A Florida county has agreed to allow an atheist organization to erect a monument to its godless religion. In a major concession to a Ten Commandments monument that graces the courthouse lawn at Bradford County, Florida's, county seat in the community of Starke, county officials will allow the group American Atheists to erect a 1,500-pound granite bench engraved with quotations from the group's founder, Madalyn Murray O’Hair, along with pithy secular-flavored sayings from Founding Fathers Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin. The bench, which is scheduled to be dropped at the courthouse June 29, will share prominence with the Judeo-Christian monument, which was placed at the courthouse in May 2012 through the efforts of the local Community Men's Fellowship.
After the $22,000 Ten Commandments display, paid for by a local businessman, was erected on the courthouse property, the atheist group promptly sued to have it removed. But when the men's Christian group decided, after “prayerful” consideration, not to move the monument and filed its own suit to prevent the display from being forcibly displaced, the county decided, rather than press the issue, to simply allow the atheists to put up their own display.
The American Atheists grudgingly agreed to the compromise, with the group's president, David Silverman, commenting: “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.”
Will Sexton, an attorney for the county, explained that neither the religious monument nor the atheist display implies that the county is either establishing a religion or denying one. In fact, he noted, the atheists had the opportunity all along to erect their own display. “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 recalled. “What the atheists agreed to is something they could have originally been approved for without a year of money and litigation.”
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