On June 29, the American Atheists will unveil the United States of America's first monument to atheism on government property at the Bradford County Courthouse in Florida — a 1,500-pound granite bench engraved with atheist quotations from Thomas Jefferson, Madalyn Murray O'Hair, Benjamin Franklin, and others who have paved the foundation for American secular society.
The monument is in response to a six-ton, five-foot-tall monument of the Ten Commandments that was gifted to the courthouse last year — and is prominently displaced on public land. Although the American Atheists filed a lawsuit claiming that the $22,000, privately funded structure had no place on government property and staged several protests, the county officials still refused to remove the monument. Now, the group has decided to counter the structure by erecting its own monument.
"We have maintained from the beginning that the Ten Commandments does not belong on government property," said American Atheists President David Silvermann. "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."
Although public buildings like the Bradford County Courthouse in the United States frequently feature Ten Commandments monuments, other faiths and non-faiths are almost never represented. Bradford County Courthouse's monument is not the first monument to be the subject of a lawsuit. A similar lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) against a Ten Commandments monument at the Dixie County Courthouse in Florida was dismissed earlier this year. Even though a federal judge ruled that the monument was in direct violation of the First Amendment, the people of Dixie County still rallied, saying that as "god-fearing" people they wouldn't let anyone do anything with the monument. The county appealed the ruling and it stayed.
However, despite the rallies of "god-fearing" people and the rise of conservative politicians whose campaigns highlight their Christian backgrounds, atheism is on the rise in the United States. According to a recent study from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, there are 13 million self-described atheists and agnostics (nearly 6% of the population) in the United States. Additionally the study finds that for the first time in history, the United States does not have a Protestant majority. Could the American Atheists' symbolic bench at the Bradford County Courthouse be a bellwether for the changing tide of religion — or at least the accurate representation of atheism — in the United States?