The University of Florida announced this week that it will not be removing an inscribed Bible verse from one of its new campus buildings, even though an out-of-town secularist organization, as well as student groups, have complained that the inscription is a breach of the separation of church and state.
On a double archway that leads to the courtyard of the university's newly built Heavener Hall, the building that houses the institution's Heavener School of Business, is the Bible verse: Micah 6:8. The inscription 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."
The verse was provided by the building's donor James W. Heavener, a Christian business owner who is the CEO of Full Sail University, a University of Florida trustee and a board member of the Tim Tebow Foundation.
But in April, the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation sent a letter to University of Florida President W. Kent Fuchs stating that the verse's etching on a public building is a violation of the Constitution and demanded its immediate removal. The letter cited previous court cases that ruled against governments and schools that put religious statements on buildings.
Additionally, the letter insisted that by putting the Bible verse on a school building, it "offends" the 19 percent of Americans who are non-religious, "the fastest growing sect." The letter added that the percentage of non-religious Americans has increased from 7.5 percent in 1990 to nearly 20 percent in 2015.
"The fact that the building was funded by donations does not cure the constitutional violation," the letter argued. "The Supreme Court has stated, 'just as government-commissioned and government-financed monuments speak for the government, so do privately financed and donated monuments that the government accepts and displays to the public on government land.'"
"The university should be particularly sensitive to this issue since 32 percent of Americans aged 18-29 are nonreligious," the letter continued.
Christian Examiner reports that student groups such as Gator Free Thought and Humanists on Campus also complained about the etching.
On Monday, the school released a statement indicating that it will not remove the verse, but add three quotes from secular sources to create what it is calling an "ethical portal."
"One of the quotes was provided by the building's donor and the school's namesake, James W. Heavener, and is already installed," the statement reads. "Its core universal ethical principles of justice, mercy and humility are from a religious source."
The three new quotes that will be added to the archway come from independent thinkers throughout history — Adam Smith, Aristotle and Thomas Paine.
Two of the quotes will be contributed by a faculty member who teaches ethics.
A statement from the Freedom From Religion Foundation explains that the organization specifically suggested the approved quote from Thomas Paine's 1791 book Rights of Man to be included in the portal: "My country is the world, and my religion is to do good."
"In an ideal world there would be no religion or irreligion inscribed on public university property, but we think this compromise is acceptable, given that the biblical engraving was a fait accompli," FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor said in a statement.
The University of Florida statement assured that it does not desire to advance any religion.
"The school has no interest in advancing or burdening religion; its only interest is educational and relates to the quotes' core universal ethical principles," the statement asserts.