Group Builds First-Ever Atheist Monument at Fla. Courthouse; Promises More Sites

An atheist organization has unveiled the first-in-the-nation monument bench at a Florida courthouse, with the added promise of eventually placing other monuments elsewhere in the country.

American Atheists, a New Jersey-based group, erected a 1,500 pound bench with quotes from various historic figures and documents Saturday at the Free Speech Forum outside the Bradford County Courthouse.

Dave Muscato, public relations director for American Atheists, told The Christian Post that the "unveiling and dedication went amazingly well."

"We planned for 100 to 200 attendees and about 300 people attended, despite the rain," said Muscato, who added that there were various protestors at the Saturday event.

"There were seven speeches total, plus an introduction from the County Commissioner, who quoted the Bible several times. ...The installation took approximately an hour and a half."

Muscato also told CP that while American Atheists does not have specific plans for their future monuments, they will likely come in response to any religious displays on government property.

"It is our preference that the religious monuments in these places be removed-it's our position that religious monuments do not belong on government property," said Muscato.

"However, if we are unable to get them removed, we are willing to settle for installing our own monuments adjacent to them. Equality is an all-or-nothing concept: Either no one may place monuments on government property, or anyone can put in a monument."

The Bradford County atheist bench was the product of a settlement reached between the atheist group and county officials over a suit leveled by American Atheists over the presence of a Decalogue display.

Last year, American Atheists filed suit against Bradford County over a six-ton granite monument placed at the courthouse's Free Speech Forum by a local Christian organization called the Community Men's Fellowship. The Ten Commandments display had been privately donated and its construction privately funded.

In the settlement, the Decalogue got to stay so long as American Atheists got to build a monument of their own with private funds. The monument bench came to a cost of $6,000, which was covered by a grant courtesy the Stiefel Freethought Foundation.

Among those present at the event who disagreed with American Atheists' worldview was Eric Hovind, preacher, apologist, and son of controversial creationist proponent Kent Hovind.

Hovind told The Christian Post that he went to the unveiling and dedication event for the purpose of witnessing to the non-theists present.

"The reason I went to the monument dedication was to have an opportunity to speak the truth in love to each atheist there," said Hovind.

"Every person who calls themselves an atheist that I have met does not know if they are right, but I know that I am."

As people were sitting on the bench and getting their photos taken with it, Hovind stood on the monument and began speaking, receiving some heckling from those supportive of the atheist group's message.

When asked by CP about his opinion over the possibility of more atheist monuments being built, Hovind responded that he thought it was "great."

"It's opening up dialogue and providing a place for people to come and reason together. The Christians response should be exactly what the Bible commands: love and respect," said Hovind.

"God loved us when we were unlovable, and those who have experienced His love should share the love of Christ with others."

According to William E. Sexton, counsel for the Board of County Commissioners of Bradford County, at present no other monuments are being considered for the Free Speech Forum.

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