FFRF objects to religious symbol at Ohio Capitol

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, on behalf of its more than 500 Ohio members, is objecting to a religious design on a Holocaust memorial to be built at the Ohio statehouse. FFRF, a Madison, Wis.-based association of 19,000 atheists and agnostics, is a national state/church watchdog.

The design selected for the memorial, created by architect Daniel Libeskind, incorporates stainless steel rectangular structures with the prominent sacred religious Star of David in the negative space. Libeskind's justification for using an overtly religious symbol on government property was, "one cannot separate the Holocaust from the star."

However, semi-finalists Jaume Plensa and Ann Hamilton did just that.

FFRF Co-Presidents Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor sent a letter June 14, 2013 to former Ohio Senator Richard Finan, chair of the Capitol Square Review and Advisory Board, stating: "Either of Plensa's or Hamilton's designs would be preferable to avoid a potentially unconstitutional entanglement of government and religion. Therefore, the state, in choosing Libeskind's plan using a prominent sacred symbol, knowingly selected and endorsed a design with constitutional concerns."

Before the final design was selected, Finan voiced his concerns about the use of the six-sided star to the Cleveland Plain Dealer. "I think that the Star of David is a religious symbol, and religious symbols, we have been told on several occasions, are not permissible on Statehouse grounds."

FFRF's letter urges: "The monument could resemble numerous powerful war memorials across the U.S. which do not use any sectarian images, including the national World War 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 points out that there were at least five million non-Jewish victims of the Holocaust, including gays, Jehovah's Witnesses, Roma Gypsies, the disabled and many others who are excluded by use of the symbol.

"To align the State of Ohio with one religion and its sacred symbol— even a minority religion for a worthy memorial— would dishonor the truest protection our country has against a similar Holocaust on our shores: the precious constitutional principle separating religion from government. Had there been a separation between religion and state honored and enforced in Germany, ensuring the government could not favor the dominant religion and persecute and scapegoat minority religions and other 'dissidents,' there would not have been a Holocaust."

This morning the Capitol Square Review and Advisory Committee approved the plan over Finan's dissent. Finan subsequently announced his resignation from the board. FFRF Board Member Joseph Sommer spoke against the religious design at today's hearing.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational charity, is the nation's largest association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics), and has been working since 1978 to keep religion and government separate.

FFRF is a non-profit, educational organization. All dues and donations are deductible for income-tax purposes.

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