- (Photo: Screenshot via WCJB-TV)
A county in Florida has denied the request of a local atheist group to have a public monument erected next to the county courthouse's Ten Commandments monument and veterans memorial.
The Levy County Commission voted unanimously this week to deny a local atheist group, identifying itself as the "Williston Atheists," from erecting an atheist monument at the local Levy County Court House. The commission said that it made its decision based on the fact that the permit application submitted by the group was incomplete.
"… the vote was unanimous to deny the application at this time and that was based on the fact that the application in the opinion of our board was not complete, it did not meet all of the guidelines," County Coordinator Fred Moody told local WCJB-TV.
Members of the Williston Atheists group are arguing that the commission's reason for denying the application is actually an excuse, and in reality they do not want to approve of a monument celebrating atheism. One member of the local group told WCJB-TV that the commission's response is "being used as an excuse to deny it and to placate the majority religious community that opposes it."
Ray Sparrow, organizer of the Williston Atheists group, added to GTN-News that his group wants to be represented in a public forum just like other groups, including religious ones. "The majority of citizens in the community are deeply religious – I understand that, but there are also citizens of this community who are not religious. They choose to be represented in a public forum that is available to all citizens so we choose to be represented too."
It is unclear if the local atheist group will try again to have its monument approved, but John Porgal, director of the North Florida American Atheists group, told GTN-News that it would help review the commission's decision and the atheist group's paperwork and determine how to move forward from there.
Some members of the local Williston Atheists group have vowed to continue fighting for their monument on the group's Meetup.com page. "Application denied as expected. We will not be deterred!" commented one member.
The Williston group was reportedly trying to replicate the American Atheists' success in having an atheist monument, in the form of a 1,500-pound granite bench, installed outside of the Bradford County Courthouse in Florida. The bench included several quotations on the importance of separation of church and state and atheism, and was installed last June next to the courthouse's Ten Commandments monument.