A city council in Pennsylvania has unanimously voted to remove a park bench that was meant to honor veterans due to objection from an atheist group regarding a God-centered inscription on the display that is attributed to the state’s founder.
“From an administration standpoint, this is heading toward litigation,” Mark Schroyer, the city manager of Oil City, told Explore Clarion. “At that point, we have to decide what are our wins, losses and gain. … Our collective opinion is, if it’s winnable, it would be so costly [that] what would we actually be gaining other than taking the stand our residents are asking?”
“Our biggest concern is exposure to attorney fees,” also remarked City Solicitor Robert Varsek. “We would be sued for injunctive relief where they order the city to remove the bench, and for damages and also be sued for attorney fees under the civil rights law.”
American Atheists (AA) sent a letter last November to the mayor of Oil City to request that the Justus Park bench, which was donated in 2003 by a local branch of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), be removed. It assert that the inscribed text violates the U.S. Constitution.
“Men who aren’t governed by God, will be governed by tyrants,” the bench reads, paraphrasing a quote that is often attributed to Pennsylvania founder William Penn, a Quaker who wrote a number of theological books and who once stood trial for “causing a tumult” in preaching in the streets.
AA contended that the quote violates the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which instructs that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” The group also said the text is disrespectful to non-Christians.
“[T]he Tyrants Bench contains an overtly religious message which endorses one particular religious viewpoint: Christianity. The statement that ‘Men who aren’t governed by God will be governed by tyrants’ 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,” its letter asserted.