A memorial bench in a Venango County, Pennsylvania, public park has been permanently relocated after an atheist group grumbled about what was inscribed on the bench.
On Monday night, a crowd gathered outside the Oil City Veterans of Foreign Wars Post, along the banks of the Allegheny River, for a re-dedication of the granite bench, nicknamed “Tyrant’s Bench,” according to KDKA-TV.
“The problem we’re solving today is the effect of the negative influence of persons who demand respect for their beliefs, but are not willing to do so toward others,” VFW Commander Jason Reed said during the ceremony.
The inscription on the bench, which was originally donated to the city by the VFW, reads, “Men who aren’t governed by God, will be governed by tyrants” — a quote often attributed to William Penn, founder of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
Reed said the inscription is not “a religious quote.”
But the American Atheists, headquartered in New Jersey, believe that, as long as the bench is on public property, it is a violation of the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment.
In a letter sent in November, the atheist group argued the inscription “not only has absolutely nothing to do with honoring our service members, but is derisive toward the all non-Christian American service members who have served and died for this country.”
By mentioning God, the American Atheists believe the memorial bench “denigrates and excludes the sacrifices made by nearly a quarter of this nation’s military personnel.” The group pointed to statistics claiming that 23.5 percent of those in the military are either atheist, agnostic, or have no religious affiliation.
Oil City Mayor William Moon, who said the memorial bench had been in place for 13 years, told KDKA that the letter from the American Atheists came “out of the blue.”
Not everyone was pleased with the city’s decision to appease the atheist group so quickly.
“The history of Pennsylvania alone is all right here,” Larry Deal, a lifetime member of the VFW, said. “It’s right here, and the veterans and the [fighting] we done for this country, it’s just all right here.”
And Venango County GOP chairwoman Martha Breene had this to say: “I don’t think [the city] studied it nearly like they should. They didn’t study it like they should have, I know they didn’t.”
The American Atheists suggested it could file a lawsuit if the park bench wasn’t removed from public property.
The Patriot Motorcycle Guard accompanied the bench to its new home, on private property at the VFW Post.