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Controversial 'Freedom Bench' Moved From Oil City Park To Private Property

VENANGO COUNTY (KDKA) -- There's a new permanent home for a controversial park bench in Oil City in Venango County.

The reason: an Atheist group complained about what was inscribed on the bench.

Outside the Oil City VFW Post, along the banks of the Allegheny River, a crowd gathered Monday night for the re-dedication of a park bench. It's called the Tyrant's Bench.

There were speeches and a band played, as this brief re-dedication ceremony played out on the Fourth of July eve.

VFW Commander Jason Reed told the gathering, "The problem we're solving today is the effect of the negative influence of persons who demand respect for their beliefs, but are not willing to do so toward others."

A New Jersey-based group called the American Atheists Legal Center contacted the city late last year explaining that it had received a complaint from someone about the bench inscription. It says, "Men Who Aren't Governed by God, Will Be Governed by Tyrants."

"I don't feel it's a religious quote," Reed told KDKA-TV's Ralph Iannotti. "It's a quote from William Penn. The founder of Pennsylvania, that's where that quote came from."

The Atheist group hinted that unless the granite bench was removed from the city park, the city might face a lawsuit because it felt the inscription was in violation of the Constitution's First Amendment.

"We just got a letter out of the blue," Oil City Mayor William Moon said. "The monument was there for 13 years… It's like, wow!"

The VFW gave the bench to the city in 2003, and now, the VFW is getting it back.

The Patriot Motorcycle Guard accompanied the bench to its new home, on VFW private property.

"The history of Pennsylvania alone is all right here," VFW lifetime member Larry Deal said. "It's right here, and the veterans and the [fighting] we done for this country, it's just all right here."

Not everyone thought the city should have given into the Atheist Center without putting up some sort of a fight.

"I don't think [the city] studied it nearly like they should," Venango County GOP chairwoman Martha Breene said. "They didn't study it like they should have, I know they didn't."

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