Justus Park in Oil City, Pennsylvania is home to a bench honoring our veterans… that also includes a religious message: “Men Who Aren’t Governed By God, Will Be Governed By Tyrants.” Which means this veterans’ memorial is really a slap in the face to all the atheists who have served this country. It’s also government promotion of religion, breaking the very laws our veterans fought to uphold.
The American Atheists Legal Center sent a letter to Mayor William P. Moon, Jr.earlier this month noting that, while the bench has been around since 2003, that’s no excuse to allow it to remain there.
After receiving the complaint, American Atheists obtained pictures of the entire VFW Memorial and understands the intent of the obelisk and two benches is to honor those who have served and died overseas. However, the 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.
American Atheists offered a way to replace the bench at no cost to taxpayers:
If Oil City agrees to remove the Tyrants Bench, American Atheists is willing to donate a new bench to replace the Tyrants Bench that would be the same as the second bench in the VFW Memorial, except it would have a message that honors all of the brave men and women who have fought for the United States. We are willing to work with VFW Post 464 to find a mutually agreeable quote and, so long as the quote is approved by American Atheists, our organization will pay the costs incurred in constructing the new bench and installing it in place of the Tyrants Bench.
So far, they haven’t received a formal response from the city. But according to local news reports, that’s because the city has no intention of replying at all. They think the bench is perfectly fine as is:
[Mayor] Moon asked VFW Commander Jason Reed for a reply because it is a VFW memorial and donated by the local post. He asked the post to decide what it wants to do.
The post didn’t take long to decide and voted unanimously late last week to reject the request.
“I wanted to get this out to everybody when I saw the letter; it’s absolutely insane,” said Reed. “They said we had five days to respond, but then what? They quoted some legal cases, but I have other cases, too. If it goes anywhere, a judge is not going to take that away. If they want to go the legal way, I am talking to attorneys about any legal right they have to come in here and make us do this.”
There are always going to be Christian Right attorneys who’ll say the bench is legal and will offer to take on the case for free because of all the publicity they’ll reap from it. However, it’s hard to argue that this quotation doesn’t denigrate atheist soldiers or that it doesn’t take a position on religion. You would hope a judge understands that.
If the city doesn’t respond, and American Atheists has a local plaintiff willing to challenge this religious bench, it’s possible a lawsuit could be forthcoming. It’s hard to believe they have to go through all this trouble just to get a local VFW and the city to think about all the veterans instead of just the ones who share their theology.