FFRF, Univ. of Fla. agree to add Thomas Paine quote to Heavener Hall

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Following a complaint by the Freedom From Religion Foundation over an Old Testament verse inscribed at the newly-erected Heavener School of Business, the University of Florida at Gainesville has added a quote by freethinker Thomas Paine and two other secular quotes.

The school "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," the university has announced.

The biblical quote was chosen by the building's donor and namesake, James W. Heavener, and is already installed: "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." Micah 6:8

The school added three quotes from secular sources, including a quote suggested by FFRF by revolutionary and freethinking deist Thomas Paine: 

"My country is the world, and my religion is to do good." Thomas Paine, 1791 (The Rights of Man). 

FFRF's suggestion was approved by an ethics faculty member and the dean. The two other quotes were contributed by a faculty member who teaches ethics. The additional quotes 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)

The University of Florida's statement says: "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 portal also includes the following plaque: 

The Ethical Portal to Heavener Hall

Ethics are fundamental to successful business education and enterprise. Scholars and students of ethics derive universal ethical principles from a wide range of sources, secular and religious, whether or not any particular scholar or student ascribes to religious beliefs. Three of the quotes on the four surfaces of this Ethical Portal are secular sources of universal ethical principles relevant to business, and one is a religious source. While the quote from a religious source has broader personal meaning to James W. Heavener, who provided the quote and after whom Heavener Hall and the Heavener School of Business are named—and while Thomas Paine did not ascribe to a personal deity and his quote derives from his belief in a natural order and the "exercise of reason"the School is seeking only to encourage students to identify and explore the core universal ethical principles of justice, mercy and humility, being a citizen of the world, seeking to do good, and unselfishly serving the greater good.

"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 wish to extend our appreciation to the university for its thoughtful response. We're glad to note that two of the four quotes are by freethinkers. 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.' "

Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel wrote the original complaint and represented FFRF in its negotiations.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational charity, is the nation's largest association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics), and has been working since 1978 to keep religion and government separate.

FFRF is a non-profit, educational organization. All dues and donations are deductible for income-tax purposes.

FFRF has received a 4 star rating from Charity Navigator

FFRF is a member of the Secular Coalition for America

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