The first atheist monument on government property in America was unveiled earlier this week in front of a courthouse in rural Florida, and a creationist preacher would be glad to see more like it pop up.
As a small group of protesters blasted Christian country music and waved “Honk for Jesus” signs, the atheists celebrated what they believe is the first atheist monument allowed on government property in the United States. …
About 200 people attended the unveiling. Most were supportive, though there were protesters, including a group from Florida League of the South that had signs that said “Yankees Go Home.”
How the monument—a bench attached to a granite pillar inscribed with quotes from Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and Madalyn Murray O’Hair, the founder of American Atheists—came to be there, echoes other cases where non-believers have used an “us too!” tactic when challenging religious displays.
The Ten Commandments statue was installed in 2005 by a local Christian group called Community Men’s Fellowship. A local named Daniel Cooney enlisted the help of American Atheists, a ” friend with a big stick,” as he put it, to challenge it. According to a settlement agreement between Florida’s Bradford County and American Atheists, the area is a free speech zone, so any group may post a display.
This isn’t the first time a challenge to a religious display has brought not removal but counter-display, opening something of a Pandora’s box.
When a Pennsylvania school district allowed the Ten Commandments to be posted in school libraries, they were soon joined by the Wiccan “Cycle of the Goddess,” a history of gay rights, the Baha’i “Golden Rule,” and a pamphlet on atheism.
This summer, American Atheists questioned the presence of Gideon’s Bibles at a Georgia state park cabin. Gov. Nathan Deal defended their “firm legal footing” thus:
“These Bibles are donated by outside groups, not paid for by the state, and I do not believe that a Bible in a bedside table drawer constitutes a state establishment of religion…In fact, any group is free to donate literature.”
As in the Florida free speech zone, the group took Deal at his word, and is currently collecting atheist materials such as God is Not Great and Why I am Not a Muslim to donate.
American Atheists admits that if they could, they would have no monuments at the courthouse rather than many, no books in the cabins rather than a whole library. The “me too” tactic is meant merely to push back against a defense of public displays of religion solely on free expression grounds.
Whether this tactic represents a temporary tactic or long-term trend, it’s certainly creating some interesting scenes along the way. And while the Southern League’s antics are more likely to attract national attention, hopefully more people will follow the example of Community Men’s Fellowship, who wrote:
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.