Group protests 10 Commandments marker in Starke

Privately-funded monument authorized by Bradford County Commission


STARKE, Fla. – A granite monument of the Ten Commandments dedicated outside the Bradford County Courthouse two weeks ago was the target of protests on Saturday.

The granite monument of the Ten Commandments was donated by the local Community Men's Fellowship and approved to be placed in the courthouse's courtyard by the county commission. The monument was unveiled May 3 during the National Day of Prayer ceremony in Starke.

The American Atheists now want the monument moved.

"The believers, a lot of the time, think we're trying to take their rights away when in fact trying to uphold the Constitution," said Ken Loukinen with American Atheists.

The group said the monument is a violation of the separation of church and state.

"Not so much offend as doesn't belong. For a non-believer, Muslim, or anybody who is not of the Christian faith coming into the courthouse here, they have to automatically feel that they're not going to be treated fairly," said Loukinen.

"We're not here to argue with anybody or to disparage another religion. That's not the goal of this. The goal is only to separate church and state," said Melody Delaney, who came to Starke from Tallahassee.

In 2007, a federal judge ruled the city of Starke violated the Constitution when it placed a large cross on top of its water tower.

In 2011, another judge ordered the removal of a similar Ten Commandments marker from the front of the Dixie County courthouse.

Saturday, the American Atheists were met by a much larger group of religious believers who came to show their support for the marker.

"I think it's going to be really peaceful. We've already had a prayer. Praying the God would actually change hearts, minds and souls you know, and that's going to make a difference," said Cassandra Kiser.

"I don't believe in anything that goes against God," said Jimmy Thomas.

Thomas and his wife drove from Palatka.

"Mitt Romney said that this country needed to come back and be one nation under God and I agree with him 100 percent," said Thomas.

"I don't mind if these people are religious, if they pray on a daily basis, it just is the government should not be involved and show any kind of bias," said Loukinen.

If the monument isn't moved, Loukinen said there are several national organizations, including the American Atheists, that may file a lawsuit.