Left: Rep. Sarah Fowler Arthur spoke with News 5 in early March about the legislation and some of her comments are raising concern. Right: James Pasch, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, speaks about Fowler Arthur’s comments. Photo by Morgan Trau, WEWS.
The following article was originally published on News5Cleveland.com and is published in the Ohio Capital Journal under a content-sharing agreement. Unlike other OCJ articles, it is not available for free republication by other news outlets as it is owned by WEWS in Cleveland.
As the debate over a “divisive concepts” bill rages on across the state, one of the bill’s primary sponsors is getting some additional attention after her interview with News Channel 5 WEWS. State Representative Sarah Fowler Arthur (R-Ashtabula) spoke with the station in early March about the legislation and some of her comments are raising concern.
House Bill 327 could change the way topics considered controversial are taught in public institutions. After an interview with Statehouse reporter Morgan Trau, News 5 is revisiting that conversation, with reaction from educators and leaders from Ohio’s Jewish community.
Before the Zoom interview with Rep. Fowler Arthur, News 5 requested that the representative turn her camera on. She declined to do so.
After 23 minutes of the interview, Trau asked her about the financial aspect of the bill. While attempting to talk about funding, she brought up the Holocaust.
“You should talk about these atrocities that have happened in history, but you also do have an obligation to point out the value that each individual brings to the table,” Fowler Arthur said.
The interview with Fowler Arthur left News 5 with questions about some of the statements she made about the Holocaust and how this important part of world history would be taught under HB 327.
After multiple editorial meetings with the News 5 team, the interview was shared with the Anti-Defamation League, the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage and the Ohio Education Association.
“There are moments in our history where there are not two sides to debate,” said James Pasch, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League. “There is a right side and a wrong side.”
“In the case of the Holocaust, we’re talking about state-sponsored mass murder,” Dahlia Fisher with the Maltz Museum, said.
Here is some of what Fowler Arthur said.
“What we do not want is for someone to come in and say, ‘well, obviously the German government was right in saying that the Aryan race is superior to all other races, and therefore that they were acting rightly when they murdered hundreds of thousands of people for having a different color of skin,” the representative said.
Watch the unedited segment of Trau’s interview with Arthur Fowler in the video player below:
Pasch is concerned that Fowler Arthur is unaware of how many people were murdered and why, and Fisher is worried that the representative believes Judaism is a race.
“Judaism is not a race, it is a religion,” Fisher said. “The significance of this is that Hitler and the Nazis were the ones that categorized the Jews into a race. I would say that if someone was to use that language today, it would be an act of antisemitism and a way to categorize Jews as an ‘other’ in our current times.”
“There’s no baseline of even education there that six million Jews were systematically murdered and millions of others,” Pasch said. “I can’t think of a more important need or call out for the need of increased education about what happened.”
There’s very few things that would be worse than distorting the history of the Holocaust, Pasch added.
“Maybe you’re listening to it from the perspective of a Jewish person that has gone through the tragedies that took place,” Fowler Arthur continued. “And maybe you listen to it from the perspective of a German soldier.”
Pasch and Fisher took a second to breathe after hearing her comment.
“German soldiers, or the Nazis,” Pasch clarified. “Would she feel the same way about, like 9/11? Does she want the perspective of the hijackers who flew the planes into buildings? No, because there’s moral absolutes, right? And so there aren’t two sides to every historical event.”
After the conversations, News 5 tried to follow up with Fowler Arthur.
Trau called and left voicemails and sent numerous emails to her and her team — detailing the major concerns that the organizations brought up. She also texted and even sought her out at the Statehouse, including Tuesday morning at a committee hearing.
Fowler Arthur’s team refused to do a follow-up interview to allow her to clarify her comments and help the News 5 viewers understand how HB 327 could impact the teaching of subjects like the Holocaust.
Now, educators are concerned about the potential implications of the unclear bill.
“When I talk to my colleagues around the state, I’d say the number one thing that they always say is that they get very frustrated when politicians make decisions about what happens in our classrooms and don’t trust the judgment of teachers, don’t trust the relationship that exists that is very strong,” said Scott DiMauro, president of the Ohio Education Association.
Fowler Arthur was previously on the state Board of Education but has never participated in the public education system as a student or a parent. She was homeschooled and did not attend college.
Each of the organizations we spoke to says they want to keep education in the hands of the educators.
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