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Is SC Holocaust monument threatened by ruling against religious symbols on memorials?

Would South Carolina’s Holocaust monument be threatened if the U.S. Supreme Court upholds a lower court’s ruling against religious iconography in war memorials. File photo by The State
Would South Carolina’s Holocaust monument be threatened if the U.S. Supreme Court upholds a lower court’s ruling against religious iconography in war memorials. File photo by The State

South Carolina’s Holocaust memorial in Columbia is among the monuments that could be endangered by a recent federal court ruling against war memorials containing religious symbolism, according to a brief filed Christmas Eve with the U.S. Supreme Court.

Thirty states, including South Carolina, co-signed the Amici Curiae court brief urging the Supreme Court to overturn a federal appeals court ruling that Christian symbolism on a Maryland war memorial violates the U.S. Constitution’s separation of church and state.

All 30 states included in the brief say they believe the lower federal court’s ruling will impact “hundreds” of war monuments, including the Star of David atop South Carolina’s Holocaust monument at Memorial Park in Columbia.

“The primary purpose of these and many other memorials like them is not to promote any particular religious tradition or sect,” says the brief, “but to solemnize the sacrifices that the members of our armed forces have made.”

At the center of the controversy is a court ruling in favor of the American Humanist Association, involving a 40-foot-high war memorial in the shape of a cross in Bladensburg, Maryland.

The lower court ruled in 2017 that the so-called Peace Cross “has the primary effect of endorsing religion and excessively entangles the government in religion,” reported the Baltimore Sun in November.

The American Humanist Association is quoted telling the Sun it does not believe the ruling will have an impact on other war memorials. The association released a statement last month saying it is confident the lower court ruling will stand a Supreme Court test because “a Christian cross war memorial excludes Jewish and non-Christian veterans.”

It suggests building a new memorial at the site.

The Supreme Court agreed in November to review Maryland’s appeal of the decision, according to the Washington Post.

South Carolina and 29 other states are backing Maryland’s case, claiming they all “have a profound interest in safeguarding the many public war memorials that, like the Bladensburg cross, have stood within their borders for decades—or longer.”

The brief cites at least three monuments on the grounds of Arlington National Cemetery that sport religious terminology, included the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

“Many World War II memorials offer poignant examples of imagery (with) cultural meaning beyond its religious origin,” says the brief.

“Take, for example, the large Star of David monument in Columbia, South Carolina...The very shape of this veterans and Holocaust memorial is a key symbol of Judaism. Yet rather than promoting a particular religious tradition, the memorial’s other features make plain that its purpose is to honor those who died in one of history’s greatest atrocities.”

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