The first United States public monument dedicated to atheism will be revealed later this month outside a Florida courthouse: an uninspiring granite bench engraved with secularist quotes.
American Atheists chose to erect the 1,500-pound bench in response to the Ten Commandments slab built by the Community Men’s Fellowship, a local Christian group. The Ten Commandments monument stands outside the courthouse in Starke, Fla., which established a “Free Speech Forum” to allow private groups to erect monuments at their own expenses. However, the American Atheists sued the county, claiming the Fellowship’s monument was violating the separation of church and state. The Fellowship refused to take down the slab, and after court-ordered mediation, the American Atheists agreed to erect the bench as a compromise.
American Atheists president David Silverman stated in a press release: “We have maintained from the beginning that the Ten Commandments doesn’t belong on government property. 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.”
Tucker Carlson, founder of the Daily Caller, commented on the bench on a Sunday “Fox & Friends” segment. “I thought atheists—and atheism, of course, is a species of religion—were against religious monuments on public property.”
The quotes on the bench will feature individuals like Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and American Atheists founder Madalyn Murray O’Hair. It will also display quotes that relate to the Ten Commandments, including excerpts from the Bible that dictate punishments such as execution. These jabs are to “make it clear that the Ten Commandments are not the ‘great moral code’ they’re portrayed to be,” according to American Atheists public relations director Dave Muscato.
Perhaps the American Atheists didn’t entirely think through their choice in using quotes from the likes of Benjamin Franklin. As a deist, Franklin did not believe that religion was absolutely necessary to live a moral life. However, he certainly believed in the supremacy of God. In a letter to Ezra Stiles, president of Yale College, Franklin wrote, “I believe in one God, the Creator of the Universe. That He governs it by His Providence. That he ought to be worshipped.”
The bench also brings to mind George Weigel’s The Cube and the Cathedral: Europe, America, and Politics Without God, in which he describes the La Grande Arche de la Défense, a glass and marble cube that holds the International Foundation for Human Rights, as a “stunning, rational, angular, geometrically precise but essentiallly featureless cube.” The “cube” represents Europe’s desertion of its Christian principles and the resulting demographic, cultural, and political problems. The bench, also with no outstanding features, will mark rising secularism within American society.
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