UF adding secular quotes to bible verse in building archway

Many students walk under the double arches at the new Heavener Hall at the University of Florida every day. But they might not notice the Bible verse etched atop. It’s Micah 6:8, which 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.”

“I really like it. I think it speaks a lot to the way to live,” said Jordan Mullings, 23, a UF graduate student.  Mariah Justice, another UF student also liked it.  As she looked at the inscription, she said, “I think it adds culture and unity to the school.”

But not everyone is in favor of it. In April, an attorney for the group called “Freedom from Religion,” which said it protects the separation of church and state, sent UF a letter saying, in part, “The biblical inscription on Heavener Hall is an unconstitutional entanglement of state and church. It must be removed immediately.”

Mullings said, “I think intellectual discourse is good in the nation to have.”  

This week, UF announced a compromise. They are adding three secular quotes to the archway. You can barely see one from Thomas Paine start to go up now. That inscription reads, “My country is the world, and my religion is to do good.” Thomas Paine, 1791 (The Rights of Man).

According to UF spokeswoman, Janine Sikes, the other two inscriptions are:

“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)

FOX 35 was there Tuesday morning as an artist was laying out the letters to those secular quotes so she could carve them, and etch them into stone.  Sikes said the Bible verse was given by the building’s donor, James Heavener.

“The school has no interest in advancing or burdening religion; its only interest is educational and relates to the quotes’ core universal ethical principles,” said Sikes, adding, "The Heavener School of Business at the University of Florida has designed an ethical portal in the double archway of Heavener Hall courtyard to highlight the importance of ethics in business. The portal includes an explanatory plaque and four quotes. Installation will be completed in the next few weeks.”

Sikes said there is also a plaque at the archway. She said three of the quotes are from secular sources. She said two of them were contributed by a faculty member who teaches ethics.  “A third relates to the school’s commitment to global, ethical business, was suggested by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, and was approved by the ethics faculty member and dean,” Sikes said.  “As a complement to its ethics curriculum, the school hopes the ethical portal will encourage students to identify and explore universal principals of ethics that are important in business and may be derived from many sources.”

UF Sophomore, Benett Keith, 19, told FOX 35, “I think it’s disappointing that the university is kind of bowing down to a group from out of state.”

On Tuesday morning, FOX 35 spoke to Andrew Seidel, attorney for Freedom From Religion, Inc.  He sent a statement saying:

“Our preferred solution would have been to remove the bible quote altogether and had this been a public elementary or high school, or even a county courthouse, we would have insisted on that outcome. But given that UF is an institute of higher learning and that the University seemed earnest in its desire to expose students to a broad range of moral theories, including secular and nonreligious ideas, we were willing to compromise in this instance. We're particularly pleased to see the Thomas Paine quote we suggested go up on the building because it is something of a motto for FFRF, even appearing in our ads.”

Sikes said the work should be done in a few weeks at a cost of about $20,000 which she said is coming from a fund already within the university.
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