An atheist group in New Jersey is seeking the removal of a bench at a Pennsylvania park that is meant to honor veterans due to an inscription of a quote attributed to the state’s founder that mentions God.
American Atheists (AA) recently sent a letter 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 out of its belief that its 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 contends 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 says 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.
It offered to provide a secular bench in exchange for the current display.
“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,” AA wrote.