Religion

Florida County Under Fire For Religious Displays

| by Alexander Rubinstein

Two atheist groups are in the process of suing Levy County, Florida, for displaying the Ten Commandments on government property. The county’s school board has also received complaints from the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

Florida-based Williston Atheists and American Atheist Inc., a group based in New Jersey, have issued complaints in federal court over the Ten Commandments' placement at the county courthouse. They ask the monument be removed, or that the county allows an atheist bench to be placed there as well.

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Williston Atheists says it submitted two applications in the past to put up a monument of private expression, but both applications were rejected. County Attorney Anne Brown would not talk to WCJB on camera because the lawsuit had yet to be served, but said the application did not comply with the county’s guidelines.

One of the rules that prevented the bench’s erection was apparently that a full text must be displayed on any monument. The bench was to feature quotes, reports WCJB.

Ray Sparrow of the Williston Atheists said at the time, “One of the main things is that the monument we wanted placed here did not have complete text to references that we made but if you’ll notice the Ten Commandments monument they have here is not complete in its text.”

The county attorney argued then that the Commandments monument did not require the entire Bible because the U.S. Supreme Court recognizes the Commandments as a secular document used by itself, WCJB reports.

“This isn’t about advancing atheism; this is about neutrality and equality,” said Nick Fish with American Atheists, Inc., of the current lawsuit. “If they insist that a Ten Commandments monument stand there, then we’re going to insist that an atheist monument stand there as well, and we’ll also defend the rights of other religious groups.”

The street on which the courthouse sits also has several churches, and some residents take issue with the lawsuit.

“But what makes them right and makes us wrong?” church member Rosa Conner wondered. “I don’t think we should remove anything from this town. We have to keep what we got and we should just stand up for the Lord."

Also under fire is the Levy County School Board. It received a letter of complaint from FFRF, an advocacy group that works to ensure separation of church and state, claiming constitutional violations.

The letter says the school board is violating the establishment clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution which separates church and state. It says the school holds faculty-lead prayers before meetings as well as other violations, reports The Gainesville Sun.

"The school board is being attacked because they pray in the school board meetings. Also, their teachers have Bible sayings in the classroom or whatever the case is… We certainly stand with our school board,” said Jeff Buchanan, pastor of the First Baptist Church.

The church will hold a prayer meeting on July 30 and has invited state lawmakers to attend.

​Sources: WCJB (2), The Gainesville Sun

Photo Credit: Screenshot via WCJB