granite structure is a functional bench, with several messages engraved on it. These include a breakdown of the punishments for violations of each of the Ten Commandments, mostly death and stoning.
There are also other quotes, including these:
“‘… the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion …’ Article II, Treaty of Tripoli. The treaty as sent to the U.S. Senate, where it was read aloud in its entirety and approved unanimously. President John Adams signed it and proclaimed it to the nation on June 10, 1797.”
“When a religion is good, I conceive that it will support itself; and when it can not support itself and God does not take care to support, so that its professors are obliged to call for the help of the civil power, it is a sign, I apprehend, of it’s being a bad one.” – Benjamin Franklin, Letter to Richard Price, October 1780
The Washington Post reports on how the citizens of Starke responded to the new monument:
About 200 people attended the unveiling. Most were supportive, although there were protesters, including a group from the Florida League of the South that had signs that said, “Yankees Go Home.”
“We reject outsiders coming to Florida . . . and trying to remake us in their own image,” said Michael Tubbs, state chairman of the Florida League of the South. “We do feel like it’s a stick in the eye to the Christian people of Florida to have these outsiders come down here with their money and their leadership and promote their outside values here.”
However, the group that put up the Ten Commandments statue posted this on Facebook:
“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.”
Photo Credit: istock