Las Vegas Rabbi Plans to Marshall Opposition to Proposed Statue on Public Ground

Las Vegas’ lone rabbi said today he planned to ask local interfaith organizations to support his effort to persuade sponsors of a proposed peace shrine, featuring a life-size statue of Christ, to drop the idea.

Rabbi Aaron Gold of Temple Beth Shalom told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that he had objected initially to the proposal when he had been approached about it last summer. He said he had learned that the Jewish owner of a major Las Vegas hotel had been induced by the sponsors to underwrite the proposed memorial but that the hotel owner withdrew his support when he was informed by the synagogue’s cantor, Joseph Cohen, an old friend, about the nature of the memorial.

Rabbi Gold said he had assumed that this was the end of the matter until yesterday, when he learned that the Las Vegas Convention Authority, the city’s tourism agency, voted to allow a private group to build the peace shrine on county property in front of the convention center. A plaque would list the names of the dead from Nevada in all wars.

James Bilbary, the Clark County assessor, said the design of the $25,000 shrine had not yet been completed. In response to Rabbi Gold’s objection that not only Christians, but Jews and other faiths were among the state’s war dead, the assessor was reported to have said, “if they want a Star of David standing on it, we’ll do that too,” Rabbi Gold told the JTA he had informed the assessor that he objected to any sectarian element for such a memorial.

Rabbi Gold, who is president of the Clark County Ministerial Association, said he planned to call an early meeting of the group to seek backing for his campaign against the shrine. He said he also planned to bring the issue before the local unit of the National Conference of Christians and Jews. He said he did not know the nature of the private group which was reported as sponsoring the project but that he had been told the sponsors hoped to complete the memorial within a year.

He said that he has also urged against the memorial as one “to a war still going on” in Vietnam which he said was “challenged by many Americans as immoral.”

(In New York, the American Jewish Congress today told Rabbi Gold that it would be willing to extend to him all the necessary legal support to fight the erection of the statue. Dr. Leo Pfeffer, the AJCongress’ special counsel who is an authority on church-state law, told the rabbi that the organization’s experience and skills in protecting the church-state separation principle would be put at his disposal if his efforts to stop the “peace shrine” by voluntary means were not successful.

(Earlier this month, the Supreme Court of Oregon ruled that a 51-foot cross on public property in the city of Eugene was unconstitutional and had to be dismantled. Mr. Pfeffer served as chief counsel for 10 Jewish and non-Jewish plaintiffs in the case.)

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