The Freedom From Religion Foundation sent a complaint letter to the University of Florida in Gainesville on April 13, after receiving a photo of a Bible verse inscribed into a new building on the university’s campus.
The 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. Micah 6:8.” It is etched into an archway on Heavener Hall, which houses the university’s business school.
“This inscription violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment and cannot remain on university property," wrote FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel in the letter.
“The Supreme Court has said time and again that the ‘First Amendment mandates government neutrality between religion and religion, and between religion and non-religion,’” continued Seidel in the letter. “Public schools, as a part of the government, may not promote, endorse or advance any religion.”
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FFRF, a nonprofit organization that works to defend the Constitutional separation of church and state, has more than 22,000 members nationwide, and has gained publicity for lodging complaints with schools and local government bodies for the display of religious texts. This is the first time FFRF has run into this kind of incident with a university.
Seidel also criticized the verse for being “in poor taste,” because it is part of Chapter 6 of the Old Testament book of Micah, which he said endorses child sacrifice and genocide. On the text within the chapter, Seidel said, “God declares that neither animal sacrifice nor human sacrifice will appease him, promises Israel to 'make you ill and destroy you,' and swears to kill infants: 'what you bring to birth I will give to the sword.’”
Janine Sikes, a University of Florida spokeswoman, refused to comment on the letter, but released an email statement saying, “The University of Florida is committed to complying with the laws that apply to public institutions. We are carefully reviewing the letter received late Monday from the Freedom From Religion Foundation.”
Despite the context of the verse, there is still support at University of Florida to keep it on the archway. Jarvis Henderson, one of the founders of and a campus minister at Campus Alive, thinks the verse is a good addition to Heavener Hall.
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“It’s something that’s motivational, inspirational, and it’s probably something that we hear every day and don’t realize it comes from the Bible,” he said. “I wouldn’t even be mad if they put something from the Quran.”
Michael Johns, president of Gator Freethought, an organization at the university that encourages discussion of religion, supports FFRF and is working on a letter to send to University of Florida President Kent Fuchs. Johns wanted to make it clear that FFRF requesting that the verse be removed or covered was not an attack on Christianity.
“We’re simply asking that the university be respectful toward all of their students and abide by these laws that have been established to ensure at public institutions, especially at a university, that you can feel safe and secure and welcome, regardless of your beliefs.”
Image source: Steve Webel / Flickr