TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - The courtyard outside the Bradford County Courthouse in north Florida will soon become home to a monument to atheism.
This small county has reached a deal to let a national organization install a 1,500-pound granite bench near an existing Ten Commandments monument that prompted a lawsuit after it was installed last year.
The bench will include quotes from Thomas Jefferson, as well as Benjamin Franklin, John Adams and Madalyn Murray O'Hair, the founder of American Atheists.
It will also include a list of Old Testament punishments for violating the Ten Commandments, including death and stoning.
Will Sexton, an attorney representing Bradford County, stressed that the monument will be paid for and maintained by American Atheists.
Sexton said it was being allowed to be placed in a "free speech" area that the county established back in 2011. That's the site of a current monument that features the Ten Commandments.
"The atheists got something they could have had without having to go to the court," Sexton said.
American Atheists sued the county after that monument went up last year and demanded that it be removed. However, the Christian group that paid for the Ten Commandments monument filed its own lawsuit demanding that it remain in place.
Sexton said negotiations resulted in the deal letting the rival monument to be installed in late June.
Dave Muscato, public relations director for American Atheists, told The Gainesville Sun that if religious groups are allowed to have monuments "it's only appropriate that we have matching monuments."
Muscato said Wednesday that the monument in Starke, about 45 miles southwest of Jacksonville, is believed to be the first one dedicated to atheism to be placed on public land in the United States.
Howard Simon, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, said the creation of a second monument dedicated to atheism shows the "silly lengths" that Bradford County must go to justify allowing the Ten Commandments monument. The ACLU filed a lawsuit to remove a monument in Dixie County but dropped it earlier this year.
"It's apparently the price the Bradford County Commission has to pay to have its religious monument," Simon said.
Sexton asserted that other groups could not put up purely religious monuments in the area near the courthouse. County guidelines require that the monuments must include the commemoration of people, events and ideas which have historical significance for both the United States and Florida.