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American Atheists suit against Ten Commandments monument advances

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(RNS) A lawsuit brought by American Atheists seeking the erection of an “atheist monument” near a Ten Commandments display at a Florida county courthouse has gotten the go-ahead from a federal court judge.

American Atheists, a national advocacy organization based in Cranford, N.J., has tried to put a granite, benchlike monument engraved with quotes from famous atheists at the Levy County Courthouse in Bronson, Fla., since 2014. The bench, which features quotes by Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and Madalyn Murray O’Hair, was rejected by Levy County officials on the grounds that none of the quotes were “complete texts.”

American Atheists filed a lawsuit to win placement of the monument on the grounds that the Ten Commandments monument is also not a “complete” text because it does not bear the entire Bible, just the verses from Exodus that contain the Ten Commandments.

The group has successfully challenged Ten Commandment monuments, plaques and markers on public land before. It argues that Ten Commandments markers on public land, such as courthouse lawns, violate the Constitution’s protection against the establishment of a religion. Not allowing the organization to place its own monument nearby denies American Atheists equal protection under the law, the group says.

Judge Mark E. Walker agreed Wednesday (Jan. 27), denying the county’s attempt to have the lawsuit dismissed.

American Atheists erected the first monument to atheism on public land in June 2013 outside the Bradford County Courthouse, about 50 miles northeast of Bronson.

(Kimberly Winston is a national correspondent for RNS)

About the author

Kimberly Winston

Kimberly Winston is a freelance religion reporter based in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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