Judge Says Atheists May Continue Legal Challenge to Christian Monument Outside Florida Courthouse

In February of 2014, I posted about how the Williston Atheists (in Florida) wanted to erect a pro-atheist monument outside the Levy County Courthouse where there was already a Ten Commandments monument (on the right in the image below):

The atheist group was modeling its efforts after what American Atheists did outside the Bradford County Courthouse in northern Florida where they installed a bench with atheist quotations to counter a Christian monument nearby:

AA President Dave Silverman sits on the bench (via @AmericanAtheist)

But when they presented their idea to the Levy County Commissioners, the officials voted unanimously to reject the atheists’ proposal, saying the application wasn’t complete. At the time, the atheists said this was a foregone conclusion before the meeting even started. They were never given a chance to address the concerns, and the reasons for rejection were drawn up before the atheists had even made their formal presentation. That said, an incomplete application is an incomplete application.

So a couple of months later, that April, they tried again with a proper application. Guess what? They were rejected yet again.

This time, officials told them that the (completely) arbitrary guidelines required all monuments to have the “entire” text on them. So no quotations allowed. And wouldn’t you know it? The proposed atheist bench was full of quotations…

Though think about that for a moment. What’s the Ten Commandments if not an excerpt from a larger text? That’s what the atheists wanted to know.

the county attorney says that the ten commandments don’t have to have the whole bible printed… because the supreme court has recognized the commandments as a secular document used on its own.

Even if that’s true, it went against the County’s own guidelines:

A monument or display shall include the reproduction of the entire text or image of any document or person(s), or entirety of any item that played a significant role in the development, origins or foundations of American or Florida law, or Levy County

On that basis, the Ten Commandments had no business there. There’s no way you can argue that not worshipping false idols, not working on the Sabbath, not taking God’s name in vain, and not having other gods before God have anything to do with our legal system. (While we’re at it, dishonoring your parents, committing adultery, lying to your neighbor, and coveting anything weren’t illegal either.)

It seemed pretty obvious that County officials were doing anything they could to prevent atheists from erecting anything on their property while allowing the Ten Commandments monument to stay in place, even if it meant creating rules that made no sense.

Last June, more than a year after all of this went down, atheists filed a federal lawsuit against Levy County.

Charles Ray Sparrow, leader of the Williston group, and American Atheists say that the Ten Commandments monument violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment:

The Display is religious in nature, has a primary purpose of advancing religion, and is not part of any broader exhibit, historical or otherwise. It stands alone.

If the Christian display could stay up, then they wanted to counter it.

The County asked a judge to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing that the plaintiffs had no legal standing and their claims were “meritless.”

Yesterday, however, Judge Mark E. Walker gave the lawsuit a green light to proceed, dismissing the County’s arguments.

It’s not a victory for the atheists yet, but it means the case will be decided on its merits, not ignored on some technicality. And the facts seem overwhelmingly in the atheists’ favor.

According to a press release from AA:

“This is all about equality,” said American Atheists National Legal Director Amanda Knief. “Levy County can choose to remain neutral when it comes to religion and remove the Ten Commandments monument or they must allow other groups to place similar monuments. It’s that simple.”

We’ll keep following this story.

(Large portions of this article have been posted before.)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.


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