University of Florida Building with Biblical Inscription Will Soon Have Atheist’s Quotation, Too October 12, 2015

University of Florida Building with Biblical Inscription Will Soon Have Atheist’s Quotation, Too

Earlier this year, I wrote about how the University of Florida (in Gainesville) had opened up a new building — Heavener Hall — for business education that greeted students with a Bible verse:

He has showed you, O man, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and love mercy and to walk humbly with your God
Micah 6:8

That’s not inspiration derived from the Bible. That verse specifically promotes the Christian faith. So why was it at a public school? The Freedom From Religion Foundation sent the school a letter pointing out the Establishment Clause violation:

“The First Amendment prohibits the University from lending its voice to sectarian religious speech,” wrote FFRF. “When a school chooses to display an excerpt from a religious text, it signals to students who hold differing beliefs that they are outsiders, that they are excluded from the campus community.”

Seidel also critiqued the choice of verse, saying it was “in poor taste.” Chapter 6 of Micah is “a scathing indictment of the tribe of Israel,” said Seidel, in which “God declares that neither animal sacrifice nor human sacrifice will appease him, promises Israel to ‘make you ill and destroy you,’ and swears to kill infants: ‘what you bring to birth I will give to the sword.'”

Two atheist groups on campus — Gator Freethought and Humanists on Campus — also sent a letter to school president Dr. W. Kent Fuchs expressing their support of what FFRF said:

These two organizations and their respective members deeply value the separation of church and state, a founding principle of the United States embodied by the First Amendment. We, as students and staff of the University of Florida, feel that the quote promotes Judeo-Christian beliefs over all other beliefs on campus, and that this alienates members of the University of Florida community, such as ourselves, who do not hold the same beliefs and encourages discrimination against ourselves and other individuals of different faiths, creeds, and beliefs.

While we understand that the building may have been funded in large part by a few particular donors, and that the inclusion of this inscription may have been done to appease their own desires in constructing Heavener Hall, the display of a Biblical verse on a building owned by a public university — a university with a diverse student body of many religions, philosophies, and systems of belief — can be seen as the endorsement of Christianity by the university. We ask that, not only for ourselves as non-religious individuals, but also for those students who do not call themselves followers of Judeo-Christian doctrines, that the Biblical quote be replaced with a more secular, encompassing inscription.

Finally, we have a resolution in this case.

While the Bible verse isn’t going away, three additional quotations will be added to the entrance, creating an “ethical portal” into the building. One of the quotations, an FFRF suggestion, comes from freethinker Thomas Paine:

“My country is the world, and my religion is to do good.” Thomas Paine, 1791 (The Rights of Man).

“To restrain our selfish[ness], and to indulge our benevolent affections, constitutes the perfection of human nature.” Adam Smith, 1759 (The Theory of Moral Sentiments)

“Wealth is evidently not the good we are seeking; for it is merely useful and for the sake of something else.” Aristotle (Nicomachean Ethics)

(Adam Smith was also non-religious, though his quotation isn’t explicitly about faith.)

FFRF is happy with the compromise, though they would rather not have theological statements in such a space at all:

“In an ideal world there would be no religion or irreligion inscribed on public university property, but we think this compromise is acceptable, given that the biblical engraving was a fait accompli,” said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor.

While some people will inevitably see this as atheists imposing their will on a public school, remember: This all started because the university agreed to promote the Christian God at a donor’s request. They brought this upon themselves. Had they just said no, FFRF would not have gotten involved.

(Image courtesy of Michael Goodwin. Large portions of this article were published earlier)

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