U. of Florida to keep biblical inscription despite atheist protest
The University of Florida has struck a deal with an atheist group to keep a biblical inscription on one of its buildings.
The compromise allows the school to keep the inscription of Micah 6:8 on an archway outside the newly-constructed Heavener Hall, but only as part of an “ethical portal” featuring three other quotes from secular sources, The Christian Examiner reports.
The Bible verse was included at the request of James Heavener—a University of Florida trustee, Tim Tebow Foundation board member, and the CEO of Full Sail University—who contributed the bulk of the funding for the new building.
The verse in question reads: “He has shown you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”
In April, just a few months after the building’s dedication last November, the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) sent a letter to university President W. Kent Fuchs asserting that “this inscription violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment and cannot remain on university property.”
The fact that the verse was added at the behest of a private donor “does not excuse the constitutional violation,” the letter adds, citing Supreme Court rulings prohibiting public institutions from displaying “blatantly religious statements of morality in government buildings.”
Apart from legal considerations, FFRF also informed Fuchs that the inscription is offensive to those who do not hold Christian beliefs, and “is in poor taste,” to boot.
“The university should be particularly sensitive to this issue since 32 percent of Americans aged 18-29 are nonreligious,” the letter says. “Surely the university, committed as it has been to diversity, can find a more inclusive message to display on its buildings.”
The school apparently found the suggestion reasonable, as it came up with not one, but three such messages, which would become part of a new “ethical portal” with the caveat that they would complement, not replace, the original inscription.
“The school has no interest in advancing or burdening religion; its only interest is educational and relates to the quotes’ core universal ethical principles,” the university said Tuesday in a prepared statement. “As a complement to its ethics curriculum, the school hopes the ethical portal will encourage students to identify and explore universal principles of ethics that are important in business and may be derived from many sources.”
Along with a plaque explaining the significance of all four passages, the school will add the following three quotes to the archway:
“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)
“My country is the world, and my religion is to do good.” Thomas Paine, 1791 (The Rights of Man)
In a statement, FFRF accepted the compromise, acknowledging that the verse was unlikely to have been removed in any case while saying that the new quotes will provide an adequate contrast.
“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.
“We're glad to note that two of the four quotes are by freethinkers,” she added. “Many people do not realize that Adam Smith was a freethinker in his own right, saying in 'The Wealth of Nations': 'Science is the great antidote to the poison of enthusiasm and superstition'."
In a portion of the original complaint by FFRF, the organization asserted that, “God declares that neither animal nor human sacrifice will appease an [sic] Him,” and vows to destroy Israel and kill its infants.
“While the University of Florida most certainly does not endorse child sacrifice or genocide, Chapter 6 of Micah does,” FFRF claimed. “If adhering to the Constitution is not reason enough to remove the quote, perhaps a desire to condemn genocide is.”
According to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, however, FFRF misinterprets several of the verses it cites to make that argument.
Where FFRF interprets the passage as God declaring the inadequacy of ritual sacrifice in verses 6-7, for instance, the bishops describe the same passages as being spoken by the people of Israel, with God responding in verse 8 (incidentally, the verse in the Heavener Hall inscription) that all He requires is justice, goodness, and humility.
In verses 13-14, which FFRF cites to make its case that the chapter advocates genocide, the bishops explain that God is announcing the punishment he will inflict upon the residents of Jerusalem for failing to adhere to those maxims and instead cheating, lying, and committing acts of violence.
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