The Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) is pushing for the removal of a Bible verse inscription from one of the University of Florida’s buildings, claiming it violates the First Amendment.
In an April 13 letter addressed to the university’s president, W. Kent Fuchs, the organization claimed that the inscription of Micah 6:8 on Heavener Hall "demonstrates a school preference for religion over nonreligion and for Christianity over all other faiths.”
"When a school chooses to display an excerpt from a religious text, it signals to students who hold differing beliefs that they are outsiders, that they are excluded from the campus community,” the FFRF wrote.
The Bible verse in question reads: "He has shown you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”
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The verse is not exclusively Christian, but the FFRF, which works to defend the separation of church and state, still calls it sectarian speech.
Forty-five members of Gator Free Thought and Humanists on Campus, sent a letter to university administrators agreeing with the FFRF, and claimed that the inscription "alienates members of the University of Florida community, such as ourselves, who do not hold the same beliefs.”
The inscription is "unconstitutional and purely sectarian" because it endorses Christianity or Judeo-Christian doctrines, the two student groups argued. The quote should be "replaced by a more secular, encompassing inscription,” the groups also wrote.
The staff attorney with FFRF, Andrew Seidel, who sent the original complaint to president Fuchs, said the students were "standing up for their rights and taking an active interest in upholding the Constitution.”
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FFRF has over 22,000 members across the country, and has a notorious reputation for making complaints against schools and government bodies for displaying religious texts. However, this is the first time the organization has run into this type of problem with a university.
While school officials have yet to respond to the complaint, they are considering legal precedent to determine what laws affect inscriptions like the one on Heavener Hall.
According to The Gainesville Sun, Heavener Hall, which houses the school’s College of Business Administration, was named after James W. Heavener, who has donated millions of dollars to the university and said at the building dedication last November that the verse was a favorite of his.
Amy Hass, the university’s deputy general counsel, said school officials were reviewing the matter, but it would take some time to reach a decision because of school activities and schedules.
Seidel says his group was not in a rush to take legal action, but since the Bible verse inscription is not a monument, those who support it may have a harder time should a lawsuit be filed.
“These things take time, particularly over the summer and when a huge donor is involved,” Seidel told the Gainesville Sun. “I would expect them to do something before school resumes to cut down on any backlash.”