There’s a debate happening around the atheist blogosphere about the Freedom from Religion Foundation’s (FFRF) letter regarding the design of a Holocaust memorial to be built on the grounds of Ohio’s statehouse. The letter expresses concern over a potential breach of the US Constitution due to the inclusion of the “Star of David,” a symbol with sectarian religious connotations. The concern arises because the memorial is partially funded by the public and will sit on public land.
The debate within the atheosphere is whether or not FFRF should be expressing concern over the memorial. Those in agreement with FFRF tend to point out that the chosen design seems to focus on only one group targeted during the Holocaust (Jews) to the exclusion of other groups (Roma, homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, etc). Also, they have a question about whether or not the inclusion of the Star of David, as the sole religious symbol, constitutes a breach of the US Constitution. Their principle concern isn’t with the Holocaust memorial but with the design chosen for the memorial.
Those who do not agree with FFRF tend to point out that the Star of David has a secular, ethnic connotation along with a religious connotation. Likewise, they tend to argue that highlighting the tragedy suffered upon Jews by the Nazis does not constitute and cannot reasonably be considered a promotion of Judaism. Their principle concern is that the FFRF is overly focused on legal literalism to the detriment of human experience.
To see some of the debate in action, you can check out these posts:
Agree with FFRF:
Disagree with FFRF:
Personally, I tend to fall with those who disagree with the FFRF. I am sympathetic to the argument that the design could be broader in scope. For example, the Holocaust memorial in Portland, Oregon does a great job of eliciting powerful emotions without expressly Jewish symbols (or, at least, I don’t remember any expressly Jewish symbols). However, the concern about how well the design of the memorial represents the victims of the Holocaust is a concern for Ohioans. I am similarly sympathetic to a Holocaust memorial that puts an emphasis on the experiences of Jews for the obvious reasons.
Likewise, I am sympathetic to sticking to principle and defending secularism against potentially tricky breaches (like using the Holocaust as a means of getting the state to promote Judaism). But nothing of the sort is happening with the Ohio Holocaust memorial. No one seeing the design of the memorial would take it to be a promotion of Judaism. It makes complete sense that a Holocaust memorial would include Jewish symbols because Jews were the principle target of the Holocaust. The victims of the Holocaust are a group we, as fellow humans, have cause to memorialize. As such, I see no reason for the FFRF to be involved.
This is an interesting case. I have pared this post down quite a bit, so I recommend reading the various views out there.