An atheist organization erected what they said would be the first of many "secular monuments" next to what they believe are religious ones in public areas, in this case a bench near a Ten Commandments monument in the Bradford County Courthouse square in Starke, Fla. Friday.
The Florida Times-Union reported that the monument at the courthhouse was part of federal lawsuit settlement involving the group American Atheists along with Starke resident Daniel Cooney
. The atheist organization sued when the county allowed the Community Men’s Fellowship to erect a Ten Commandments monument on the square last year.
As a compromise, the parties agreed the square was a free speech zone, and the atheist group was welcome to create its own monument if it wanted, according to the Florida Times-Union. American Atheists made good on the compromise with a bench engraved with quotes from America's founding fathers and a prominent atheist, the newspaper reported.
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"One look at this historic bench, and atheists will never again be ignored in this public square," EllenBeth Wachs, the founder of Atheists and Humanists of Florida, told a crowd during the monument's dedication on Friday, wrote the Florida Times-Union. The newspaper said she is a plaintiff on another lawsuit in Lakeland, Fla. fighting Christian prayer at commission meetings.
The Associated Press reported that a small group of protesters responded by waving "Honk for Jesus" signs near the dedication
and loudly played Christian country music songs.
"We reject outsiders coming to Florida — especially from outside what we refer to as the Bible Belt — and trying to remake us in their own image," Michael Tubbs, state chairman of the Florida League of the South told the Associated Press. The Florida League was part of the protesting group.
"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."
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Daniel Silverman, president of American Atheists, told the AP that the monument is a free speech issue.
"Some people think it's an attack simply by us exerting our existence," Silverman told AP. "They put a monument on a public lawn that, if you put it in context, says atheists should be killed. It is an attack, but it's an attack on Christian privilege, not an attack on Christians themselves, and not so much an attack on Christianity."
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