“No” to Atheist’s Request May Be Expensive; Tyrants Bench May Be Moved
(Photo courtesy of Jason Reed)
The American Atheists Legal Center (AALC) earlier requested the wording on a bench in Justus Park in Oil City be changed, claiming that the display likely violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which states that “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion.”
The original letter to Oil City Mayor William P. Moon dated November 3, 2016, centered on the “Tyrants Bench” and the engraved message of “Men Who Aren’t Governed By God, Will Be Governed By Tyrants.” AALC viewed it as a religious message.
The bench is on public property, but Oil City VFW Post 464 donated it in 2003. Mayor Moon asked the Post for some direction, and the group voted earlier to say “no” to the request.
AALC offered to replace the bench with a new one with wording agreed upon by both the VFW and AALC.
“They (Post 464) are now talking about moving the bench to the VFW’s property,” said Moon. “It’s not going to be destroyed or anything and will probably be taken over to their property.”
“The VFW is having a special meeting, and they have to decide between the atheist group and the VFW about what will be put on the new bench. It could take five years, it could take 10 years, or it could take 20 years to decide on a new saying. It will be up to the two parties to come together and agree on new wording.”
Borland Memorial in Leeper built the original bench and estimates the cost for a new one at $3,500.00.
Some people would like to see the current bench stay where it is.
Costs of a potential legal challenge are not something Oil City could risk, according to Moon.
“With our insurance carrier we have a $5,000.00 deductible, and we have a feeling the insurance carrier would not go after that battle,” said Moon.
“With our financial status, we decided we wouldn’t have the means to handle it legally, and it would probably have to go to the Supreme Court. I did get something from the Venango County Tea Party today offering contact information for free counsel to battle this.”
Moon said he would ask the solicitor for a review of the information and/or support.
Noting a similar request in Franklin, Mayor Moon speculated that these types of groups come into depressed communities with demands, and there is no money in the communities.
“They just give in,” said Moon.
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