The organization American Atheists is constructing what they say is the first Atheist monument on public property at the Bradford County Courthouse in Starke.
Last year, a Christian group called Community Men’s Fellowship erected a five-foot tall depiction of the Ten Commandments outside the courthouse.
Then American Atheists, along with Daniel Cooney who lives in Starke, sued Bradford County saying it endorsed a religion. American Atheists is a national 501(c)(3) that focuses on atheist civil rights and the separation of church and state.
Bradford County considered American Atheists’ case, and asked Community Men’s Fellowship to take down the six ton monument, but they refused.
Community Men’s Fellowship threatened legal action if the monument was removed citing that would hinder free speech.
At this point, the county was facing a legal action both if the monument remained or if it was removed.
Dave Muscato, head of Public Relations at American Atheists says through court-ordered mediation all parties were able to reach a conclusion everyone could get behind.
The decision was to grant permission to American Atheists to place a monument nearby in the courthouse square.
“Ultimately our mission is absolute separation of religion and government — ideally we would like to see no religious monuments,” Muscato said. “But if the Christian monument is going to remain on public property then it’s only appropriate that we have a monument there as well.”
Bradford County, home to about 63,000 people, established a free speech zone in 2011. The zone was intended to be a place where groups could place privately funded monuments.
Representatives for Community Men’s Fellowship did not return calls from WJCT, but did have a statement on their Facebook page. The group thanked supporters and urged them to be accepting of the atheist monument.
The unveiling is set to take place June 29th in Starke. American Atheists President David Silverman is set to deliver the dedication.
“We have maintained from the beginning that the Ten Commandments doesn’t belong on government property,” said Silverman in a statement. “There is no secular purpose for the monument whatsoever and it makes atheists feel like second-class citizens.”
The monument will feature quotes from Thomas Jefferson, Madalyn Murray O’Hair, Benjamin Franklin and others.
Muscato says the monument “emphasizes the role secularism has played in American history.”