This Jewish Atheist Responds to the FFRF Holocaust Memorial Controversy
The Freedom from Religion Foundation recently got press for voicing their opposition to the use of the Star of David on a Holocaust memorial to be built at the Ohio statehouse.
In a letter to Richard Finan, chair of the Capitol Square Review and Advisory Board, and a former Ohio Senator, FFRF Co-Presidents Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor make the case. The following paragraphs make up the key argument for me:
Even if the symbol is viewed in the context of a memorial honoring victims of an atrocious genocide, it ignores the fact that there were other victims of the Holocaust. Thus, it gives the impression that only the Jewish victims of the Holocaust are being honored by the state. Id. at 235. There were five million non-Jewish victims of the Holocaust, including Jehovah’s Witnesses, Roma Gypsies, resisters to the Nazi regime, Catholic priests and Christian pastors, homosexuals, the disabled, and Africans who were brought to Gern1any following World War I. If the memorial included only a pink triangle, it would appear to honor homosexual victims of the Holocaust above all others. Similarly, including the Star of David so prominently in the targeted by the Nazis during World War II. A reasonable observer could conclude that the government only cares about the Jewish victims of the Holocaust, not Christian, nonreligious, or other non-Jewish victims.
The monument could resemble numerous powerful war memorials across the U.S. which do not use any sectarian images: including the National World Wru: II Memorial, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the Korean War Veterans Memorial. Each is secular in nature and without religious reference, which offends no one and is respected by all. The lack of religious imagery within those memorial designs neither diminishes their significance nor detracts from the respect and honor shown for the victims of those conflicts.
FFRF would like to emphasize that we have no objection to the State hosting a memorial to honor victims of the Holocaust and Ohioan veterans who helped liberate Nazi concentration camps. FFRF’s own membership includes veterans of World War II and Holocaust survivors. Our contention is that memorials designated by state governments, particularly anything displayed at the seat of state government, should remain free from sectarian religious imagery.
I admit being ready to disagree with the FFRF on this issue because I would have argued that the Star of David operates more like a cultural symbol than a religious one. Barker and Gaylor’s well-documented letter disabuse of this notion to some extent. I believe the Star is most properly a symbol of not-necessarily-religious Jewish identity but that it also has definitely been used to convey the religious part too: we Jews have tried to have it — and often have had it — both ways.
As an atheist by way of Judaism, I am very proud of the FFRF and the position they have taken. Their argument deserves to be heard and considered seriously. The human affront that was the Holocaust — one of way too many genocidal assaults in history — had a scope beyond Jews, and where it concerned Jews it did so at the level of race or ethnicity, not mere religion. The Holocaust stands in my mind as an attack on cultural diversity, an attack in which the state itself was the instrument of force and persecution.
A Star of David may not be a “sacred religious” symbol, as Barker and Gaylor argue it is. I have never been taught to think of the Star as religiously significant and I never have considered it as such. Nevertheless, for purposes of the Holocaust memorial at the proposed site in Ohio, the Star promotes a too-simplistic and unbalanced view of what the Holocaust actually was in history and why it must be known to all.
I urge everyone to read the FFRF’s position on this issue, and to support them in their efforts.