The right to religious freedom and free speech are two liberties that, when practiced together, almost always result in people getting severely bent out of shape.
This is exactly what happened when an atheist group decided to erect an anti-religious monument in Florida.
The idea to set up such a monument came when a Jersey-based group known as the American Atheists sued Bradford County for having a stone slab of the 10 Commandments situated in front of the county courthouse. Though the group was unsuccessful in getting the monument removed, it was encouraged to set up its very own, which it gladly did.
Directly countering the Christian monument, the one set up by the atheist group comes in the form of a bench and includes a list of Old Testament punishments that contradict the the Ten Commandments and has quotes from some of America’s Founding Fathers as well as the founder of American Atheists.
But of course, when it comes to religion, every comment or act against one’s belief apparently stings way too much for anyone, religious or otherwise, to keep their cool.
As expected, people showed their disapproval which came in various forms from signs saying “Yankees Go Home,” to the waving of Confederate flags and pickets claiming that America is a Christian nation. One driver even went as far as to throw a toilet seat accompanied by a roll of toilet paper out of the window while passing by a protest staged around the bench.
On the other side of the argument, though perhaps not in this case, the American Atheists also have gone about expressing their beliefs in verbally aggressive ways. Some of their most notable campaigns have involved flying banners that read “GOD-less America” on Independence Day, running ads stating “You don’t need God” and even posting signs that read “Religions are all alike — founded upon fables and mythologies” on places that had nativity scenes.
While people may chose to protest and erect monuments in areas of free speech, this should not give anyone the license to become disrespectful and certainly not violent. Though the American Atheists and even Bradford County have acted in accordance with the law, people on both sides of the debate have demonstrated their inability to engage in civil debate or protest without pursuing aggressive tactics to state their opinions.
The rights to protest and free speech are effective in exchanging ideas and better understanding those that differ or sometimes conflict with our own. However, if the majority of people cannot learn to communicate without taking the I’m-right-you’re-wrong approach, especially in personal and sensitive topics such as religion, all such protests would amount to is noise pollution and unnecessary bitterness.
In the case of the new atheist monument, once more, we have just witnessed an opportunity for tolerance to completely flop.