So this exploded on Friday:
Image shows a Facebook status update by Dan Fincke: “This seriously does not strike me as something that should be a priority for the FFRF. Opposing a star of David in a Holocaust memorial. I mean, really??” A link to the story he’s referencing by Fox News is attached as this link.
This first post by Dan has generated 144 comments as of Sunday afternoon. It has also inspired at least eight more FB posts from Dan, three full blog posts over at his website, Camels With Hammers, and numerous responses and writings on the issue from all over the internet (including this one).
In summary, the situation is this: A Holocaust memorial has been proposed and would be built on the grounds of the Ohio Statehouse. The memorial would feature a large Star of David on the construction. It would be the most visible – wait, only – symbol on the memorial.
Image is a depiction of the proposed memorial. Image source is OhioJC.org
This is a monument created by the designer to “memorialize the extermination of millions of Jews but at the same time give inspiration to the future.”
The monument would also honor “the Ohio soldiers who were part of the American liberation and survivors who made Ohio their home.” And it would mention other victims of the Holocaust via an inscription on the memorial.
“In remembrance of the six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust and millions more including prisoners of war, ethnic and religious minorities, homosexuals, the mentally ill, the disabled, and political dissidents who suffered under Nazi Germany.”
So, yeah…other people died too, and the memorial will remind you of that – if you visit it up close and read the inscription.
I like the other two finalists’ proposals better – the ones which more equally recognize the other 40% of Holocaust victims who suffered under Nazi Germany and who were not Jewish. From the Columbus Dispatch:
Plensa’s proposal was for six bronze leaves, standing on end and bunched together. The sculpture, which he planned to produce in Spain, would be 30 feet tall, including the uppermost stems of the leaves. The veins of leaves would be random letters from Hebrew and seven other world languages.
Hamilton’s plan was the most complex, centering on a limestone plinth 8 feet by 4 feet and channeled aerodynamically inside so it could amplify sounds. She envisioned visitors dialing a special number to obtain a commissioned musical piece, then inserting their cellular phones into openings of the box. That would produce naturally amplified sound.
The box would be surrounded by a grove of 36 sycamore trees specially pruned to make their branches stand straight up in the air.
Yeah. I like those. The chosen design – the one with the large Star of David – recognizes Jewish victims over the others who were persecuted, to the point of minimizing their place in the horrors that were wrought during the Holocaust.
Back to Dan’s piece, where he objected to the FFRF taking issue with the memorial.
In my initial evaluation of the topic I questioned the worth of the FFRF’s objections. Here’s what I wrote on Dan’s original FB post:
Yup. I do not agree with FFRF’s stance on this one. The fact that they’re writing a letter of dissent, but not going to sue makes me believe that they don’t feel they have legal grounds to support their stated objections. In which case, what’s the point?
Since then I’ve had time to read the entire letter sent from FFRF to the chair of the Capitol Square Review and Advisory Board Space Holocaust Memorial Committee (i.e., the committee who chose the design), as well as a lot of other opinions, and I’ve hemmed and hawed and rolled things around in my brain, and I’ve changed my mind a couple times – even during the writing of this blog post. And here’s where I’m at now: I do agree with some of the objections made by the the FFRF.
Just not the big one: that this is a matter of church-state separation.
I disagree with the implications made by the FFRF and those who say that if we don’t speak up against the memorial in its current design, that we will be setting an example (the FFRF says we could be setting a legal precedent) which could open the floodgates for religious imagery on government property. Hemant Mehta lays it out in his post in this way:
I know a lot of you see this as a petty issue not to be fought over, but I strongly believe that we can’t let even the little “harmless” things like this slide. If we let it go, religious groups will eventually try to do something similar somewhere else — and they’ll argue that we had no problem with a Jewish memorial in Ohio, so why would we have a problem with this other religious memorial?
Jeepers! The protest over this memorial isn’t the dike that is holding back a flood of crucifixes on every water tower across the country! Reminder: We – and the FFRF specifically – are already fighting those blatant endorsements of religion by government. And we’re winning when they actually represent an infringement of the establishment clause. I do not agree that the symbol of a Star of David on a Holocaust memorial in and of itself is such an infringement, because I agree strongly with those who say that the Star of David in this historical context is a symbol of cultural and ethnic identity. Placing a symbol on a memorial which (also) has religious connotations doesn’t necessarily represent an endorsement of religion – in this case, Judaism – by the state.
To the last point made by Hemant: “…and they’ll argue that we had no problem with a Jewish memorial in Ohio” – I understand that he is representing the viewpoint as some might see it, but this isn’t a Jewish (religious) memorial. If some people complain that we “allowed” a religious memorial to go up when it was all about the Jews, we will correct their misrepresentations of our arguments, but we shouldn’t preemptively protest just because to not do so might lead to such misrepresentations.There is a slippery slope here, but I’m not sure which side is arguing it: Those who think the Star of David on a Holocaust Memorial will lead to a religious monument in every city hall, or those who would use the Star of David on a Holocaust memorial as an excuse to attempt to raise them.
So what do I agree with the FFRF on?
I agree that this memorial could – and should – be designed without the Star of David being so prominently displayed, and especially displayed in the absence of other visual symbols which would represent non-Jewish victims of the Holocaust.
If the memorial included only a pink triangle, it would appear to honor homosexual victims of the Holocaust above all others. Similarily, including the Star of David so prominently in the planned memorial is exclusionary, ignoring the sacrifices made by the many other groups targeted by the Nazis during World War II.
The proposed inscription that acknowledges the “prisoners of war, ethnic and religious minorities, homosexuals, the mentally ill, the disabled, and political dissidents” is insufficient. The large Star of David overshadows the pain, death and torture that was forced upon non-Jewish victims and places much greater emphasis on the Jewish people who suffered the same. In supporting the building of this design, the state is helping to paint a biased view of history that recognizes one group of people above all others in this tragedy, and by doing so is failing to adequately recognize the loss experienced by others.
So let’s get down to what the FFRF is asking of the committee chair to whom the letter was addressed:
We respectfully urge the Capitol Square Review and Advisory Board Space Holocaust Memorial Committee to reconsider its chosen design for the Ohio statehouse memorial, or to remove the portion of the memorial with the Star of David.
I agree with this. With this memorial the government would be favoring one group – and one version of history – over another, and that they should take steps to avoid doing that. But I don’t agree that they’re favoring one religion over others. I agree that the design is problematic; I don’t agree that it violates church-state separation. So if there is no church-state separation issue, then the FFRF was perhaps not the right group to raise objections to this memorial’s design.
But they did, and now we’re talking about it.
I know a lot of the people who will read this have already devoted time, brainage and commentary to this topic in other places, but I welcome your thoughts and would be interested in continuing to discuss it in the comments here.