That Ohio Holocaust Memorial


Dan Fincke hosted a discussion about the controversy over the FFRF and American Atheists opposing the use of a Star of David as a symbol for a Holocaust memorial in Ohio and it’s really worth watching. Kudos to Dave Muscato, PR director for AA, for taking part in the discussion despite knowing that most of the others involved were opposed to the group’s position. The video below, then my take on it. For a full transcript, go here.

I’m going to limit my comments to the legal question because that is my wheelhouse, so to speak. Is the use of that symbol for the Holocaust museum a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment? The answer is almost certainly no. There are two tests that the courts could apply to the situation, the Lemon test and the endorsement test. Let’s take them one at a time.

As I’m sure my longtime readers know by now because I’ve written about this a bajillion times, the Lemon test has three prongs: purpose, effect and excessive entanglement. I think it is extraordinarily unlikely that any court would find a violation of any of those prongs in this situation. There is a clear secular purpose (memorializing the victims of the Holocaust) and no plausible argument by which the use of the Star of David as a symbol here would have any tangible effect of “advancing” the religion of Judaism. Nor is there any excessive entanglement by any reasonable criteria.

The endorsement test requires that the court ask whether an “objective observer” who knows the relevant facts of the situation would perceive the government’s actions as an endorsement of a particular religion. The answer to that is clearly no in this case. Could anyone seriously believe that in a country that is 75% Christian and about 1% Jewish that the government is endorsing Judaism? Such an argument would be laughed out of court, as it should be. So as a legal question, I think this one is pretty easy. There’s not a chance in hell that any court would conclude that the Establishment Clause has been violated here.

But let me say this: I also don’t like some of the vitriol that has been aimed at FFRF and AA about this. I’m especially disturbed by any suggestion that anyone here is being anti-Semitic or, bizarrely, a Holocaust denier. I know Dan Barker and Andrew Seidel of FFRF and I know Dave Silverman, Dave Muscato and Amanda Knief of AA. Every one of them are terrific people and important activists. They have all done great work on behalf of atheism and separation of church and state. I think this stance is misguided, but I do not for a moment question their sincerity or their good intent. Disagreements over strategy are inevitable in any community, but let’s give one another the presumption of good will and keep those disputes civil and substantive.

Comments

  1. Ryan Jean says

    I was also confused by some of the nastiness launched at FFRF and AA on this. I initially sided with FFRF and AA and the vitriolic response I received made me reflexively entrench further. It therefore took a while for me to internalize the arguments — particularly of Dan Fincke and James Croft — and now I would say that I feel more in line with them on the merits. In fact, it was them carefully and painstakingly going through the arguments against, in detail, that allowed me to eventually see past the nastiness others were projecting to actually be *able* to see the issue from the standpoint they presented.

    In the end, I really hate this case. Deep inside, I know that if it hadn’t had any opposition, it wouldn’t take long for a Christian group to point at it with a claim of hypocrisy on our part, and I really feel compelled to point to that as a reason to defend FFRF and AA, even after switching sides overall. The problem is, I also agree that it’s bad PR as-is, so I can’t *defend* FFRF or AA either. This coin seems to be tails on both sides.

  2. says

    Fully agree on both points, and thank you for writing this. It sounds like a lot of accusations have been thrown around with not a lot of thought put into them, and the clarification is very needed.

  3. BubbaRich says

    I see this as more of a problem with a foolish consistency with their perceived duty to protect us from Christian symbols. If they think this through, then they might realize they can also accept the Ceremonial Deism doctrine and develop a more consistent and reasonable approach to protect citizens against real encroachments against us by various religions, including the Christian sects currently with a massive majority.

  4. Alverant says

    I have to disagree a bit. By only having the Jewish star on the memorial and forgetting about the 40% of people who were exterminated for other reasons, you are not only promoting the false history that only Jews died in the camps, you are holding the Jewish religion above others by giving them special rights to present that false history. By doing so you are advancing the religion. Being the victims of persecution is part of Jewish culture. It’s why it’s tradition to smash a plate at a Jewish wedding, to remind people of tougher times so they won’t be as happy. The memorial as is goes along with that culture by saying “Only Jews died here. No one else!”

    If the memorial is secular, it should not give the impression that it’s for only the Jews who were murdered and all the other victims can suck it.

  5. Alverant says

    I’d also like to say that I think part of the reason why people object to noting that groups like homosexuals and union leaders were sent to the camps is that they don’t want to be reminded of their own rhetoric against gays and unions.

  6. Pierce R. Butler says

    My objection to this monument is that, by leaving all (~5-7 million) other victims of the Holocaust to the fine print, it perpetuates the mythology of “special” Jewish victimhood daily put to work by the Israel lobby.

    If we count Zionism as a religion, this would fail the excessive entanglement test in a heartbeat.

  7. colnago80 says

    Re Alverant @ #5

    Let’s not forget that hundreds of thousands of Gypsies were also victims.

  8. says

    I’d also like to say that I think part of the reason why people object to noting that groups like homosexuals and union leaders were sent to the camps is that they don’t want to be reminded of their own rhetoric against gays and unions

    *Ding Ding Ding Ding* You got it.

  9. Sastra says

    BubbaRich #3 wrote:

    If they think this through, then they might realize they can also accept the Ceremonial Deism doctrine …

    I don’t agree. A Star of David on the Holocaust memorial is very different than injecting references to “God” in official pledges, symbols, doctrines and/or laws while claiming it’s just “ceremonial.”

    Frankly, if the religious mainstream was salivating over the opportunity to put a religious symbol — any religious symbol, we don’t care which one as long as it establishes a precedent and shows that this is a religious country — for the Holocaust Memorial the way they do with “Ceremonial Deism,” then I think the case changes because the Lemon Test is getting different answers.

  10. colnago80 says

    Re Pierce Butler @ #6

    The majority of Zionists are secular; Zionism was founded by secularists like Theodor Herzl. Actually, many ultra-religious Jews are anti-Zionists who believe that the current State of Israel is in violation of the Hebrew Bible in that the requirement is that the Messiah must appear before the establishment of the state and he/she has not to this day shown up.

  11. zenlike says

    Mostly I’m not against this monument, but two thoughts:

    First, a bit what Alverant said: the holocaust was not exclusively against Jews. I would like monuments to actually be more inclusive and commemorate all victims *, a good suggestion I read was having all the symbols used by the Nazi’s to mark the prisoners in their dead-camps on the monument. I wouldn’t mind one bit if the star of David was displayed more prominently, because the Jews were undoubtedly the main focus of the holocaust.

    Second, and that is the reason I think FFRF and AA are against it, you just know it will be used as a leverage point by Christian groups and accommodationists to allow Christian symbols on public grounds. Hell, just look at the above comment by Bubba, who almost wallows in glee about this prospect.

    (*) Actually, the terminal IDiot Egnor showed up on Orac’s post about this subject, and actually commented that the star of David is inclusive of all victims of the holocaust. When was this piece of shit actually right about anything?

  12. colnago80 says

    I haven’t listened to the debate but I am inclined to agree with Sastra and am not entirely comfortable with this symbolism. I would prefer that a non-religious symbol be used, particularly as a large fraction, perhaps a majority of the Jews who died were not religious.

  13. Sastra says

    Alverant #4 wrote:

    If the memorial is secular, it should not give the impression that it’s for only the Jews who were murdered and all the other victims can suck it.

    This is the inscription:

    “Inspired by the Ohio soldiers who were part of the American liberation and survivors who made Ohio their home.

    If you save one life, it is as if you have saved the world.

    In remembrance 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 were suffered under Nazi Germany. “

    That’s pretty inclusive. The only problem is the religious symbol, and I think I disagree with FFRF on this one. If nothing else, it’s not linking the Jews to “what it means to be American,” even obliquely.

    Yes, the religious right may use this as a ‘camel’s nose’ for inserting crosses into civic messages left and right — but they do that anyway and this legal case isn’t like theirs.

  14. Alverant says

    Exactly, but I think (at least in the US) there isn’t as much anti-Gypsy hatred as there is anti-gay and anti-union.

  15. Hayden says

    The answer to that is clearly no in this case. Could anyone seriously believe that in a country that is 75% Christian and about 1% Jewish that the government is endorsing Judaism?

    While I agree with your ultimate conclusion, I don’t think this is the right reasoning to get there. There are plenty of examples in history of minorities oppressing majorities. South Africa is the most obvious example of this that comes to mind. I think the correct reasoning is to look at the relevant facts. The Holocaust was a campaign against Jews, specifically for their religion. I think that makes it entirely appropriate to include Jewish imagery in the memorial.

  16. John Pieret says

    According to the Jewish Virtual Library, out of the 11 million victims of the Holocaust, 5 million were non-Jews:

    http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Holocaust/NonJewishVictims.html

    They included not only Roma, homosexuals and union leaders but also Jehovah’s Witnesses, Christian clergy, the disabled, resistance fighters and various political prisoners. While I can see the Statr of David being prominant, since they were the particular target of the Nazis, those other groups should get more than a generic statement that “millions more Soviets, Poles, Slavs and homosexuals” also died, as has been reported the monument will include.

  17. Alverant says

    Sastra, I think people will be more inclined to see the symbol than read the footnote.

  18. nrdo says

    @Alverant, I don’t know where you get the impression that Jews or, specifically, Jewish organizations are promoting a “false history that only Jews died in the camps” . Do you have any support for that or is it just the subjective impression you get?

    I do think, though, that it’s unfortunate that the FFRF wasn’t able to impress upon the designers that the best real tribute to the victims would be a monument that’s as inclusive as possible and one that recognizes the harm that comes from mixing any ideology with government. Both sides have pretty weak cases, but I think the FFRF really needs to get more discerning about which battles it chooses to fight.

  19. Alverant says

    Well nrdo, I’ve heard from other Jews about how “they died at the camps” and never mentioned anyone else. I don’t hear homosexual groups talking about “the camps” in the same way when faced with discrimination. And Pierce R. Butler noted, spokesmen for the Jewish community seemed to have taken over the Holocaust as their own private tragedy and to remind them that other groups were also persecuted is seen as diminishing what happened to their people.

  20. raven says

    Wikipedia Holocaust:

    6 million Jews and…..

    Broader definitions include approximately two to three million Soviet POWs, two million ethnic Poles, up to 1,500,000 Romani, 200,000 handicapped, political and religious dissenters, 15,000 homosexuals and 5,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses, bringing the death toll to around 11 million. The broadest definition would include six million Soviet civilians, raising the death toll to 17 million.[280] A research project conducted by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum estimated that 15 to 20 million people died or were imprisoned.[8] R.J. Rummel estimates the total democide death toll of Nazi Germany to be 21 million. Other estimates put total casualties of the Soviet Union’s citizens alone to about 26 million.[284]

    The Nazi extermination camps didn’t just kill Jews.

    Around half were Jewish. The rest were Slavs, the handicapped, Gypsies, gays, and some religious groups such as the JW’s.

    It wouldn’t bother me if they had a prominent Star of David for the Jews who were half of the slaughtered. And other symbols for the rest. Oddly enough, this would end up including a xian cross. The xians should be drooling for this. I’m not sure what symbols would be used for the handicapped, Gypsies, and gays but someone will come up with something.

  21. raven says

    The Holocaust was a campaign against Jews, specifically for their religion.

    Not quite correct.

    A prominent target were the Jews with 78% of the European Jews killed. But it was aimed just as much at their ethnic group as their religion. Even xian Jews of which their were some, as converts, were targeted. And being a secular Jew didn’t save any of them.

    It was also not targeted against just the Jews. We’ve mentioned that above in several places. Of the 11 million dead in the camps, 5 million were other groups, just as much targeted as the Jews.

  22. D. C. Sessions says

    I’d be a whole lot happier (from a historical standpoint) if the six-pointed star were portrayed sewn to a shirt or armband. Historically much, much more to the point.

  23. Pen says

    I would feel disturbed that a Star of David minimised the other victims of the Holocaust: Romany, homosexuals, the mentally handicapped and political dissenters and possibly others I’m less aware of.

  24. says

    This memorial should not include a star of David, unless it also includes appropriate symbols for all of the other classes of people who were killed in the Holocaust. (Have they considered using the same symbols the Nazis used to identify all the various groups?) As Alverant said, only a little more than half of all victims of the Holocaust were Jews, and displaying only a Jewish symbol reinforces a false history — and, yes, promotes one particular religion by implicitly giving them a special victimhood status.

  25. BubbaRich says

    It’s interesting to see this lingering institutional anti-semitism trying to deny Jews (who were nearly exterminated by the Holocaust) even that distinction. They were not nearly so effective against the Slavs, homosexuals, or the Romany.

    The Western Left often seems to want to finish the job, just to make sure I keep my distance from that Left.

  26. Pierce R. Butler says

    colnago80 @ # 10: The majority of Zionists are secular…

    Citation needed urgently.

    … many ultra-religious Jews are anti-Zionists …

    True, for a rather small value of “many”.

    Tell me, what other symbol does Zionism use?

  27. ildi says

    One argument I’ve heard is that the Star of David is not symbolizing the faith but the ethnic group (i.e., star of David is on the flag of Israel). I was looking at the wiki entry for the Nazi concentration camp badges, and the only other religious group with its own badge was Jehovah’s Witnesses, and the only other ethnic group were the Roma (listed under the general category of “work shy” at first, but got their own color later).

    Conversely, the double-triangle (i.e. Star of David) is categorized by all the single-triangle categories (such as “habitual criminal,” “sex offender,” “Jehovah’s Witness of Jewish descent”) but also includes two extra categories of Jews and Aryan woman convicted of miscegenation. So, I can see using it as a national rather than a religious symbol. Did any other ethnic group have to demonstrate ethnic purity back two generations besides Jews?

  28. Hayden says

    Of the 11 million dead in the camps, 5 million were other groups, just as much targeted as the Jews.

    Again, relevant facts. One group, the Jews made up 6 million of the dead. All the other groups combined made up 5 million. I think this makes it entirely reasonable to include Jewish imagery on the memorial. And as others have stated, the other groups targeted by the Nazis are included in the memorial, as well.

  29. zenlike says

    First you see anti-Semitism where there is none, then you dare to insinuate people on the left want to finish the job of the holocaust.

    Bubba, you are a shitstain. Shit the fuck up you disgusting piece of shit.

  30. BubbaRich says

    Compelling argument, ironically-named “zenlike.”

    The Western Left has been anti-semitic AND anti-Israel for decades, favoring things like unilateral disarmament of Israel. The American Left has been generally free of this, thanks to the moderating influence of conservative Christianity (I wonder if that sentence has ever been put together before.). But I’ve noticed most of the sins of the Western Left coming out in the American Left since 2008.

  31. robert79 says

    While I agree that the memorial does appear to favour some of the victims of the holocaust more than others, I would have preferred a different symbol, I think the FFRF has gone way too far with their current actions. Specifically, they have crossed the line from being pro-secularism to being anti-religion, and, yes, this includes anti-semitic.

    This is a direction which I suspect will estrange most of the so-called “nones” from the secular movement. To me, as a European, the American secular movement seems sometimes to be more obsessed with religion than the religious nuts themselves.

  32. Alverant says

    Hayden, if you’re going to allow Jewish imagery on the memorial, then imagery of other groups should also be allowed and not shoved underneath like their extermination wasn’t as important. People pay more attention to images and symbols than writing. Give all the victims of Nazi crimes some dignity and quit acting like one was worth more than another.

  33. Alverant says

    Well Bubba, it’s not like Israel hasn’t earned some criticism. But what you’re doing is making a straw man and using “anti-semitic” to deflect any honest discussion of the facts. It’s not anti-semitic to point out Israel has stolen land from others and bulldozed homes (while people were still living in them). But to dare say, “What you’re doing is wrong” isn’t anti-Israel any more than saying “the NSA shouldn’t spy on us” is anti-American.

  34. zenlike says

    [citation needed] Bubba, now stfu.

    The last half century, a lot of anti-Semitic attacks have been committed in Europe (the place you seem to imply, since you disregard the good ol’US of A). Guess who committed them? Small hint, the perpetrators were not really friendly people to the leftists causes…

    Also not being pro-‘Israel-is-great-whatever-it-does’, is not the same as being ‘anti-Israel’.

  35. BubbaRich says

    Sorry, Ed, you knew this would happen, and I played a part in it.

    What facts am I avoiding, Alverant? Which facts make you be against a Star of David on the memorial?

    Yes, “zenlike,” other people do bad things, too.

  36. raven says

    The Western Left has been anti-semitic AND anti-Israel for decades,…

    This isn’t true at all. Some of the Western Left (whatever that is) are themselves Jewish.

    Traditionally in the USA, the antisemitism has come from the right and fundie xianity. It still does. Hitler was a rightwinger not a leftist. The KKK, the self appointed defenders of xianity, are antisemitic as are Xian identity white supremacists.

    Xianity itself has been antisemtiic since it started. The NT is full of it, notably Matthew and John. Prominent antisemics include

    1. The Catholic church. For nearly 2,000 years antisemitism was official dogma. The Jews were the christ killers. The RCC carried the antisemitic torch for millennia.

    2. Martin Luther. Rabid antisemite and misogynist who came up with the idea for the Final Solution. The Nazis reprinted his book on it.

    3. The German Lutheran and Catholic churches. The Nazis were xians. In fact, the SS, the organization responsible for actually killing millions of civilians prohibited atheists from joining. Because they only trusted xians to kill indiscriminately.

  37. Alverant says

    Well Bubba you’re ignoring the fact you haven’t provided any examples of your claims that the left wants to finish the job the Nazis have done. The fact that the memorial is downplaying the other groups the Nazis targeted makes me against wanting to give one group preference.

  38. raven says

    For anyone who is tired of bubbarich’s lies, here is an interesting factoid.

    wikipedia Ideology of the SS:

    Atheism was banned within the SS with all SS men being required to list themselves as Protestant, Catholic or “believer in God” (German: gottgläubig).[15] Atheism was outlawed within the SS as Himmler believed it to be a form of egoism that placed the individual at the center of the universe, and thus constituted a rejection of the SS principle of valuing the collective over the individual.[16]

    The elite killers of Germany, the SS, banned atheists from joining.

  39. raven says

    Here is a recent example of antisemitism.

    David Pedersen murders: White supremacist admits to road trip …
    www. dailymail.co.uk/…/David-Pedersen-murders-White-supremacist-admit…

    Mar 13, 2012 – A white supremacist accused of killing four people in a violent road … alleged killing rampage through Washington, Oregon and California … Grigsby told police the white supremacist couple were going to ‘kill more Jews’ in Sacramento. … Grigsby pleaded not guilty to the killings of Pedersen’s parents and …

    These White Supremacists were on their way to Sacramento to kill Jews.

    They did kill 4 people. His parents, a teenager with a possibly Jewish name (Meyer) who was a devout xian, and a black guy. No Jews. Well, no one has ever said being white means you are competent.

  40. BubbaRich says

    Interesting. This is like a FoxNews “talk” show.

    Here’s an outline which discusses it a little:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_antisemitism

    I think I agree with Irwin Cotler’s characterization of the issues nearly entirely.

    Yes, raven, that’s a well-known fact, that Hitler leveraged his arguments and political policies on the Lutheran and Catholic organizations. It seems like you want to argue something else other than what I have said. You seem very angry about it. You need to go back and re-read what I have said, and take some of your assumptions out of the picture.

    It was a fundamental Jewish experience, and it nearly exterminated the Jews. I think it’s good to also recognize other particular groups targeted, but I also don’t have any problem with them being given “lower billing.”

  41. tomh says

    @ #31
    robert79 wrote:

    This is a direction which I suspect will estrange most of the so-called “nones” from the secular movement. To me, as a European, the American secular movement seems sometimes to be more obsessed with religion than the religious nuts themselves.

    I suspect it won’t estrange anyone from the so-called secular movement. As a European, you appear to have no idea of the extent that religious privilege permeates American society. It shows up most blatently in the legal system, where nominally secular laws are routinely laced with exceptions for the religious in just about every area of law. If we seem obsessed with religion to you, it is because we cannot escape it, in every facet of our lives and culture.

  42. raven says

    To me, as a European, the American secular movement seems sometimes to be more obsessed with religion than the religious nuts themselves.

    As a European and an ignorant idiot, you have no idea what we face in the USA. STFU!!!

  43. raven says

    As a European and an ignorant idiot, you have no idea what we face in the USA. STFU!!!

    To expand this a little, the xian religious kooks created the New Atheists.

    Like most atheists, I was a xian until I ran into the female slavers, forced birthers, and creationists. I long ago lost track of how many death threats I’ve gotten from fundie death cult xians. Becoming an atheist wasn’t a lifestyle choice, it was a matter of personal and national survival.

    The most powerful allies the Nones and atheists have is well known. Fundie xians. They are well on their way to destroying their religion as ex-xians cheer them on.

  44. Hayden says

    if you’re going to allow Jewish imagery on the memorial, then imagery of other groups should also be allowed

    Yes, I agree.

    Give all the victims of Nazi crimes some dignity and quit acting like one was worth more than another.

    Not sure where you got that bit. I never said anything approaching this.

  45. gshelley says

    Having a giant Star of David makes this an exclusive monument. To argue that it is inclusive because the small print mentions others died is disingenuous at best.You could argue that the targeting and victimization of the Jews was more extensive and deliberate than other groups, but that strikes me as a poor argument. To argue that in this context it serves as a general symbol is about as reasonable as Scalia claimng a cross is not a specifically Christian symbol
    Which leaves the question of should the FFRF have got involved. From a PR point of view, probably not. From an first amendment point of view, probably not. From a “This is a little obnoxious, couldn’t you have used one of the alternate designs that weren’t excluding other groups” then sure.

  46. colnago80 says

    OT but Amazon’s Jeff Bezos has purchased the Washington Post. After the Koch Brothers purchase the LA Times and the Chicago Tribune and Rupert purchases the New York Times, that will be the end of non-conservative journalism in the US.

  47. tomh says

    The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., manages to do a thorough job of honoring holocaust victims, without having to display a giant Star of David on the outside of their building. I don’t see why there has to be one on this little museum in Ohio.

  48. robert79 says

    “As a European and an ignorant idiot, you have no idea what we face in the USA. STFU!!!”

    Let me rephrase… “as a European who has lived for 7 years in the US”

    I respectfully disagree.

    I went to high school in the US and have gotten weird looks from teachers and fellow students alike when I expressed atheist views. I realise I got the mild treatment here. However I do think many people in the US atheist community are irrationally lashing out against traumatic experiences in their religious upbringing, bashing religion’s head in where ever it appears.

    Don’t get me wrong, I do think religion’s head should be bashed if it it appears in places where it does not belong. A holocaust memorial however, being the largely religious persecution it was, is NOT the place to start bashing the persecuted party.

  49. tomh says

    @ #48

    A holocaust memorial however, being the largely religious persecution it was, is NOT the place to start bashing the persecuted party.

    Religious symbols on government buildings are a fine place to start. Along with religious symbols and privileges everywhere else.

  50. says

    Since estimates of the numbers of which people of which persuasion repressed and killed has been invoked it is probably worth mentioning that the Nazi Holocaust and related activities in German occupied territories and Germany during and prior to WWII, we should also mention that there is a broader context to each of these oppressions.

    All the Jews were killed and/or driven out from the Iberian Peninsula, the Jews suffered Pogroms in Russia and elsewhere, and so on and so forth. The history of repression against the Jews is not the Nazi Holocaust, but the Nazi Holocaust is a huge part of that and has become a major symbol not only because so many were killed, but because, suddenly and all at once, the killing stopped and the world took a double take and realized something was terribly wrong here. This is an incredibly important moment in history.

    I’ve not seen the Ohio museum, but I’m going to guess it does not ignore the others who were killed in concentration camps or in other ways by the Nazis. If they do ignore this broader context, shame on them, they should go back to the drawing board and revise.

    And yes, other groups also have broader histories of repression, but I’m pretty sure, for example, union leaders were not forced to live in ghettos in Europe for hundreds of years.

    Acknowledging the breadth of the Holocaust is appropriate. Failing to acknowledge the depth of repression of Jews is offensive. Taking the Holocaust away from the Jews sounds anti-Semitic to me. I think one has to be careful in this are. (I agree with Ed that the FFRF people etc. are not anything close to being anti-Semitic.)

    I am wondering why, though, if the case here is so clearly undoable, why do it? Isn’t there some nice Biblical inscription on a public building somewhere, or, say, mention of god on public documents, like for instance money, that could be addresses? What is the strategic motivation of this particular case to advance the larger secular cause? I’m not seeing it.

  51. says

    Hey all, Dave Muscato here, Public Relations Director for American Atheists as mentioned in the post.

    I haven’t read all the comments here but I skimmed them, and want to respond to two things in the original post:

    Ed wrote:

    “no plausible argument by which the use of the Star of David as a symbol here would have any tangible effect of “advancing” the religion of Judaism. Nor is there any excessive entanglement by any reasonable criteria.”

    – The Lemon test isn’t just about advancing a particular religion. It’s also about advancing religion in general. So to say it’s not advancing Judaism doesn’t necessarily negate the second prong—if it advances religion over irreligion it could still be a violation. With regard to excessive entanglement, there really wasn’t an argument made here to rebut; you just said that it doesn’t demonstrate excessive entanglement. I disagree but that’s something I think a court would need to decide.

    Ed wrote:

    “The endorsement test requires that the court ask whether an “objective observer” who knows the relevant facts of the situation would perceive the government’s actions as an endorsement of a particular religion.”

    – Again the endorsement test (I’m not a lawyer but this is my understanding of it) also applies to religion over irreligion, not just a particular religion over other religions. If this design normalizes religion or makes religion appear to be the standard of a society, rather than demonstrating government neutrality with regard to religion vs irreligion, then it could also be in violation of the endorsement test.

    I don’t know the right answer to this but I think that because there is potential for excessive entanglement and potential for endorsement that there’s no good reason to move forward with this design. It would be very easy at this phase (they have not yet broken ground) to simply choose something else. Further, as SOCAS activists, we must consider not only this specific memorial, but all future memorials, monuments, statues, etc on public land using public funds. Even if this is a borderline violation, the NEXT one may not be so borderline, and the one after that even less so, etc. Setting precedent is a dangerous thing. And there is a statute of limitations on this sort of thing, although it’s a soft one, in addition to the fact that this will be much harder to do once they’ve built it if we decide to object on any grounds later.

  52. says

    Also I’ve noticed several people referring to this as a museum. It’s not a museum; it’s a memorial-slash-monument with an inscription on it. It’s not a building and it doesn’t have any exhibits or anything of that sort. It’s a permanent, outdoor pair of metal pillars with a Star of David in the negative space between them.

  53. Michael Heath says

    Ed writes:

    The endorsement test requires that the court ask whether an “objective observer” who knows the relevant facts of the situation would perceive the government’s actions as an endorsement of a particular religion. The answer to that is clearly no in this case. Could anyone seriously believe that in a country that is 75% Christian and about 1% Jewish that the government is endorsing Judaism? Such an argument would be laughed out of court, as it should be.

    ???? I constantly see government and the right wing endorse Judaism. If only to disingenuously pose as if they’re not really attempting to establish Christianity as the state religion. It’s right up there with so-called ceremonial deism; actually I think it’s far surpassed it given how overt the GOP is now about promoting Christian theism.

    This is also a whopper of a false restriction of alternatives logical fallacy. Government can and I think does promote more than one religion. It’s not an either or where Christianity wins by default. Even George W. Bush used rhetoric promoting religions other than Christianity, including Islam.

    From a political standpoint, Judaism provides a perfect foil to exploit for Christianists. There’s no threat Christians or the non-religious will convert to Judaism. The number of religious Jews continues to drop, for a very large and increasing number of Jews, being a Jew is more of a ethnic/cultural identity than set of theistic beliefs. And it allows Christianists the chance to promote public polices to use our military to kill Muslims, all in defense of the cousins they claim while denying the reality Muslims are also their theological cousins.

    I don’t know enough about Judaism to claim this star of David promotes the Jewish religion rather than merely reference Jews in general, but I have no doubt that Christians in government and the right wing promote Judaism as a way to achieve their political goals. Therefore such a symbol absolutely deserves our skeptical scrutiny.

  54. says

    I’m especially disturbed by any suggestion that anyone here is being anti-Semitic or, bizarrely, a Holocaust denier.

    To whom are you referring here?

  55. John Pieret says

    Orac @ 55:

    While I don’t think any one here has said that commenters at this post are being anti-Semitic or Holocaust deniers (although there may have been a few close calls from BubbaRich), the charge has been leveled elsewhere. The one I know about is by David Klinghoffer of the DI:

    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2013/07/isnt_jerry_coyn074731.html

    We should be able to discuss the appropriateness of this memorial and even the correctness of Israeli policy towards the Palistinians without resorting to epithets toward either side.

  56. says

    This memorial is on statehouse grounds, paid for with tax revenue, AND it effectively promotes one religion by implicitly pushing a false history of the Holocaust, in which only Jewish victims deserve to be memorialized.

    The Star of David itself is not a problem — it’s an easily recognizable symbol of the stated reason why 6 out of 11 million people were targeted for extermination. The problem is that appropriate symbols of other targeted groups were NOT included along with it.

    The misperceptiom implied by memorials like this is a real problem. For many years I learned to think of the Holocaust as an event in which Hitler killed about 6 million Jews. It wasn’t until much later that I learned that several other groups were targeted, and that Jews were only a little more than half of the total number of people killed by that campaign. Making rounding errors or neglecting 1% of the total death toll here or there is an understandable mistake. But neglecting to mention almost HALF of the total number of people killed is just plain fucking evil. Thsi monument, as currently planned, should be stopped, if not on constitutional grounds, then on factual-honesty grounds. Anyone who wants to memorialize only Jews should find a private piece of land to do it on.

  57. says

    PS: Bubba Rich was ignorant, bigoted, incoherent and off-topic from his first comment here. I suspect that moronic axe-grinding like his is part of the problem that led to this rather dishonest project.

  58. BubbaRich says

    How odd, RB, it’s like you didn’t actually read anything I wrote, and just want support from zenlike! Could you please look at post #3 above and explain how it was ignorant, bigoted, incoherent, or off-topic?

  59. Michael Heath says

    Raging Bee,

    Great argument @ 59.

    Unfortunately I’m one of the many who long thought that the holocaust targeted nearly all Jews. I did know that Germany also targeted communists, homosexuals, and gypsies prior to really going after the Jews, but I didn’t know to the degree non-Jews were slaughtered when the Germans’ killing rates skyrocketed.

  60. Michael Heath says

    BubbaRich writes:

    Could you please look at post #3 above and explain how it was ignorant, bigoted, incoherent, or off-topic?

    Re your post @ 3:

    . . .If they think this through, then they might realize they can also accept the Ceremonial Deism doctrine and develop a more consistent and reasonable approach to protect citizens against real encroachments against us by various religions . . .

    First, your assertion that ceremonial deism is benign towards us ‘nones’. It most assuredly is not, but instead a tactic long used to promote Christian privilege to detriment of secularists. So that right there is incredibly ignorant.

    Your post is potentially incoherent if I’m not able to reference your pronouns to the correct group/groups. You don’t name any specific groups, instead referring to “their” and “they” without first establishing exactly who you’re referencing.

  61. says

    Heath: how people write or teach about teh Holocaust says a lot about those people’s own priorities and agendas — and a lot of what it says isn’t all that flattering. My parents and teachers were generally pretty liberal, so I’m hesitant to blame them for my earlier misunderstanding of the Holocaust — they may have been similarly mis-educated on the subject themselves.

    And let’s face it — a lot of the bigotry that drive the Holocaust was, and is, openly shared and echoed by a significant number of Americans, so it’s reasonable to expect a good deal of distortion (intentional and not) in their perception of an event that their prejudices helped to cause. It’s easy to be sympathetic to Jews — they’re just one group, and they were hit hardest. Adding other groups — including still-hated groups such as atheists, communists, gays, Gypsies, unionists, and blacks who were starting to get more uppity in America than Jews ever were — makes things much more awkward for the white majority who have been writing our history to date.

  62. says

    You don’t name any specific groups, instead referring to “their” and “they” without first establishing exactly who you’re referencing.

    That’s probably because he can’t tell “them” apart from each other.

  63. says

    BubbaRich is smiling in his photo. His smile is that of the agent provocateur*.

    ONE of the reasons that so many jews were killed is that they were easy to find, living in ghettoes in much of Europe. Had the gypsies been of similar numbers and similarly situated we might have a fortune teller’s crystal ball wrapped ’round that Magen David.

    Tangential issue, but one that irritates me. The NRA and its boosters in GoM** love to say that if Hitler hadn’t taken the gunz away from the jews that the Holocaust would not have happened. The only problem is that of the six million jews murdered by the german Nazis and their various allies only about 250.,000 (IIRC) were german jews. The vast majority of those killed were non-german jews. There are other turds in that particular revisionist history word salad.

    * demonstrated in this case by his drive-by concern trolling.

    ** Gunzloonz of MurKKKa

  64. Thumper; Atheist mate says

    Personally, I don’t see how putting a Star of David on public land is any different to putting a cross on public land. You can’t argue that it’s impossible for a Government to endorse a minority position, I’m afraid I think that’s a ridiculous claim. However my main problem with this is that it perpetuates the notion that the Jews were the only ones to suffer in the holocaust. I know it’s not a deliberate attempt to do do that and I’m not suggesting it is, but people all too often forget about the Roma, gay, Unionist, Socialist, Communist, disabled, Turkic and Slavic victims of the holocaust (and I’ve probably missed a few groups out myself there).

    I think a holocaust memorial should remember all holocaust victims, not just the ones at the forefront of public memory.

  65. Thumper; Atheist mate says

    @robert79 #48

    A holocaust memorial however, being the largely religious persecution it was, is NOT the place to start bashing the persecuted party.

    … You’re unaware then that the Nazis defined Jews as an ethnic group and persecuted them on those grounds? Also, please see my #67 and explain how any of those groups are religious.

    The holocaust was motivated by nationalism and Aryan supremacy with a healthy dose of homphobia and Ableism thrown in, and Social Darwinism. It was large scale eugenics; the perfect person was Aryan, heterosexual, able-bodied and neurotypical. White, Germanic, heterosexual, able-bodied and neurotypical was a close second. Anything else was not good enough and had to be removed from the gene pool. Their aim was to limit and manipulate the gene pool, in the same way dog breeders do, so as to create the “master race” that they were so fond of and ensure it spread across Europe. They were not killed because of their religion, per se, but because they belonged to an unapproved ethno-cultural group.

  66. Thumper; Atheist mate says

    I’ve had a thought: can they not find a symbol commonly related to all the other groups persecuted in the holocaust, and put them all up there with the Star of David?

    I don’t personally know of any symbols commonly associated with Slavic and Turkic ethno-cultural groups, but presumably some must exist. That said, they are such broad groups that the same symbol may not apply to the whole group; we may need a couple.

    Also this plan would result in a Rainbow Flag and a Hammer and Sickle going up there, so the wingnuts would throw a shitfit.

  67. dingojack says

    Raging Bee – ” For many years I learned to think of the Holocaust as an event in which Hitler killed about 6 million Jews. It wasn’t until much later that I learned that several other groups were targeted, and that Jews were only a little more than half of the total number of people killed by that campaign. Making rounding errors or neglecting 1% of the total death toll here or there is an understandable mistake. But neglecting to mention almost HALF of the total number of people killed is just plain fucking evil.”

    Pfft!! 5 million Trades Unionists, JWs, socialists, homosexuals, the mentally and physically disabled, Romany, jazz-lovers and etc*. It’s not like they count as real people.
    ‘After all, who’ll remember the Armenians?’ [/bitter]
    Dingo
    =====
    * Not to mention the 14 million or so Slavic civilians and prisoners of war, if you use the widest definition

    PS: The Australian Holocaust Museum takes great pains to say that they speak for those killed, tortured, starved raped, beaten and the rest in Nazi death camps because they were deemed by the Nazis to be Jews. But they also acknowledge that they can only speak as witnesses for all those in the camps for other reasons and/or in other categories.
    Not all should be tarred with the same brush.

    PPS: Yes I have posted this many times before, but, as always, it bears repeating.

  68. alyosha says

    For an interesting treatment of the evolution of Jewish organizations and the community in general, read Norman G. Finkelstein’s ‘The Holocaust Industry.’
    Not a self-hating Jew, in case Bubba has an issue with his positions.

  69. slavdude says

    Not to mention, if it hasn’t been already, that the Nazis exterminated Soviet POWs and civilians in their camps in greater numbers than the Jews they killed. So the monument should also have either a red star or a hammer and sickle as well.

  70. says

    I’ve had a thought: can they not find a symbol commonly related to all the other groups persecuted in the holocaust, and put them all up there with the Star of David?

    Like I said before, they could use the identifying symbols the Nazis forced their various victims to wear on their camp clothes.

  71. says

    I can’t find it but there’s a bumper sticker/window decal that I see that combines the iconographic logos (is that a correct term?) for a number of religions. That could be cobbled up to cover the other stuff.

    “They were not killed because of their religion, per se,”

    They were killed because they had or controlled a LOT of property and money that Hitler wanted and he knew that he could get away with fucking them over. They were also deemed unreliable. What’s truly ironic is that if Hitler had left them alone (and I’m talking about all the way back to the late 20’s) HE woulda prolly had the Tsar bomb and the space program.

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