Pa. Park Bench Battle Heats Up

benchOIL CITY, Pa. (EYT) – The battle over a bench in Oil City’s Justus Park has no end in sight.

The American Atheists Legal Center (AALC) sent a certified letter dated November 3 to Oil City Mayor William P. Moon objecting to the wording on the Tyrants Bench and 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 bench includes the statement “Men Who Aren’t Governed By God, Will Be Governed By Tyrants.”

“The statement 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,” AALC Staff Attorney Geoffrey T. Blackwell said in a letter to the city.

AALC, based in Cranford, N.J., received a complaint about the engraved bench October 25. The AALC offered to replace the bench at no cost to Oil City taxpayers but the Oil City VFW declined it.

Now, a group of Oil City citizens have started a website at to enable interested people to officially weigh in to support Oil City Council.

Supporters of First Amendment rights will be able to record their name and an amount they would be willing to contribute, if the need arises, to expenses incurred from a challenge from the AALC demanding removal of the bench.

A non-profit 501(c)3 is in process to secure the method of collection should it be necessary.

It is important that people respond before December 15, the date of the next Oil City Council meeting. All entries on the website will be confirmed by phone to validate.

All data collected will be held in the strictest confidence by the group.

Heather Mohnkern, an Oil City resident, is heading up the task force.

“Freedom of Speech is a right of the people, guaranteed by the First Amendment to the U.S.Constitution, to express beliefs and ideas without unwarranted government restriction,” Mohnkern said.

“Words, such as those spoken by William Penn, are protected under the First Amendment.”

“The quote by William Penn, appearing on the Tyrants Bench, honors Pennsylvania’s founding father as well as the men and women who gave their lives to protect the rights of all U.S. citizens.”

The Tyrants Bench was donated to the city by members of the local VFW, received and accepted in goodwill, and placed in Justus Park in 2003 and is a useful and attractive addition to the park.

“The Tyrants Bench is an expression of gratitude to those whom it honors, and no one has ever been forced to look at or use the bench yet it can remind all who see it and sit on it to think about what our Pa. founder was communicating that can benefit us today.”

“We hope for the preservation of the right to Freedom of Speech and honor our history by allowing the bench to stay,” Mohnkern said.

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