America’s First Atheist Monument: A 1,500-Pound Granite Bench

Tuesday, 04 Jun 2013 02:32 PM

By Marti Lotman

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The nation's first atheist monument to be erected on public land is to be unveiled this month in staunchly Christian north Florida.

The monument — a granite bench, engraved with secularist quotes — is to be dedicated June 29 outside the Bradford County Courthouse in Starke. The bench will stand in contrast to a display of the Ten Commandments put up last year on the same patch of land, Time reports.

"We'd rather there be no monuments at all, but if they are allowed to have the Ten Commandments, we will have our own," said monument designer Ken Loukinen, the director of regional operations for American Atheists.

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Last year, Bradford County established a Free Speech Forum outside the courthouse, which permitted private groups to erect monuments at their own expense. Following the ruling, the Community Men’s Fellowship, a local Christian group, placed a 5-foot, 6-ton slab engraved with the Ten Commandments.

American Atheists sued the county, arguing that the Ten Commandments statue violated separation of church and state.

A settlement allowed the Ten Commandments slab to stay and allowed the atheists to put up their own monument, a 1,500-pound granite bench engraved with quotes from prominent secular thinkers such as Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin.

The monument also will include a quote from the Treaty of Tripoli, a 1796 pact between the United States and North African Muslims. The treaty is a seminal document for atheists because of its declaration that "the government of the United States is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion," reports The Huffington Post.

"We have maintained from the beginning that the Ten Commandments doesn't belong on government property," American Atheists President David Silverman said in a news release. "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 atheists' monument will feature Biblical quotes listing harsh punishments for breaking the Ten Commandments. The inclusion is designed "to make it clear that the Ten Commandments are not the 'great moral code' they're often portrayed to be," Dave Muscato, American Atheists public relations director, said.

The Community Men’s Fellowship fundamentally disagrees with the atheists' stance on religion, but it supports their right to express their beliefs freely, spokesman Ken Weaver told the Christian Post.

"God worked this out," the fellowship said in a Facebook statement.

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