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Tuesday, June 18, 2024 | Back issues
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Glendale Rebuffs Constitutional Claim|Against Monument to WWII’s Sexual Slaves

LOS ANGELES (CN) - The city of Glendale asked a federal judge to dismiss the constitutional claims of two Japanese-Americans irked by the city's monument to women forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese army in World War II.

Michiko Shiota Gingery, Koichi Mera the nonprofit GAHT-US asked the court in February to order Glendale to remove a 1,100-lb. bronze statue from Central Park, claiming that it poses a threat to diplomatic relations between America and Japan.

Glendale moved to dismiss the complaint last week on a number of grounds, including that the objectors have no right to challenge the city's "mere expression regarding historical events."

Gingery and Mera claim the monument is unconstitutional because it interferes with the foreign affairs of the United States, and say they been forced to avoid Central Park ever since its unveiling.

Glendale's attorney, Bradley Ellis, meanwhile said that the plaintiffs' avoidance of Central Park is no grounds for a "cognizable injury," and amounts to "nothing more than their disagreement with the view of historical facts."

Ellis, a partner with Sidley Austin, said the monument makes clear that the Japanese Imperial army was responsible for the crimes, and does not blame Japan and its people.

"Indeed, by plaintiffs' misguided 'logic,' any memorial that documents Nazi war crimes would somehow attack present day Germans and/or Americans of German descent," Ellis wrote.

Mera's claim is undermined because he does not even live in Glendale, Ellis adds. And Santa Monica-based GAHT-US does not make clear if any of its "mystery members" are Glendale residents, according to the motion to dismiss.

"Plaintiffs also claim, without explanation, that the monument is unfairly 'one-sided,' but they do not, because they cannot, identify any false statement or what a 'balanced' account of the war crimes against the comfort women would be. In any case, it is entirely permissible for Glendale to take a side in a historical debate," Ellis wrote in a footnote.

Ellis challenges the theory that the monument could damage U.S.-Japan relations.

Nothing suggests the "Japanese government has changed, or is even contemplating a change regarding, its relationship with the U.S.," Ellis wrote.

Ellis cited the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission to claim that municipalities, like corporations, have a right to free speech under the First Amendment. Those rights trump "any purported claim of foreign affairs preemption," Ellis says.

The Central Park monument depicts a young girl sitting next to an empty chair, with a bird on her shoulder. It is accompanied by a plaque that condemns Japan for avoiding responsibility for the abduction of more than 200,000 women, including Koreans, Filipinos, Chinese, Indonesians, Dutch and Japanese, during the 1930s and '40s.

Only 55 of the women enslaved during Japan's colonization of the Korean peninsula are alive today. The victims, including young women and teenagers, were forced into brothels where they were prostituted and forced service up to 50 men each day.

Though Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono apologized in 1993 for his country's involvement, the Japanese government has resisted South Korea's calls for an official apology and compensation to the victims.

A petition at President Barack Obama's website, urging removal of the monument, received more than 108,000 signatures, according to the lawsuit.

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