The Star of David – Secular or Sectarian?

Church and state issues travel a long and twisty road with too many side roads to explore. Traveling these side roads can get one lost, especially when misleading signes are thrown up to support an otherwise unsupportable position.

One of those street signs reads is call “Assumption Lane,” along with a warning sign that few tend to read, “When you assume…” You know the rest. 

Another is “Steep Grade Ahead” warning against a possible slippery slope argument.

Unfortunately there are too many who do not heed the signs and their messages.


Teaneck, NJ

This story begins with a capital city that wishes to put up a Holocaust memorial. This is a wonderful gesture and one all welcome. With the decades separating us from the mass murders of Jews, homosexuals, atheists, gypsies and other “undesirables” by the Nazi regime, it is important that we do not forget.

The problem has cropped up in Columbus, OH where the state legislature passed HB 312, which is primarily concerned with Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) initiative for K-12 education, funding for higher education and moneys for the prison system.

These were the main avenues that may be taking a back seat to a small side road seemingly attached as an afterthought.

At the very end of the bill, one very small paragraph was slipped in at the last minute dealing with locating “a prominent place on the lawn or other outside grounds of Capitol Square for the erection of a permanent memorial to victims of The Holocaust (1933-1945) and to those Ohioans who participated in the liberation of the death camps during World War II.”

What a nice idea. A side road few would avoid on their drive. OK, Holocaust deniers and anti-Somatic white-supremacists may get upset, but that would be about it.


Whitwell, TN

“Not so” cried chairman of the Ohio Capitol Square Review and Advisory Board, Richard Finan, who purportedly stated “we will get sued right and left.” Why? Because a Star of David is being considered for the memorial. It is not only Finan who is worried.

Speaking with William Carleton, Executive Director of the State of the State House, which is charged with the keeping of the historic grounds and the facilities, there is another worrywart.

Evidently, the general counsel advising the advisory board is also concerned that placing any religious symbolism on the memorial would be in violation of the U.S. and Ohio constitutions. However, not recognizing that one-half of the 12 million killed by the Nazis were of the Jewish culture would diminish the importance of such a memorial.

Will they be sued? Here is where our side lane turns into a muddy track filled with potholes.

I called Americans United for the Separation of Church and State for an opinion. AU’s mission is “preserving the constitutional principle of church-state separation as the only way to ensure religious freedom for all Americans.”


Washington, DC

With dozens of successful litigations concerning issues like religious displays sponsored by local, state and federal governments, this was the right group to approach and my initial assumption of a Star of David placed on a Holocaust memorial was initially confirmed by the AU communication department; it cannot happen.

However, after realizing he may have misspoken, I was referred to Gregory M. Lipper, senior litigation counsel. After a long discussion, Mr. Lipper provided me with an almost answer.

The answer depends on the context of the symbolism. If the memorial is considered a secular display, the answer is that the Star of David is “not necessarily” a problem. This brings us to the first pothole and something I have spoken to here and in my classroom, intent versus perception.

Vernon, NJ

One of the major problems is the term “Star of David.” In Hebrew it is the “Mogen David” or Shield of David, and is a symbol of Jewish identity, not necessarily the faith. For example…

I am a Jew by virtue of birth and tradition. My mother was Jewish as was my maternal grandmother and her mother, and the faith passes through the maternal side of the family. I was also brought up in a Jewish culture; the food, the music, the Yiddish language. Therefore, I consider myself an American of Jewish heritage.

I am also an atheist, which only affects my belief system, not the heritage in which I grew. So I am an American Jewish atheist. Ungainly, but you get the drift.

The Mogen David is also the national symbol of Israel and, even though it is a Jewish state, does not concede the fact that Jews, Christians, Muslims, other religious sects, and atheists live in the country freely – for the most part anyway.

This is the difference between the Shield of David and a Christian crucifix. Regardless on how the crucifix is displayed, it is a Christian symbol and nothing more. It represents the Christian faith and only the Christian faith.

In this discussion, one may overlook that the Ohio soldiers who help liberate the concentration camps will also be honored on this marker and that can only be considered secular symbolism. 

Miami, FL

From my research, speaking to those in the know, and some common sense, I believe the legal counsel for the Ohio Capitol Square Review and Advisory Board and Mr. Finan are digging their own pothole. Honoring those who were persecuted, murdered and tortured because they were not among the “chosen,” as well as their liberators is not religious in nature. It is very much secular.

I believe the use of a Mogen David is not meant, at least in this case, to advance the cause of Judaism. It represents one-half of the 12 million who were murdered and the soldiers who fought to free them. It is the ideal of Secular Humanism.


About David Rosman

David is the winner of the Missouri Press Foundation's "Best Columnist" in 2013 (First Place) and 2014 (Second Place), the 2016 Harold Riback Award for excellence in writing, and the winner of the 2007 Interactive Media Award for excellence in editing.
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