Controversial Holocaust Memorial Project Gets Nod To Proceed

Artist's rendering of the Holocaust Memorial in Columbus.
Artist's rendering of the Holocaust Memorial in Columbus.
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The debate over constitutional concerns and the independence of a state panel did not stop the Statehouse board from giving final approval of a Holocaust Memorial.

The design includes two 18-foot structures featuring the Star of David.

The Capitol Square board approved the memorial by a near-unanimous vote. The only no vote came from its chair… former Republican Senate President Richard Finan.

He says the Statehouse is not the place for a Holocaust Memorial and that the Star of David invites a potential lawsuit.

Joe Sommer, Ohio board member of the Freedom from Religion Foundation, testified against the plans.

“We’re concerned that the prominent display of the Star of David—which is a sacred symbol of the Jewish religion—constitutes an endorsement of a specific religion and therefore would violate the First Amendment.”

That violation… according to Sommer, is especially hard to take when he considers the amount of school children expected to visit the memorial during Statehouse trips.

Sommer: “Yeah it does send the wrong message I guess in the sense that—I mean they’re supposed to learn about the First Amendment and how the constitution is supposed to work and if you see the state government violating it right on the Statehouse grounds that’s probably not a good message for them.”

Keller: “We never intended this to be a memorial to Jews or about the Jews.”

That’s Joyce Garver Keller, executive director of Ohio Jewish Communities. She’s been heavily involved in the memorial process and says the star does not promote any certain religion.

“I don’t think the memorial itself or the depiction of the broken Star of David is promoting any religion. The broken Star of David—you need to see it in its context—the story that the artist has chosen.”

That story tells the tale of two cousins separated at a concentration camp. One cousin helps save the other by putting the Star of David on his forehead. It’s the same story that will be inscribed on the large sculpture on the Statehouse plaza.

Thursday’s vote ends a two-year debate between board chair Finan and Governor John Kasich. After the meeting, Finan once again railed against recent interference by the Legislature and governor’s office. Interference he says is threatening the ideals of the Capitol Square board, which is supposed to be an independent body.

“Cap Square Review and Advisory Board was put in place to be the buffer between the General Assembly and the Statehouse. It was to try and protect the Statehouse from people just coming up with an idea one morning and coming in here and bang, bang, bang putting up a wall and putting up a new room or something like that.”

But in Finan’s opinion… that independence is dwindling and the governor’s efforts to put in the Holocaust Memorial has played a big role.

Finan says Kasich side-stepped the process when he first announced he wanted the memorial at the state’s Holocaust Commemoration Ceremony in 2011.

“What the governor should have done was come to the board to apply for a memorial and then the memorial would go through a process within the board and be approved or not be approved. He didn’t do that.”

Finan’s vote against the memorial is accompanied by his resignation which will take effect at the end of October. Meanwhile, plans for the sculpture will move forward. The artist hopes to complete the memorial by April of next year.

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