Another Monument, Another Battle

Daniel Fincke and James Croft are discussing the stance by the Freedom from Religion Foundation and American Atheists in opposition to a proposed Holocaust memorial displaying the Star of David. I think both have made strong arguments against pursuing a legal case against such a monument on 1st amendment grounds.

My opinions are less developed than James and Daniel’s are. They basically boil down to this: This is not the hill I want to die on.

Seriously folks, we’ve still got people out there who think that Hitler was the king of the atheists, and now you want to pick a fight over a Holocaust memorial? Could you not think of a worse PR move, like maybe eating a live puppy on camera?

We can argue for days over the principles of separation of church and state or secularism. If I wanted to be part of a group viewed as highly principled lunatics, I’d become a libertarian.

The precedents for establishment cases are a mess. We should never forget that James Madison and Thomas Jefferson did not get the 1st Amendment that they wanted, and our “wall of separation” is really a legal kludge composed of the 1st & 14th amendments stitched together with some flawed history from Hugo Black. We can’t pretend that just because we stand on a correct principle means that we’ll win the case.

As Daniel and ‘nope point out, the fallout from a loss could be disastrous. And in the meantime, you can be sure that folks would be making hay out of FRFF and AA’s opposition to the monument.

This maybe one of those times where we have to chose between being right and being successful. I’d like to think that in time we can be both, but I don’t see this battle as helping us to that point.

  • Ryan Jean

    For a lot of people, myself included, the responses of Daniel and James make a lot of sense, but still leave us questioning what the right approach should be in cases like this?

    I don’t think anyone is realistically saying we need a lawsuit over putting up a holocaust memorial, in the abstract; the question is whether one using a design that was chosen over other contending designs because (at least in part) of its religious connotations, and which largely sidelines the many other groups and people who also suffered at the hands of the Nazis merely because of who they were, actually can be said to be the appropriate design for a publicly-funded memorial.

    So with that in mind, would you have just sent a letter to the state/county/city in question with carefully qualified objections? Would you have done nothing whatsoever? What will you say when (because it has NEVER been an “if”) the religious right tries to use the mere existence of a religiously-themed public memorial as proof of legality for doing more of it? Make no mistake, they will do that as long as the memorial is built based on the contested design, but if that happens one thing we can point to down the road is that the “it’s tradition” and “nobody complained” arguments that will be made are bogus.

    I don’t have an easy answer to what the right action should be. I thought I did, and I have since retreated from that idea after internalizing Daniel and James’ arguments, which are quite detailed and somewhat compelling. I personally feel, though, that in their eagerness to look at it from the short game perspective they may inadvertently be surrendering part of the long game that I don’t necessarily want to risk losing.

  • Michael

    But the Holocaust was primarily a religious genocide. If there was ever a situation that justified religious symbolism, this would be it. Moreover, the star of David was used by the Nazis to mark the Jews.

    Why are the FRF and AA opposed to this? I don’t mean in first amendment terms, I mean how are they actually harmed? Do they think that including a star of David ignores the non-Jewish people killed in the Holocaust? I think that would be a reasonable position 50 years ago, but now it is of historical rather than personal importance, and historically it is the Jewish people who were mainly affected.

    Well maybe that’s not quite fair. There are still dozens of people alive who were in the concentration camps, and they can’t all be Jewish. But unless any of them have actually complained about the monument, I don’t see the problem.

    • WoodyTanaka

      “But the Holocaust was primarily a religious genocide.”

      No, it wasn’t. It was an ethnoreligious one. The Nazis termed it “racial.” One who was born a Jew but did not follow the religion was not exempted. (Which is why I don’t see a constitutional issue here. The Star of David is an ethnic symbol as well as a religious symbol, and that appears to be how it’s being used here.)

      “and historically it is the Jewish people who were mainly affected.”

      Well, that opens the whole ball of wax as to how “Holocaust” should be defined. But if we use a broad definition of “intention murder to achieve ethnic and political post-war aims” (which is appropriate given that the extermination of the Jews, and about 50 Million other people, were all apart of Generalplan Ost), then the Jews constitute about half of the victims, with the next two largest groups being non-Jewish Poles and Soviet POWs.

      • Michael

        You didn’t contradict anything I said.

        An “ethnoreligious” genocide is still religious. By your reckoning, the Jews were still the largest affected “ethnoreligious” group.

        • WoodyTanaka

          “An “ethnoreligious” genocide is still religious.”

          No, it isn’t. There was virtually no religious motivation in the killing; it was motivated by Nazi ideas about race and ethnicity.

          “By your reckoning, the Jews were still the largest affected “ethnoreligious” group.”

          Yes, but that does not support your claim that it was the Jews who were “mainly affected.” That is simply not true, and certainly not true to suggest, as you appear to do, that it forms a basis to ignore the 50% who were non-Jews.

          • Michael

            The Jews do not form an ethnic group. They do form a religious group. But at any rate it doesn’t matter, because as you yourself pointed out, the star is a symbol of Judaism whether ethnically or religiously.

            And I don’t know what definition of “mainly” you are using here, but if the Jews were not mainly affected, then who were?

            And I certainly never claimed there was any basis to ignore any people who died in or were affected by the Holocaust.

            • WoodyTanaka

              “The Jews do not form an ethnic group.”
              Yes, they do. They are often said to firm an ethnoreligious group, owing to the importance of religion in defining the ethnicity.

              “But at any rate it doesn’t matter,”
              Sure it does. If it is being used as an ethnic symbol, virtually not Establishment issue is present. If it is only a religious symbol, such an issue is present, although there may not be a violation.

              “And I don’t know what definition of “mainly” you are using here,”

              The English one. “in most cases” or “almost entirely.”

              “but if the Jews were not mainly affected, then who were?”

              No one people were “mainly” affected. The Jews were the largest demographic group affected, but they weren’t mainly affected, as nearly as many non-Jews as Jews were affected.

              And the entirety of the second paragraph of your first post seems to suggest that it is okay to ignore the half who were non-Jews because it is a “historical” matter. Perhaps that is not what you meant, but it is how it comes across.

            • Michael

              The Jews do not form an ethnic group. They do form a cultural group, and the defining feature of their culture is their religion and traditions associated with that religion. Ethnically, they are diverse and share no common origin.

              Sure it does. If it is being used as an ethnic symbol, virtually not Establishment issue is present. If it is only a religious symbol, such an issue is present, although there may not be a violation.

              What you are saying in many words is that it does not matter. If the star is being used as an ethnic symbol, then there is simply nothing to discuss. Only if it is used as a religious symbol is there even any possible first amendment objection.

              No one people were “mainly” affected. The Jews were the largest demographic group affected, but they weren’t mainly affected, as nearly as many non-Jews as Jews were affected.

              I don’t know where you are getting the statistics that “nearly as many non-Jews as Jews were affected,” but even if that is the case, the Jews still comprise the majority. I can’t understand why it is inaccurate to say A is composed “mainly” of B if B comprises 51% of A. Anyway, this is a tiresome semantic debate that doesn’t seem to be leading anywhere.

              And the entirety of the second paragraph of your first post seems to suggest that it is okay to ignore the half who were non-Jews because it is a “historical” matter. Perhaps that is not what you meant, but it is how it comes across.

              That would only make sense if building a monument to one people were tantamount to ignoring all other peoples. Were that the case, we could never build monuments at all that didn’t represent all of humanity.

            • WoodyTanaka

              The Jews do not form an ethnic group”

              You can repeat this as many times as you’d like but you’d still be wrong.

              “What you are saying in many words is that it does not matter.”

              No, the reverse. I’m saying it does matter because if the are only a religious group, then it is a religious symbol.

              “I can’t understand why it is inaccurate to say A is composed “mainly” of B if B comprises 51% of A.”

              Because the word “mainly” has an accepted meaning and > 50% isn’t it.

  • LesterBallard

    Put symbols on it representing all victims of the Nazis, including Pink Triangles.

    • vincent findley

      What a piece of shit you are!

      • WoodyTanaka

        What is wrong with you that you would respond in such a fashion?

      • LesterBallard

        Jews weren’t the only victims of the Nazis. Edit: I love it when people misunderstand something, usually because of their arrogant self righteousness, and then climb up on their high horses and let loose. It’s fun.

        • vincent findley

          Arrogant, self righteous, let loose. That’s funny coming from you Lester. Seeing all your rebuttals on other threads. I don’t misunderstand anything. I’m assuming the pink triangle is a symbol of your piticular faction?

          • Nox

            The pink triangle was how the nazis marked gay people.

            Everyone else got the reference instantly.

            • vincent findley

              Thank you for pointing out to me what I knew. I was mearly suggesting to molester ballard that he was part of that faction.Does he feel slighted? He failed to mention the Jehovah’s and gypsies and others.Should they also have their symbol?

            • Ann Onymous

              Mr. Findley: Do please note the word “included”. He’s not saying “have the Star of David and pink triangles, nothing else”, he said “symbols … representing all victims of the Nazis, INCLUDING (caps mine) pink triangles”. Should he have listed every last victim of the Nazis, tracked down their symbols, and drawn a little picture so you wouldn’t have to go to the trouble of reading?
              Also, Mr. FIndley, you appear to have made an odd typo casting aspersions on the character and activities of someone you know nothing about. You may want to remove the “mo” from Mr. Ballard’s name. You have also made what is most certainly not a typo regarding the sexual orientation of someone who, again, you know nothing about. You have no relevant information on Mr. Ballard.

          • LesterBallard

            No, the Nazis forced male homosexuals to wear pink triangles. The pink triangle has been appropriated. My point was that Jews were not the only victims of the Nazis. So, you know, eat shit and die.

      • LesterBallard

        Hit and run?

  • Robb

    AA has nothing to do with religion. AA has no opinion on outside issues; its only agenda is for alcoholics to help other alcoholics get sober. Since there is no AA authority, no leaders nor no centrality, it is ignorant to make such a comment. Some in AA are religious, some of us are not plus everything in between.

    • Nox

      Pretty sure the “AA” referred to there is “American Atheists” not “Alcoholics Anonymous”.

      Also, the people in Alcoholics Anonymous may be religious, nonreligious and everything in between, but the organization itself absolutely is explicitly religious. Eight of the twelve steps are praying.

    • vincent findley

      The epitemy of thinking asphalt is a rectum problem.


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