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Atheists monument request denied, again

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County commission finds amended application deficient

By Lou Elliott Jones, Editor

The Williston Atheists request to place a monument on a county courthouse forum that is home to a Ten Commandments monument was unanimously denied a second time by the Levy County Commission citing deficiencies in the group's amended application. 

But this is not the end of the matter. 

“We're not going to stop,” said John Porgal, who represented the Williston Atheists and American Atheists groups at Tuesday's commission meeting, as he got up to leave. Earlier in the meeting, Porgal asked the commission to delay making a final decision until its May 6 meeting, but that was denied. 

Porgal sought the delay saying he received a county staff memo detailing the objections to the amended application on Thursday afternoon as offices were closing for the three-day Easter holiday weekend.

County Attorney Anne Bast Brown said a 45-day deadline for a decision to be made under the county's  Monument Placement Guidelines policy precluded a delay as the group's appeal and amended application were filed on March 21 and the 45-day clock runs out on May 4.

The appeal was made after the commission on Feb. 4 denied the group's initial request to place a monument on the forum between the County Courthouse and an Office Annex. 

In Tuesday's meeting, County Coordinator Fred Moody presented the county staff report that basically said the amended application, faxed to the commission office by an attorney in Tampa, “does not appear to meet the requirements” of the county's Monument Placement Guidelines policy.

One main objection that Williston Atheists is not a legal entity ? like a corporation, which Porgal said is not required by the policy that says “Any person or group” can apply. He said the group “is a civil group that's allowed to operate as an organization without incorporation.”

The report also said it was not clear that the Williston group could speak for American Atheists which is incorporated in New Jersey. But the county could not learn if the corporation was still active without paying a fee which it declined to do.

The county's policy also requires applicants on behalf of a group state the location of the group's office is and what services are provided in Levy County. Thus far, the Williston Atheists meet at Melanie's Diner in Williston once a month. 

The staff report also says the necessary documentation regarding quotes o the monument were not included in the amended application. But Porgal said the Ten Commandments monument application says it is to contain the commandments “as found in Exodus 20 in the King James Bible.” 

“That monument does not meet your guidelines,” Porgal said. “By requiring us to have the full text is different guidelines. It's treating us differently,” Porgal said. “You will be denying these people the right to equal representation just because you don't like the word atheist.”

Brown said the “source documents” for the quotations the atheists want on their monument were not included in their amended application. Porgal insisted they were included, but Brown said they were not received. 

One flash point in the discussion came when Porgal referred to the “county's Ten Commandments monument” and Commissioner John Meeks (R-District 1) of Bronson raised his voice and said, “That is not our monument.” The commandments monument is owned, maintained and insured by the Tri-County Pregnancy Center in Williston. 

The motion to deny the request was made by Commissioner Mike Joyner of Morriston (R-District 3) and seconded by Commissioner Danny Stevens of Williston (R-District 5).