Atheists unveiling monument by Ten Commandments
Atheists installing monument beside Ten Commandments in front of north Florida courthouse
STARKE, Fla. (AP) — If you can't beat 'em, join 'em.
That's what American Atheists decided after challenging the installation of a Ten Commandments monument in front of the Bradford County courthouse.
The New Jersey-based group planned to unveil its own monument to atheism Saturday next to the Ten Commandments monument, and they believe it's the first of its kind to be placed on government property. And the atheist group plans to keep putting them up as long as Christian groups keep putting up Ten Commandments monuments.
"We're not going to let them do it without a counterpoint," said David Silverman, the group's president. "If we do it without a counterpoint it's going to appear very strongly that the government actually endorses one religion over another, or — I should say — religion in general over non-religion."
American Atheists sued to try to have the stone slab with the Ten Commandments removed from the courthouse lawn in this conservative, rural north Florida town best known for the prison that confines death row inmates. The Community Men's Fellowship erected the monument in what's described as a free speech zone. During mediation on the case, the group was told it could have its own monument, too.
So the atheists said OK.
What's being unveiled Saturday is a 1,500-pound granite bench that will include quotes from Thomas Jefferson, as well as Benjamin Franklin, John Adams and Madalyn Murray O'Hair, the founder of American Atheists. It will also include a list of Old Testament punishments for violating the Ten Commandments, including death and stoning.
"Some people think it's an attack simply by us exerting our existence. They put a monument on a public lawn that, if you put it in context, says atheists should be killed," Silverman said. "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."
A call to the group that sponsored the Ten Commandments monument, the Community Men's Fellowship, wasn't returned Friday. But the group gave Facebook updates on the legal battle with the American Atheists and praised the compromise that allowed them to keep their monument.
"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," the group posted.
While Silverman said he believes religion is wrong and teachings in the Bible are violent, he said he welcomes non-Christian religions to follow the atheists' example and put in their own monuments in free-speech zones.
"I will back them because it will be their right," he said. "This is one of the tricks that Christians have used, because they go up and call it a free-speech zone and then they're unopposed. They get their government legitimization because nobody else calls their bluff and puts something in."
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