The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) recently announced it never planned to sue Ohio Statehouse officials, insisting the group harbored no “objection to a Holocaust memorial on public property” days after sending a threatening letter about the planned monument’s inclusion of the Star of David.
Despite the evangelical atheist group’s warnings, the Capital Square Review and Advisory Board (CSRAB) approved the monument’s creation with a lone dissenting vote cast by retiring member and former Republican state senator Richard Finan.
After the votes were tallied, Finan – long an opponent of the memorial’s construction – warned, “this is just too much,” The Columbus Dispatch reported.
“It’s the Star of David. You can’t get around that,” Finan said. “I think we’re going to get sued.”
The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), a DC-based legal firm specializing in religious liberty and First Amendment cases, disagreed with the interpretation of the Constitution cited by Finan and FFRF lawyers and suggested FFRF may have realized they would be out of their depth in filing suit.
“As we’ve seen, especially in smaller local communities, these letters can be very threatening, because you’re worried that you’ll get sued and it’ll cost all this money,” ACLJ Executive Director Jordan Sekulow told Media Trackers.
“This time, they’re picking on the State of Ohio, it’s a little different. They’re not going after some small town this time.”
On July 26, ACLJ lawyers sent a letter to state officials explaining why they believed FFRF’s legal arguments were incorrect and suggesting arguments in favor of the monument, should FFRF or anyone else sue to prevent its construction or demand its alteration.
The letter argued that FFRF’s “bizarre rewriting of history” “ventured into the absurd” when the activists suggested groups like FFRF could have prevented the Nazis’ Holocaust.
ACLJ lawyers cited a similar case heard by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in 2001 and re-affirmed in 2011, ACLU of Ohio v. Capitol Square Review & Advisory Board, in which District Court judge James Graham wrote that “the people of the United States did not adopt the Bill of Rights in order to strip the public square of every last shred of public piety.”
“Now they’re backing away, it looks like — at least for now — from possibly a lawsuit, saying they’re not planning one… the Freedom from Religion Foundation always tosses the letter out first, and I think they kind of get a sense of the reaction,” Sekulow explained.
Sekulow suggested “pressure from the public” likely led FFRF to reconsider a case that could have resulted in even vaguely religious Americans concluding “that the Freedom From Religion Foundation really hates them.”
In a June 14 letter to Finan, FFRF co-presidents Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor wrote that the inclusion of an “enormous” Star of David in the Statehouse memorial would give visitors the “impression of an endorsement of Judaism” by the State of Ohio.
Barker and Gaylor also wrote that “a reasonable observer could conclude that the government only cares about the Jewish victims of the Holocaust, not Christian, nonreligious, or other non-Jewish victims,” before describing “the sinister role Christian union with the state played during the Holocaust” and collusion “between the Roman Catholic and Lutheran denominations with Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy.”