Published July 25, 2013
A Wisconsin-based atheist group has expressed its opposition to a Holocaust memorial set to be built on the ground of the Ohio statehouse, arguing that its location violates the separation of church and state and calling the Star of David "exclusionary" in memorializing victims of the Nazis.
But Ohio Gov. John Kasich and proponents of the memorial say it will teach people about man's inhumanity to man and that, contrary to the atheists' claim, it will include all those killed by the Nazis -- including U.S. soldiers, ethnic and religious minorities, homosexuals and the mentally ill.
Joyce Garver Keller, executive director of Jewish Communities, an organization that represents Jewish groups across the state, said the memorial is intended "mostly to honor those who had survived and who had come to Ohio to build a life."
Keller said it is appropriate to build the structure on state grounds because it will "remind lawmakers and those who work in and around government of the important role and responsibility they have in speaking out in the face of hatred, anti-Semetism and genocide."
"The Holocaust did not begin in concentration camps in the ovens with smoke stacks and mass graves," Keller told FoxNews.com. "It began in the halls of government with the passage of laws that targeted Jews, taking their properties, their businesses, their home, their freedom and ultimately their lives.
Kasich first proposed the idea of a memorial during a May 4, 2011, annual Holocaust commemoration at the statehouse.
"We need to have remembrance in this statehouse," Kasich said at the time. "I’d call on the Jewish community, along with our brothers in faith, to develop some sort of a memorial that members of our legislature and members of the public, as they pass through this great rotunda, will be able to understand not just the history of a time when people wouldn’t stand, but the fact that it’s today we must stand against evil."
"Let’s construct something in this rotunda that can teach people about man’s inhumanity to man, best exemplified by what happened in the Holocaust," he said.
The inscription planned for the memorial will read: "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."
The Jewish Star of David will be prominently featured at the site.
Kellers and others call such a memorial "inclusive," while the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) claims the memorial is discriminatory and has no place on government grounds.
"The Star of David is a religious symbol that is exclusionary," Dan Barker, a spokesman for the group, told FoxNews.com. "We’re not opposed to the memorial and we have sympathy for all the victims. We would probably give money to it if it were not on state grounds."
"A secular government is not supposed to have a religious endorsement," Barker continued. "I have Jewish heritage myself, but just because we like the religion and we're sympathetic to Holocaust survivors, doesn’t mean we should violate the precious American principle of separation between church and state."
Barker said the group expressed its opposition in a letter to the state, but has no plans to sue.
Approximately 11 million people perished in the Holocaust. Historians say at least 6 million Jews died at the hands of the Nazis, as did 1.9 million Polish civilians, mostly Christians. More than three million Soviet prisoners of war died and more than two million Soviet civilians, mostly Christians, were killed. More than one million Yugoslav civilians died and between 22,000 and 500,000 Gypsies were the victims of genocide, according to historical accounts. Approximately 70,000 men, women and children with mental and physical handicaps were murdered as well as an unknown number of political prisoners, resistance fighters, homosexuals and deportees.
According to Kasich's office, the memorial will sit 84 yards from a bronze inscription in front of the statehouse that reads: "With God, all things are possible." The American Civil Liberties Union had previously sued over that inscription and lost.