“An atheist believes that a hospital should be built instead of a church. An atheist believes that deed must be done instead of prayer. An atheist strives for involvement in life and not escape into death. He wants disease conquered, poverty banished, war eliminated.”
As a rule, atheists aren’t big on monuments, due to their religious symbolism. But the 4000-member group decided to erect one anyway after it lost a lawsuit in March that would have forced a local Christian group to remove its own monument – two stone tablets engraved with the Ten Commandments – located in the same public square. Once the atheist bench and attached pillar are in place, the two monuments will stand just a few yards apart in the square’s “Free Speech Zone,” where private citizens are allowed to erect displays.
“We don’t want to establish this monument, we feel we need to establish it,” says American Atheists President David Silverman. “If [Christians] are going to have their religious statements made on public land, we’re also going to have our statements made on public land whether they like it or not.” To drive home their opposition to the tablets, the atheist monument will also be engraved with a list of Old Testament punishments for breaking the Ten Commandments, including stoning and death. The point, says Silverman, is to shed light on the “hateful” side of the Bible.
Ironically, some of the most vocal criticism of the new atheist monument comes from other atheists, who are annoyed that the monument references the Ten Commandments at all. Luis Perez of Tampa, Florida commented on the group’s Facebook page: “This isn’t a victory for us, it is a victory for the theists. There should be NO representation of any agenda.” Another commenter, David Lavoie, wrote, “I think getting a monument instead of them taking the commandments down is a failure.”
Twenty percent of the U.S. public say they do not identify with any religion, according to a 2012 Pew Research Center survey. And while the atheist monument has evoked strong reactions, the vast majority of atheists may not care about the monument that much because they are not involved with organized groups in the first place. “They’re not obsessed with fighting religion or arguing about it,” says Phil Zuckerman, a sociology professor at Pitzer College in Claremont, California.