American Atheists will unveil the nation’s first atheist monument on government property this month at the Bradford County Courthouse in Florida.
The monument is a 1,500-pound granite bench engraved with secular quotes from Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and others. It will be situated across from a six-ton, five-foot high monument of the Ten Commandments that was gifted to the courthouse in 2012 by a local Christian organization called the Community Men's Fellowship.
The atheist monument was part of a settlement with Bradford County, which was sued over the Ten Commandments display.
"Bradford County agreed to a settlement with us, allowing us to place our own monument adjacent to the Ten Commandments monument instead of removing the latter," American Atheists public relations director Dave Muscato said.
Both sit on public property called the Free Speech Forum, which was established in 2011 "so as to allow private groups to place monuments there.” Tax dollars were not used to construct either monument – the American Atheists funded the project through a grant from the Stiefel Freethought Foundation.
"While separation of religion and government is always our primary motivation, equal access in this case works for us. We are thrilled to place what we believe to be the first ever atheist-sponsored monument on government property in the history of the United States."
A recent Pew Forum study found 13 million self-described atheists and agnostics, nearly 6 percent of the population, in the U.S.
“The monument emphasizes the role secularism has played in American history,” said Muscato. “And the Bible quotes make it clear that the Ten Commandments are not the ‘great moral code’ they’re often portrayed to be. Don’t kill, don’t steal? Of course. But worship only the Judeo-Christian god? That conflicts overtly with the very first right in the Bill of Rights, freedom of religion.”