To the atheists behind the Florida monument: Welcome to the public square!

Planned Monument to Atheism Will Rise at Florida Courthouse As the old saying goes, what’s sauce for the goose is … Continued

Planned Monument to Atheism Will Rise at Florida Courthouse

As the old saying goes, what’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. And now people entering the Bradford County Courthouse in Starke, Fla., will be able to have a gander at both a monument featuring the Ten Commandments and another one which will feature quotes celebrating secularism as well. And why not?

Having lost the battle to have the original monument to the Ten Commandments removed, the national organization, American Atheists, has decided that it will simply erect an additional monument one which celebrates its animating ideology. The decision to build a monument to secularism signals that they now are willing to compete in a “game” which they previously argued should not be played at all.

Some will argue that this is a hypocritical move on the part of an organization which for years has argued that public grounds should be as neutral as possible. Some will make that argument, but they would be wrong. Instead, the decision to build the new monument represents a new, and more mature approach to how we use public space.

Rather than spend more effort on seeing how empty we can make the American public square, we need to see how expansive and inclusive it can become. No, this is not an argument for an “anything goes” approach, but it is an invitation to change the initial response, especially from atheists, secularists, and more rigid legal liberals, to the issue of what symbols and celebrations can find a legitimate spot in American public life.

Rather than beginning with the premise that less is more, and that our collective freedom is best protected when more of our identity is left at home and in private, we can shift to a “more is more” response, and cultivate a culture in which all of our freedoms are best protected when we can celebrate who we are as openly as possible. To be clear, this attitude will frustrate many cultural conservatives when it is applied to a whole range of social and sexual issues, but that is for another time.

In the meantime, the existence of these two monuments should not been seen as in competition with each other, even though some, including many of those who supported erecting them, undoubtedly see it that way. The presence of these two monuments, side by side, should be seen instead as complementing each other.

This is a moment that some will frame as “either/or,” when in fact, it is really about “both/and.” Each monument celebrates a piece of what has made, and continues to make America great. Each honors ideas without which we would be the poorer, and leaders whose leadership has enriched this nation. While either monument alone could be construed as problematic, taken together, they are a gift to the people of Bradford County, and actually, to the rest of us as well.

Brad Hirschfield
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  • di89

    Since the people who want to put up Christian items (and who raise money for their legal bills by saying taking them down is an attack on Christianity) usually argue in court that it’s not promoting religion or Christianity per se, but rather promoting our cultural heritage, they should have absolutely no problem when another group wishes to put up monuments with other parts of our cultural heritage.

  • jarandeh

    Mt. Hirschfield-

    A front yard is public space. A storefront is public space. An end zone Tim Tebow prays in is a public space. This column and the comments section are public spaces.

    Court property is CIVIC space. I’m all for public displays and exchanges of ideas in public. But purely religious ideas/symbols have NO place in the civic realm.

    Sure, you could take the ‘all’ approach instead of the ‘nothing’ approach, in order to avoid establishment issues. With that in mind, let’s get a big crescent and minaret out there. And a star of David. And a pentagram or upside-down cross. And a big scary Satan. And a Shiva. And a Buddha. And *whatever* ANYONE else wants . . .

    Or we could just keep religion – ALL religion – out of the civic realm, and leave the Courthouse free of all symbols that do not pertain directly to our government and laws.

  • slowe111

    Though I applaud the publicity this bench will get and the awareness it raises I think this solution – all religions/philosophies are allowed on public/civil property – will fail and be discordant in the long run. Firstly, Christians, as a group have LOTS more money to pay for monuments and will gladly do so to establish their primacy and connection with or shared civic institutions. Secondly, this will be a great waste of funds for all religions – buying all these monuments to place in front of all or many government buildings. This money could be spent in so many better ways. Thirdly, it demeans religious minorities, because they may not have the funds or members to mount an effort for themselves and will thus be marginalized when they should be treated equally per our American traditions. Monument placing in public/civic spaces is a kind of bullying by the majority. Fourthly, it violates the spirit and the benefits of the principle of separation of church and state. These entanglements between different religious groups, and the state government – a secular institution – will degenerate into many local disputes, and engender bad feelings all around. It is a degradation of our common, shared societal goal; liberty and justice for all. No favoritism for any. I regret that the justice system has failed to make a stand for keeping religious monuments out of our shared civil space and institutions. This is a slippery slope into favored status for the religion of the rich and majority. This is un-American and wrong direction.

  • brianmark

    Not one atheist has said that public parks should be totally empty, and no one has said “less is more.”

  • Rongoklunk

    This is wonderful. One small step for atheism – one giant step for commonsense. We are gaining on the superstitionists. Each year religion gets a little bit feebler while science continues to dominate almost everything; especially how we see the world – how we understand the world and the cosmos. And the more we actually know – the less we look to the church for guidance of any kind. In his book “The Magic of Reality” Richard Dawkins does a wonderful job of explaining what reality is, and why magic and superstitions and god-belief have nothing to do with reality. It is a joy to read, and as Dawkins says – the very fact that there is no God makes us humans and the whole of existence and the infinite cosmos even more amazing and mysterious than it does with this Walt Disney God floating around in the clouds. It is so infantile.

  • AgentFoxMulder

    At last a little sanity on this issue.

  • jyl1st

    Are the entranceways to Metro public spaces? Could the advertising banners placed there also be sold to government and placed in courthouses? Doing so would raise needed revenues for the government AND it would be a “both/and” approach to public expressions – it would represent the corporate point of view. You could allow NGOs and citizens (adults and school children) to post their banners too for free. Once all Courthouse wall space becomes full you could establish a rotation policy so that one organization would no longer have a hold on the “both/and” monopoly on public expression. You could invite urban artists to include urban art graffiti. The possibilities are endless…

  • Hildy J

    It would be nice if they put the quote which is on the Jefferson Memorial into context:

    “The constitution, which, while it secured the freedom of the press, covered also the freedom of religion, had given to the clergy a very favorite hope of obtaining an establishment of a particular form of Christianity thro’ the U. S. … They believe that any portion of power confided to me, will be exerted in opposition to their schemes. And they believe rightly; for I have sworn upon the altar of god, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.” Thomas Jefferson, 1800

    Or, if they are going for pithy:

    “Christianity neither is, nor ever was, a part of the common law.” Thomas Jefferson, 1763

  • vijayk

    My 1st thought is to attempt to defend my Faith in Lord God Almighty. But I can’t. I know whom I believe and I am convinced that He is able to guard for me what i entrust to Him. The Lord God Almighty is Love, is Good. His ways are Good. Of the 10 commandments listed on the monument is there even one that is not good? God does not ask us to build monuments in His name, He does not ask us to Lord over anyone or anything. He only asks us to Love Him, Love my neighbor, Obey His instruction. We reap what we sow.

  • Rongoklunk

    “The day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the Supreme Being as his father, in the womb of a virgin, will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter.”
    Thomas Jefferson in a letter to John Adams.

  • Hildy J

    Actually the problem is clear in the commandments:

    “I the LORD your God am a jealous God,visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me”

    Almost all religions set themselves up as us versus the world and the three religions of “the book” are all very clear about this (and, of course, include the other two religions among the rest of the false ones).

    When your god was berating the Israelite army for sparing the Midianite women and boys; and ordering them to go back and slaughter them all; and telling them to take the virgin girls as slaves; and telling them to give a share of their sex slaves to his priests; where was the love?

  • Rongoklunk

    Jefferson could be right. Atheism is growing in leaps and bounds because of better education. Jesus is already a character of mythology despite his ‘possible’ existence. Even if he did exist, he wasn’t who they say he was. He was just as mortal as the rest of us. Commonsense can at least tell us that much. Nobody dies and flies off into the heavens, and nobody walks on water either. We have to face reality.

  • jarandeh

    Or Judges 19:24 – 29.

    Gang rape? Torture? Dismemberment?

    No thanks . . . I prefer civilization.

  • Hildy J

    “To talk of immaterial existences is to talk of nothings. To say that the human soul, angels, god, are immaterial, is to say they are nothings, or that there is no god, no angels, no soul.” Also TJ to JA a few years before.

  • Rongoklunk

    I am sure that had I been raised as you were I would believe in god too.

    And had I been raised in a Muslim community with Muslim parents I would believe in Allah.
    And had I been raised by Hindus in India, then today I would almost certainly believe in Vishnu or Brahma. How can we not see this interesting truth. Like Robots we HAVE to believe whatever we were raised to believe. In effect we have no choice. Not too many people overcome this problem. And the church and the mosque know this only too well. Get them while they’re young and you’ve got them for life. Real education, knowledge and science can eventually overcome this supernaturalism. But it ain’t easy. There’s a lot of money to be made in snake-oil.

  • vijayk

    Well to all above, Thank you for encouraging me to read the Bible today.. Let’ keep it all in context. Re Hildy, the key phrase in you reference “to those who hate me” which indicates a choice. I suppose one could hate God and i suppose as Rongo addresses above we are accountable for those we raise. But you left off the other choice in the commandment that that does relate to LOVE ” but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.” If you are referring to the passage in Numbers 31 I do see where 32,000 virgins were taken and given to men I do not see where God told them to they were to be sex slaves. Thar may have been man’s choice. Rongo I strongly agree with you that much of what we see in religion today is about POWER, MONEY & snake oil and that will always be the case as long as mankind attempts to govern himself, rule himself because we always think about “self”, Jarandeh what you described in Judges was not God but man. Civilization hasn’t changed much over the last several thousand years has it. God is LOVE. If we confess our sins He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse of all unrighteousness. This ain’t all there is folks, what we are experiencing today is a mere vapor compared to eternity. Midianite, Amalekite, Israelite, Americanite will all have an opportunity to repent and proclaim Him as GOD.
    The opposite of ignorance is Obedience, It’s not what we know it’s what we do with what we know.

  • vijayk

    Hildy have you looked at Jefferson comments regarding “common law” and to what he was speaking of? It is not a statement of diminishing Christianity but an implication on those at the time that were picking out the parts of the Law of Moses and using it to benefit or profit them. Taking quotes out of context is a dangerous as again is the case as you quote TJ again above in his discussion with JA regarding ‘immaterial”. It is an implication on those that would that equate god as immaterial. Please read the complete passage. “When he who denies to the Creator the power of endowing matter with the mode of action called thinking shall shew how he could endow the Sun with the mode of action called attraction, which reins the planets in the tract of their orbits, or how an absence of matter can have a will, and, by that will, put matter into motion, then the materialist may be lawfully required to explain the process by which matter exercises the faculty of thinking. When once we quit the basis of sensation, all is in the wind. To talk of immaterial existences is to talk of nothings. To say that the human soul, angels, god, are immaterial, is to say they are nothings, or that there is no god, no angels, no soul. I cannot reason otherwise: but I believe I am supported in my creed of materialism by Locke, Tracy, and Stewart.”

  • itsthedax

    The preferable solution would be to not have religious displays on publicly-funded property. Failing that, equal opportunity for displays is the best alternative.

    In either case, the funds would have been better spent on a worthy charity.

  • 3vandrum

    “rather they clarify and correct assertions that Christianity has some kind of special place in America over other religious positions. It does not.”
    I do not agree, this is a Christian country, majority are Christians and believers but I agree that the number of “non believers” is growing in this country just like Europe. Majority of non believers are agnostics or do not believe in any established monotheistic religions. If you do not believe in a God or soul that does not make you an atheist, you may be a Buddhist. Atheists should give up the label ” athiests” , it sounds like “non astrologers”. Use the term “nones” instead of atheists.
    Only between 1.5 and 4 percent of Americans admit to so-called “hard atheism,” the conviction that no higher power exists. But a much larger share of the American public (19 percent) spurns organized religion in favor of a nondefined skepticism about faith. This group, sometimes collectively labeled the “Nones,” is growing faster than any religious faith in the U.S. The Florida monument should be for the “nones”

  • persiflage

    It’s unfortunate that belief defines unbelief in this case, but polarities seems to represent a preeminant law of nature. It’s similar to the Buddhist observation – without emptiness, nothing could exist.

    So it goes with religion vs non-religion.

  • persiflage

    ‘Midianite, Amalekite, Israelite, Americanite will all have an opportunity to repent and proclaim Him as GOD. The opposite of ignorance is Obedience, It’s not what we know it’s what we do with what we know’

    What this does is point to the authoritarian nature of much religious belief – and steeped in the fictions of ancient tribal history at that. All this talk of eternity is beyond ludicrous – humans can barely remember the details of their childhood, much less conceptualize what eternity might be like. The imagination is able to operate without boundaries, logical limits or actual first-hand experience when it comes to the realm of the supernatural – or the vast universe of science fiction.

  • persiflage

    ‘If you do not believe in a God or soul that does not make you an atheist, you may be a Buddhist.’

    Buddhists are atheists that follow a particular set of precepts…..rather than splitting hairs, call it a nontheistic religion. The idea of the soul is a murky one …… although it is believed that humans continue re-appearing in a very long cascade of lives until a state of full enlightenment is reached. It is true that virtually all religions subscribe to some kind of after life – whether it be one or many.

    I suspect that atheists in the USA without any religious affinity or metaphysical philosophy whatsoever still exceed 5% by a wide margin……..

  • vijayk

    Old Tommy J. seems to be getting quoted quite a bit here out of context so I thought I would share a little more of his thoughts in context:
    The truth is that the greatest enemies to the doctrines of Jesus are those calling themselves the expositors of them, who have perverted them for the structure of a system of fancy absolutely incomprehensible, and without any foundation in his genuine words. And the day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the supreme being as his father in the womb of a virgin will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter. But we may hope that the dawn of reason and freedom of thought in these United States will do away with all this artificial scaffolding, and restore to us the primitive and genuine doctrines of this the most venerated reformer of human errors.

    So much for your quotation of Calvin’s `mon dieu! jusqu’a quand’ in which, when addressed to the God of Jesus, and our God, I join you cordially, and await his time and will with more readiness than reluctance. May we meet there again, in Congress, with our ancient Colleagues, and receive with them the seal of approbation `Well done, good and faithful servants.’

  • mustang4me

    From the movie “War Games”: The only way to win is not to play the game.