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1996 material edited and written by Conrad F. Goeringer, The LISTMASTER.

ndividual.txt files -

AA Chat 1996  

 A M E R I C A N   A T H E I S T S

#37  - - 5/14/96

In This Edition...
* Supreme Court: A Cross Is A Cross Is A Cross
* Has It REALLY Been "Downhill" Since School Prayer Was Banned?
* Coors Group Brews Trouble At Devils Tower
* TheistWatch: Includes "Nuns With An Attitude!"
* Resources: Wise Up, Folks!


Religious symbols on government seals violate the Establishment Clause of
the First Amendment, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled yesterday in a 6-3
decision. The case involved the city of Edmond, Oklahoma, which appealed a
lower court finding that its municipal seal depicting a cross had a distinct
religious significance. The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had earlier
decided that the "meaning of the Latin or Christian cross are
unmistakable...We must conclude that the average observer would
perceive...endorsement of Christianity.

City officials, though, contended that the municipal seal, in use for 27
years, was just "a collage of historical symbols celebrating Edmond's unique
history and heritage." The badge shows a covered wagon, an oil derrick and a
college building as well.

While the majority made no comment in rejecting the appeal, dissenting
justices Rehnquist, Scalia and Thomas voted to review the lower court ruling,
and had hoped to challenge the legal standing of those residents who had
brought the original lawsuit. They include a local Unitarian church and a
resident who is Jewish. The three justices said that they wanted to use the
Edmond case to resolve conflicting appeals court rulings.
Dozens of small communities through the American midwest have city symbols
and mottos which still include religious symbols and slogans.
- - -

Monday's edition of USA TODAY included a special section dealing with the
American educational system, discussing what's wrong and what's right with
the nation's schools. Is enough money being spent? What can be done to
reverse the long-term trend in declining test scores? Even with all of the
problems in the country's schools right now, though, parents still express
confidence to varying degrees in the educational system.
But hardly any discussion about public schools does not include the
"school prayer myth." In the USA TODAY article, this was ennunciated by a
student shown clutching a book with a picture of Jesus and the words to a
prayer. Underneath, the student was quoted as saying: "It started with the
separation of church and state. Once they took God out of the education
system, it went downhill from there. Hey, our country was founded on
Biblical principles. I think we need to go back to that."
School prayer advocates often use claims such as this to justify either
"voluntary" or mandatory prayer in public schools. By their reasoning, a
variety of social ills -- everything from rampant drug use to teen-pregnancy
and violence -- can all be traced to Supreme Court rulings, especially Murray
v. Curlett, which ended prayer and bible recitation in the public schools.
But any cause and effect relationship is difficult, if not impossible to
prove. There are other, significant social developments that contribute to
the sorts of behaviors school prayer advocates blame on the abolition of
prayer. And mandatory school prayer wasn't all that widespread in the early
1960's, before the Court outlawed the practice.
Only Pennsylvania, Alabama, Delaware, Florida and Tennessee had laws
mandating bible recitation. In nearly a dozen other states, the practice had
already been ruled unconstitutional; and elsewhere, there were either no laws
concerning the practice, or it was left up to local school districts to
Religious partisans had been trying for decades to legislate mandatory
prayer, however. In cities where the Roman Catholic Church was well
organized, schools used the Riems version of the bible as both a
spelling-reading book, and a source for prayer. The "Great Awakening", which
saw a revival in aggressive Protestant theology, prompted those churches to
challenge the practice. In the decade of the 1840's, there were armed
confrontations between gangs of Catholics and Protestants, and the local
police -- the infamous "Bible Wars." In New York City, school authorities
decided that Catholic children could be removed from the daily prayer
recitation. Even in the 1850's, the squabble over which version of the bible
-- the Roman Catholic or the Protestant "King James" -- continued. In
Maine, a Catholic priest ended up being tarred and feathered after he told
his parishioners to challenge the law which required mandatory use of the
Protestant version in schools.
Today's school prayer activists have their precursor in groups like the
National Reform Association, which in the early twentieth century labored to
pass legislation on a state-by-state basis which would madate school prayer
and bible reading. Not all states gave in to this proselytizing, and the
result was really a patch-work of different laws and policies concerning the
While some states and school districts had prayer legislation on the
books, only the five listed above required that all students participate.
Seven states allowed students to withdraw from the daily bible recitation
with parental permission.
Court cases which challenged school prayer did so on the basis of
"religious liberty," echoing the earlier objections Protestants and Catholics
had with the policy of reading from the other's biblical version. Cases like
Abington Township School District v. Schempp took the view that the prayers
could violate the religious convictions of certain believers. Another
challenge, Murray v. Curlett, however, took the "religious liberty" argument
a step further, and pointed out that Atheists and non-believers were having
their civil liberties violated as well.
Regardless of such differences, though, school prayer was NOT a universal
practice throughout the United States. Things did not "go downhill from
there." If anything, school prayer advocates began agitating AFTER the legal
battles of the early 1960's, sometimes in states which decades earlier had
either outlawed or abolished the practice. In Wisconsin, for instance, that
state's Supreme Court had ruled mandatory school prayer to be
unconstitutional back in 1890, and Nebraska and Illinois followed suit, as
did other states.
Still, the mythology about the widespread practice of prayer and bible
recitation persists, used today as a legend to enforce a "traditional"
practice which, in fact, never existed.


In the Lakewood district of Cleveland, Ohio, two public high school
teachers have become the focus in another round of heated debate over the
issue of creationism and science. On Thursday, attorneys from the American
Civil Liberties Union warned school officials that they were violating laws
by allowing creationism in the school curriculum at Lakewood High School. An
investigation by news media revealed that one physics teacher tells students
that evolution "doesn't make any sense." He also instructs classes that
homosexuality is wrong, and that gays will never go to heaven. Another
teacher insists that dinosaurs and humans existed together in history, and
that Darwinian evolution should not be considered an accurate account of how
life began and spread.
Creationism involves a literal interpretation of the biblical account of
how the world began and how life was formed. Creationists often insist that
evolution is "incomplete," and attempt to find evidence which suggests that
all life began simultaneously on earth as the result of divine intervention.
Critics point out that creationists (who often call themselves "scientific
creationists") often use incorrect information to support their arguments,
or simply want to advance a religious -- christian -- agenda.
The ACLU letter warned: "It has been nine years since the United States
Supreme Court decided...that creation science is not an acceptable academic
alternative (or supplement) to the theory of evolution."
- - -

Is It Also A Case of "Religious Freedom" For Us, Not Them?

When Steven Spielberg picked Devils Tower as the site for the UFO mother ship landing in his blockbuster movie "Close Encounters," he probably couldn't have selected a more eye-catching piece of landscape. Rising over 850 feet above the surrounding Devils Tower National Monument in Wyoming, the flat-top structure has become an icon for new agers, tourists and climbers who can't resist the challenge of taking on its steep sides.

450,000 visitors come to the Monument yearly, and about 7,000 each year feel sufficiently in shape to try and make the climb. But last June, prospective hikers and rock climbers ran into something other than sheer cliffs; the National Park Service imposed restrictions to prevent climbers from exploring the Tower during that month, in deference to the religious beliefs of local Indian tribes. A sign near the Tower warned: "Please do not disturb prayer bundles and prayer cloths."

Tourists were restricted to pathways which according to reports were "intended to safeguard
Indian religious concerns."

Now, with the Park Service against contemplating restrictions for next
month, the Mountain States Legal Foundation has entered the case, arguing
that the government is managing the site for religious purposes, thus
violating church-state separation. Attonneys for the group grilled the park
superintendent yesterday during a U.S. District Court session, asking: "Do
you ask all Americans to respect Native American religion?" Park official
Deb Liggett replied "Yes."
"Is there a sign asking all Americans to respect the Christian religion at
Devils Tower?" asked the attorney. "No," Liggett answered.
Selective Indignation -- And a Peculiar Advocate
The involvement of a group like the Mountain States Legal Foundation in
this case has some observers baffled, especially since the organization
seems to be supporting First Amendment separation. MSLF was bankrolled by
the Coors family of Colorado, who made their fortune in real estate and Coors
beer; the family has been a long time supporter of religious conservative
groups. In 1977, Joe Coors put up $25,000 to establish the Foundation, and
hired James Watt (later to become Secretary of the Interior under Ronald
Reagan) as its director. Joe's wife, Holly Coors, had first met Watt in
1975 through a group known as Christian Ministry, another recipient of Coors
funds. MSLF soon became known as a courtroom adversary of environmentalist
organizations like the Sierra Club and the Environmental Defense Fund.
But it is the connection between Coors and fundamentalist/evangelical
activist groups which makes the Devils Tower litigation so interesting.
Coors connections include religious-right strategist Paul Weyrich,
"Intercessors For America" (a religious homophobic group), and the Council on
National Policy. Another recipient of Coors largesse is Pat Robertson, whose
American Center for Law and Justice often argues on behalf of "religious
equality," and seeks to minimize the impact of state-church separation
legislation. There is also the Rutherford Institute, another group which
defends "religious liberties" and is part of the prayer-in-school movement.
In lieu of this track record, one can only speculate if the Mountain
States Legal Foundation would be as enthused for state-church separation if
the Devils Tower controversy involved, say, a Christian religious holiday or
event, rather than one involving a Native American superstition. One does
not see MSLF rushing out to become involved in other First Amendment concerns
in the area, such as the use of public facilities in Denver for the Pope's
visit there three years ago.
- - -

And we thought that it only referred to masturbation!
Among the many gems of biblical "wisdom" not regularly quoted by religious
stalwarts is the instruction "If thy right hand offend thee, cut if off..."
Seems that a 32-year old construction worker in Norfolk, Va. did just that
after seeing what he thought was the infamous "666" sign on his hand. A
"handy" circular saw did the job, and the worker was quickly rushed to
Sentara Norfolk General Hospital. There, he refused the advice of doctors
who wanted to re-attach the severed body part, reportedly telling them that
he would go to hell if the hand was sewn back on.
Hospital officials contacted a judge, who advised doctors to follow their
patient's wishes. Now, the doctors and the hospital are targets of a
lawsuit, which says that they should have contacted relatives in order to
over-rule the worker's decision. The suit insists that the patient had a
history of psychiatric disorders.
- - -
Change is coming to Africa and the middle east, if only in small steps.
In Algeria, a country plagued by the political activities of militant
Islamic fundamentalists, new constitutional reforms
proposed on Sunday would institute official separation
of government and religion. Under a proposal
outlined by President Liamine Zeroual, political groups would be prohibited
from making explicit displays of religious militancy. Other reforms include
promoting a free market economic system, and establishing a supreme court and
a representative assembly.
This may not be effective, though, in stopping Islamic fundamentalists,
who were on the verge of winning a round of elections in 1992. The military
stepped in to cancel the balloting which probably would have resulted in a
victory for the Islamic Salvation Front and the establishment of an "Islamic
Republic" modeled after Iran.
- - -
It's sometimes easier to talk about forgiveness than it is to REALLY
forgive and forget. Take Pope John Paul II. Monday was the fifteenth
anniversary of the attempted assassination of the pope, carried out by Mehmet
Ali Agca. JP-2 made world headlines in 1985 when he met with Agca in his
prison cell, forgiving the would-be killer for his sins. Agca, of course,
had become a "jailhouse" Christian. Soon, even Agca's relatives were
schmoozing with the pope as well, and the whole affairs became a
media-fabricated showcase for caring, forgiving and, presumably, forgetting.
Indeed, the forgetting part seems to have come true, and the Vatican says
it will not be pursuing any attempt to get Agca sprung from prison, where he
sits out his time serving a life sentence.
Even if the Pope did want Agca free, that might lead to some unwanted,
embarrassing questions. They involve Agca's links to the Turkish neo-fascist
group known as "Grey Wolves," and the former Bulgarian Secret Service which
ran a veritable grad-school for international terrorists. There are also
some imaginative scenarios linking Mehmet Ali Agca with a diverse range of
Italian interests, both left and right.
Indeed, for the Vatican, it may be doctrinally correct to "forgive", and
strategically important to "forget."

Hindu nationalists won big in the Indian elections last week, and there is
plenty of evidence to suggest that they don't take well to the importing of
"foreign religions" -- including Christianity.
You'd have thought that after two centuries or more of religious
proselytizing, Christian missionaries could have recruited more followers
than the measley 2% of India's population they have managed to attract.
There are about 125 million Muslims, but the largest share of the
believer-pie in that country goes to the Hindus. The Hindu cult permeates
Indian society, and does for that country what Islam does for the middle
east; much of daily life revolves around religious rituals and prohibitions.
But the more extreme manifestations of religious belief are under both
subtle and open attack in india. Economic development which is transforming
the country, brings with it westernizing influences -- everything from new TV
programming to rock 'n roll and changing attitudes, particularly among the
country's young people. Hindu fundamentalists are, obviously, edgy; like
this nation's fundamentalists, they feel "under attack" by a wave of
secularism. And sometimes they strike back.
Which brings us to the story of "Nuns With An Attitude." In the town of
Madras, a Roman Catholic convent is running its nuns through a 45-day crash
course in karate which includes hand-to-hand combat, and even a procedure to
toughen their hands by having a jeep roll over them. All of this has been
prompted after several nuns were allegedly threaten while doing social work
in nearby villages., and reports of nuns being raped and killed in other
parts of the country.
It appears that the nun's social activism offends elements of India's
fundamentalist community, which detests the lower castes. Even so, the
"untouchables" seem to be making progress on their own, without the help of
the Catholics; several have been elected to parliament, and a burgeoning
civil rights movement for this group is reported.

There's still trouble ahead for GOP front runner Bob Dole. Last week,
aanews reported on how the abortion flap, and the intransigence of the
religious right on that issue, threatened to derail whatever chance Dole had
at a shot for the White House in 1996. Everyone from the Christian Coalition
to Pat Buchanan's sister was on the horn, warning GOP officials against ANY
deviation from the party's tough anti-abortion plank, which calls for passage
of the so-called Human Life Amendment. This happened after California
governor Pete Wilson joined his fellow Republicans from New York, New Jersey
and Massachusetts in calling for an end to GOP anti-abortion zealotry.
Now, a CNN/Time poll confirms that when asked who they would like to see
as a GOP Vice Presidential candidate, Republicans chose pro-choice
candidates. Leading the pack is retired Gen. Colin Powell with 40%, followed
by Michigan Gov. John Engler and New Jersey guv' Christine Whitman with 8%
each. Both Whitman and Powell insist they don't want the job. In Powell's
case, Christian Coalition Director Ralph Reed made it pretty clear several
weeks ago that the Gulf war hero was "unacceptable" to the religious right,
since he would not support a ban on abortion. Later, Reed nixed Christine
Whitman as well.
So just who will Dole pick? If he wants the support of the religious
conservatives, he has to choose an anti-choice running mate who will uphold
the party platform. Who could that be? Stay tuned for more comic relief.
- - -

The National Center for Science Education publishes "Creation/Evolution",
and is an excellent source for materials dealing with the
evolution-creationism controversy. They can be reached at PO Box 9477,
Berkeley, Cal. 94709.
The October, 1986 edition of AMERICAN ATHEIST MAGAZINE was devoted as a
special issue to the doctrinal roots of creationism, including "Daniel in the
Debunker's Den" by Frank Zindler.
For more on the involvement of the Coors family with religious
fundamentalist movements, see "The Coors Connection" by Russ Bellant,
published by South End Press, Boston.
- - -
On-Line Resources From AMERICAN ATHEISTS...
You can receive membership information about AA by sending e-mail to"
info@atheists.org. Be sure to include your name and mailing address in the
message body.
We're still working on the American Atheists site on the world wide web.
Thanks for your letters and inquiries about this project. Watch this space!
Members of American Atheists can join aachat, our moderated discussion
group for topics including Atheism, AA activities, state-church separation
and related subjects. If you'd like to participate, send e-mail to:
aachat@atheists.org, and include your name and address.

# 67   - -   6/16/96 (Evening Edition)

In This Edition...
* "Warn and Fuzzy" Bibles For Mental Child Abuse
* Mullahs Target Iranian Resistance Movement
* Vatican, Iran: Acting-Up at Habitat II
* TheistWatch: More on Arsons, Son-of-CDA & "Hymen Repair"
* A Blatant Promotion For AACHAT!
* About This List...


"Historical Revisionism" is alive and well, especially when it comes to
publishing religious books includng the bible. The term "Revisionism" is
today associated with small interest groups who try to re-write history on
behalf of their own agenda; some "revisionists" insist that millions of Jews
didn't die in World War II, or that Japan's role in that war was as a
"liberator of Asian people" from the bonds of colonialism. Often,
revisionism requires Herculean twisting of the historical record, emphasizing
facts that support your case and, well, sweeping the rest under the rug -- or
into the dustbin of history.
So it's not surprising that the best-selling book in world history, the
Bible, is once again undergoing some "Christian Revisionism" of its own.
Publishers are scurrying to cash-in on the juvenile market, where young and
impressionable minds are now seen as requiring a "kinder, gentler" bible and
deity. According to Associated Press, "In children's Bibles today, not only
are the harsher elements of biblical accounts often omitted, but the image of
a personal God has evolved to the point where in some books 'God is lonely if
people don't love him'..."
Bibles aimed at inculcating children have been around in large numbers
since the development of mass print technology. Luther composed his own
special bible for kids, and today publishers are targetting the same market.
AP notes that one of the hottest sales trends is "Bible stories for
toddlers and babbies."
But all of the rape, incest, slavery, violence, sexual perversion and
other horrors of "the good book" are a bit of an obstacle, especially for
religious groups constipated about such topics appearing in the popular
media. This is forcing religious writers and publishing houses to "revise"
the "True Word of God" like so-much product line, and even change the way in
which their deity is portrayed.
For many centuries, "god" was portrayed as what one expert on juvenile
biblical literature termed "a violently wrathful being, his 'righteous anger'
an indisputable fact." By the 18th century and into the early 1900's, that
imagery changed; "god" was still powerful and omnipotent, but was "often
portrayed to children as just, faithful, pure and holy."
Now, children's bibles and related literature is getting even warmer and
fuzzier; brutal and embarrassing parts of the book are conveniently left out.
AP notes that "Graphic accounts of rape or even just telling the story of
Jepthah slaying his own daughter can be harmful to children who are unable to
read the text critically, without serving an over-riding theological
But if "Christian Revisionists" are so worried about kids not be able "to
read the text critically," then why even present the literature to them? Why
not wait until they can read the entire text, blood-and-guts included?

- - -


An dissident group of Iranian progressives operating in Paris is the
latest target of attacks engineered by Tehran's intelligence service,
according to international news dispatches. The Times of London reports that
a bomb plot directed at the National Council of Resistance was foiled when
customs officials searched cargo from an Iranian ship in Antwerp, and found a
cache of explosives. The operation was being directed from Germany; AANEWS
has previously reported that the Iranian Embassy in that nation serves as a
cover for agents of the Interior Ministry and Intelligence Service directed
by Minister Falllahian. Known as VEVAK, the agency specializes in hunting
down dissidents and others who oppose the clerical regime in Iran.
Eleven dissidents have been murdered this year alone; some, such as Reza
Mazlouman were former government ministers under the despotic Shah. But the
National Council of Resistance (http://www.iran-e-azad.org) was founded in
1981 to oppose both the tyranny of the mullahs and any other autocratic
government. Its constitution calls for the establishment of a pluralistic
democracy with state-church separation, secularism, full rights for women and
ethnic minorities, a free market economy and non-aggression with neighbors.
Even Islamists within the ranks of the NCR (such as the People's Mojahedin
Organization) insist that that their ideology is founded on "democracy,
popular will, tolerance and moderation."
Word of the bomb plot against the National Council follows a new wave of
religious orthodoxy in Iran, including attacks by religious zealots on movie
theatres, private parties, women riding bikes in public and other
manifestations of irreligious behavior.
Cleric Calls For "Purge" In Iranian Society
On Friday, Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati used his prayer sermon broadcast on
Iranian state radio to call for a purge of "impious elements" from
universities. Jannati has emerged as one of the most powerful, hard-line
fundamentalists since the death of Ayatollah Khomeni. He warned that "As
long as impious elements are at universities as administrators or professors,
any call to Islamicize universities has no exact meaning." Jannati added
that "The first step should be to appoint pious people to administration and
teaching posts."
According to Reuter news service, Jannati's call for religious reform in
academic institutions is part of a wider program orchestrated by the
country's top cleric, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who "said universities were not
Islamic enough and called for them to be Islamicized."
Jannati noted the corrupting influences of education in his
sermon, saying "I do not think anybody denies the fact that usually those who enter (universities) with beliefs and morals...have lost many of these...Islamic
morals when they leave."

Reuters added that "The drive has caused concern among some university
members who have privately expressed fears over a repeat of the 'Cultural
Revolution' purges...when teachers lost jobs and students were expelled for
alleged lack of Islamic commitment."
- - -

While international delegates wrestled with complicated questions about
urban planning and resources at the Habitat II conference in Istanbul last
week, the Vatican representatives were raising a furor over references in
the meeting documents to abortion, birth control and sexuality. On
Wednesday, Vatican official Joaquin Navarro-Valls criticized U.S. delegates
who had placed discussion of subjects like birth control, women's rights and
sexuality on the agenda. According to a report from Reuter news agency,
"Navarro-Valls said the U.S. had increased to four from two the number of
references to reproductive and sexual health in the document in a way that
implied, among other things, that children could have state-paid abortions
without parental consent."
The Vatican charged such a move would "create many difficulties for many
delegates." Yet, the Church also called for massive government-welfare
projects to build housing for the world's peoples.
Yesterday,. western representatives to Habitat II accused both the Vatican
and Iran of trying to "hijack" the gathering. According to The Times of
London, "The two theocracies stood united in trying to block references in
the final declaration to the right of women to have access to birth control
and abortion."
- - -


Earlier today AANEWS sent out a special dispatch dealing with the church
"arsons" being reported throughout the country. Here's an update:
* In at least one community, Boligee, Alabama, there is
less-than-unanimous sentiment about a church arson in a community which is
85% black. The Times of London (as usual) is reporting news that doesn't
turn up in the American press, including a quote from a local citizen who
heads a "bi-racial citizens' pressure group." She told The Timews that the
burnings of at least two churches may have been a "huge smokescreen" to
divert attention of federal investigators looking into local corruption
within the county government.
* Who commits arson? According to a report in The Bakerfield Californian,
there is "a disturbing trend in American society: the increasing prominence
of juveniles in cases involving intentionally set fires." Seems that in
1994, more than 50% of all busted arsonists were under the 18, up from a 40%
figure back in 1980. And more than one-third of the current batch of
juvenile arsonists are under 15.
The paper adds that this makes it difficult to find and track arsonists,
since they probably don't have criminal records. "Juveniles start fires for
kicks, out of curiosity or for purposes of intimidation. This is especially
true of gang-related arson..." According to the arson experts, adults torch
buildings for personal gain or profit, or to cover other crimes.
- - -
Thousands of women throughout the Islamic world are being driven to an
expensive, sometimes dangerous medical operation, according to today's Sunday
Times of London. Known as "hymen repair", the operation is designed to give
women the appearance (to their new husbands, anyway) of being pristeen
virgins -- all because "Strict Islamic law dictates harsh punishment, such as
stoning or flogging, for a woman and man who have sex without being married."
Included in the countries enforcing this antedeluvian regulation are many
conservative Arab regimes, particularly the Gulf States.
"Beyond the risk of being murdered, women who have lost their virginity
outside marriage risk becoming outcasts from society if they are discovered,"
says The Times. Men sometimes murder their new brides if they are found to
be "used" or "unclean", a practice dubiously referred to as an "honour
killing." Men convicted of the offense are often pardoned "on the grounds
that they have been driven temporarily insande by discovering their wives are
not virgins." Jurists reportedly often sympathize with such men.
The operation has been banned in Egypt, where the relatively secular
government is locked in a violent struggle with Islamic fundamentalists
intent on establishing a religious theocracy similar to than in Iran. The
Times noted that some women end up having sex with the doctor before the
hymen repair is performed.
- - -
How great is the chasm separating rationality from the delusions of
religious belief? Well, consider the plight of secular Israeli's who face
the loss of civil liberties to the new religious coalition which seized power
in that country's recent elections. There is the prospect of a middle-east
"culture war" not altogether that different from what's taking place in these
United States. In Israel, for instance, the fundamentalist Shas party is
seeking curfews for adolescents; according to one report, a Shas teacher at
one Jerusalem class warned students "that their entire lives were being
filmed by a divine television camera, and that their sins would be replayed
when they were brought to judgment after death." (N.Y. Times)
- - -
In Friday's dispatch we warned readers about the "Son-of-CDA", a
vampire-like piece of legislation devised to resurrect the censorious and
authoritarian spirit of the Communications Decency Act. Assuming that the
Act meets its final demise at the Supreme Court, religious bluenoses,
political busy-bodies and the assorted decency droids of the Justice
Department are ready with a new-and-improved version. According to the
NETIZEN column at the HotWired web site (http://www.hotwired.com),
preparations for the next censorship effort are already underway. The
Clinton White House echoed its refrain that CDA -- or something like it -- is
still necessary, since "our Constitution allows us to help parents by
enforcing this act." A cog at the Justice Department said that the anti-CDA
lawsuit was just "routine work" -- and we thought it was a fight on behalf of
the Bill of Rights! -- and that a brief in defense of a CDA appeal to the
Supreme Court will be churned out in time for the next session. So,
factoring in the way things move in Washington, the Supreme Court could make
an eventual ruling at the close of that term which ends in July, 1997, "just
in time for Congress to try again."
- - -
It's sometime amazing how natural events are fitted into a mental
framework which supports mysticism, religion and superstition. According to
some, this "magical thinking" underpins the human penchant for seeing divine
intervention and paranormal mischief at work in the world. Today, those
infected with "Millennium Fever" see earthquakes, storms, tornadoes, famines,
even airliner crashes as testament to the onset of "Last Days" and "End
Times." In South Africa, though, it's a bit more prosaic. Lightening and
witchcraft are still big concerns.
In the town of Westerburg, S.A., a meeting of over 100 scholars,
politicians and possibly even witches, has concluded, amidst concern of the
growing witch craze sweeping that nation. According to Associated Press,
"hundreds of alleged witches have been burned or stoned to death in this
barren corner of South Africa in recent years."
Ironically, the witchcraze may be a symptom of the collision between
institutional christianity and traditional religions. Body parts from
cemeteries and morgues are often stolen, since many believe that fingers,
clumps of human fat and even penises can be made into potent magical charms.
There are even reports that some families refuse to bury the dead, believing
that the corpse is really a "zombie" that can be brought back to life by
using the proper spells and rituals.
In one province, there have been over 30 killings a year since 1985 that
are thought to be connected with either the practice or fear of witchcraft.
The provincial cabinet minister for the area, Seth Nthai, suggests that
"better science education" is needed to combat local superstition,
particularly on the subject of lightning. Local magical lore says that a
witch can use lightning to strike an opponent dead, or turn a rival into a
walking zombie.
Sounds like too many horror movies to us, folks!
- - -
We described the Freemen -- those Montana crazies who fused racist
ideology with biblical apocalyptic verse and a second-rate ability for
scamming -- as a good example of pre-millennium American Gothic. Hardly a
day passes when something amusing about this rag-tag army of Doomsday Ju-Ju
Warriors doesn't wash up on our beach! Let's see -- we already told you
about Rodney Skurdal's head injury and Christian Identity theology which
plazes white folks at the top of the food chain. But there's another Freeman
character, Dana Dudley (also known as Dana Landers) who until recently was
giving "seminars" on Identity, "common law" finances and other artifacts of
the group's bizarre subculture. Ms. Dudley has been considered one of the
more influential Freemen, but like her compatriots her wild notions and
wandering verse try even the patience of possible supporters. Militia Guru
James "Bo" Gritz (himself no stranger to the bizarre) says that Ms. Dudley
claims her dad was once a great physicist, but was murdered in Europe because
he knew "the truth" about flying saucers.
I wouldn't take THAT to the bank, or any of the Freemen currency!

- - -
Looking for Lively Discussion?
Tired of all the ranting on alt.atheism?
If you're a member of American Atheists, why not join our moderated
discussion group, aachat? This cyber forum discusses topics such as Atheism,
state-church separation, pseudo-science, religion, AA activities and related
subjects. For more information, contact our Moderator, Margie Wait, at:

# 66  - -    6/16/96

In This Edition...
* A Special Report and Commentary: Church Arsons, Government Response
* About This List...


Is the spree of alleged "church arsons" a conspiracy? A statistical
fluke? A plot by racists, pyromaniacs, or persons who believe that the
target church is in the grip of the Antichrist?
It may be a combination of all of these factors, according to an
investigation by AANEWS.
According to reports, while political and religious figures have been
focusing on a rash of suspected arsons in black churches over the last
eighteen months, federal authorities have also been looking into some two
dozen other fires at predominantly white churches and synagogues during this
same time period.
In addition, out of the 300,000 congregations in the country (most of
which have their own building or facility), arson hits at some 600 churches,
temples or synagogues each year. According to the National Fire Protection
Association, arson is the leading cause of such fires, "as in all public and
commercial buildings" according to a recent report in The Philadelphia
Inquirer. Of the total arson cases handled each year, only 1% involve
Although the current rash of alleged arsons has prompted grandstanding
from public and religious leaders -- including President Clinton's call for a
$10,000,000 loan-guaranteed trust fund to re-build torched churches -- there
continues to be little or no evidence of widespread conspiracy. At least 200
federal agents are still assigned to the probe into fires involving black
churches. There continues to be a substantial gap between the claims by
religious leaders that this is the result of an organized conspiracy, and
facts developed so far in the case. In other news related to the probe:
* Last week, AANEWS announced that the Clinton administration was
proposing the $10 million loan guarantee program for churches destroyed as
the result of "racial or religious-hated" motivations. CNN noted that
administration spokesmen said there was "no problem" with the state-church
separation aspect of the proposal, but did not elaborate. That news have
currently "dropped off the radar screen," replaced by word that President
Clinton is hosting an urgent meeting of governors, religious leaders and
attorneys general of states where there has been reported or possible arson.
That meeting is scheduled for this week.
* In Enid, Oklahoma, the First Missionary Baptist Church received direct
government assistance, after its building was destroyed by arson. According
to a dispatch from Reuters news service, "...a medical unit from the nearby
Vance Air Force Base came by to put up canvas tents so the congregation could
meet for an evening service next to the site of their church."
* The Christian Coalition continues its efforts to "cash in" on news
coverage about the alleged arson of black churches. (This seems to be just
part of an overall effort by America's religious right to "court" any
conservative elements in the black community, especially over issues such as
"family values," school prayer, drug/alcohol/gambling abuse, pornography,
crime, abortion, single-moms and music lyrics.) The Coalition is organizing
a "Pastor's Summit & Press Conference on recent church burnings" scheduled
for Tuesday, June 18, 9:30 a.m. at the Atlanta Airport Hilton. A press
release notes that speakers at this affair will be "Dr. Ralph Reed" and Rev.
Earl Jackson, "director of Urban Development" for the Christian Coalition.
The hand-out adds: "The Coalition will bring many pastors of these fire
bombed churches from across the nation to a summit to identify solutions that
can put a halt to these attacks...At the press conference, Christian
Coalition will announce the continued steps it is taking to activate a
network of grassroots activists and approximately 200,000 churches nationwide
in preventing further attacks."
* The Philadelphia Inquirer story of 6/15/96 about the church arsons
quotes the president of the Center for Arson Research, Dian Williams, who
said that certain individuals who torch churches are religious psychotics:
"Sometimes they hear a voice telling them over and over to burn churches in
order to avert Armageddon, because the church has become a component of the
Antichrist." The Inquirer notes that the Antichrist is the biblical figure
"who will rise up against Christ before the Last Judgment." Already, at
least one talk show host has blamed the devil for the church arsons, and the
old chesnut of "satanic cult activity" has been dragged out for popular media
consumption. "Satanic symbols" were allegedly found at the ruins of one
arson site, although that fire may be the work of alcohol-drinking teens. The
satan-"Last Days" aspect of this story is not lost on those of us
anticipating widespread "Millennialist fever" as society approaches the year
- - -


(The following press released was released on Friday by Ellen Johnson,
President of American Atheists...)
American Atheists today criticized a plan by the Clinton Administration to
establish a special $10 million loan guarantee program to subsidize the
rebuilding of churches believed to have been targets of arson.
Ellen Johnson, President of the organization, was also skeptical of
Clinton's proposal for a meeting next week to involve state governors in
possible aid efforts to the churches. At the same time, Ms. Johnson
condemned the bombings as possible acts of bigoted intolerance.
"As wrong as any arsons may be, the Constitution specifically enjoins the
government from aiding or subsidizing religion. In light of Mr. Clinton's
remarks concerning the importance of worship and religious belief, it is
clear that in proposing this taxpayer-funded program to aid churches, he is
clearly promoting a religious agenda."
American Atheists also criticized ministers and church groups who were
protesting the scope of the federal investigation. Religious leaders have
complained that agents have been interrogating church members and ministers
for information. Ms. Johnson remarked that: "So far, evidence does not
suggest that the 'conspiracy theory' so popular in certain religious circles,
has much basis in fact. Investigators need to be able to do their jobs in
these cases, wherever the evidence trail might lead."
American Atheists is a nationwide movement founded by Madalyn Murray
O'Hair for the advancement of Atheism, and to defend the absolute, total
separation of state and church.

- - -
One Man's Opinion...

It's funny how Atheists, in our role as staunch defenders of the First
Amendment and state-church separation, often end up more than anyone else
supporting the right of people to freedom OF religion. A surprising amount
of religious intolerance throughout history has involved powerful,
"established" churches persecuting other religious believers. The
intolerance of the Church of England and the British government drove
thousands of religious non-conformists to America in search of "religious
liberty." Those same people quickly set up governments and official churches
which usually began their own persecutions of those who did not agree. Time
for a brief history lesson...
In many of the original colonies, official "established" churches were
set-up, funded at taxpayer expense. One often had to belong to this official
religion in order to exercise even minor rights, such as owning property or
voting in elections. According to Madalyn Murray O'Hair definitive work
"Freedom Undier Siege" (Los Angeles, Tarcher, 1974):
"Massachusetts would permit no Roman Catholic to enter the state, and a
General Court there declared that any person not freeing himself of suspicion
of being a Roman Catholic 'shall be jailed, then banished. If taken a second
time, he shall be put to death." O'Hair reports similar policy which existed
in Pennsylvania, New York and elsewhere.
The American Revolution changed much of that, at least in theory, as
churches were "disestablished." Religious leaders protested loudly and
vigorously; and decades later, they continued to feud over issues such as
which version of the bible would be used for worship and instruction in the
public schools. At one point, that squabble led to the "bible riots" of New
York and Philadelphia, where troops were eventually called in to prevent mobs
of Protestants and Catholics from continuing their blood-fest.
Despite the babble over "ecumenism" and "religious unity," the world's
religions are still very much divided. Christian evangelicals want the
"freedom" to proselytize in the middle east and elsewhere (the "10-30
window"), while Muslims and Hindus want to protect their own theological
turf. In Latin America, the Roman Catholic church labels Protestants and
other religious groups as "sects."
Which brings us back to America, and to this latest rash of alleged church
bombings. Many of the bombings discussed in the press, and mentioned by
President Clinton and other political or religious leaders, involves churches
with mostly black congregations. Religious dogmatism and intolerance have
played a major role in the historical oppression of blacks, of course,
starting with the enslavement of millions of black men, women and children by
Africal tribal leaders, Muslim-Arab traders, and White Anglo-Saxon Protestant
slavers. They were transported to America, fed a consistent diet of
Christian religion (on the assumption that they were being benevolently
"saved", their souls "rescued"), and mentally colonized by the
slave-philosophy of the bible. In the history of slaveocracy, many literate
slaves were permitted only one book -- the bible. In its pages were found
abundant examples of why slaves should not defy their master, and why the
master could rationalize his or her own privileged position in neo-feudal
society. It is no accident that pro-slavery, and later pro-segregationist
movements like the Ku Klus Klan depicted themselves as "defenders of
Many of the white, racial-nationalists group which today preach violence
and hatred against black and other groups often do so from a theological
perspective. Members of the Christian Knights of the Ku Klux Klan have been
linked to at least one church arson. Religious philosophies like Christian
Identity provide a theoretical rationale for race hatred.
With all of this mind, here's the AANEWS take, then, on these church
* As Atheists and separationists, we support one's right to freedom OF
religion and freedom FROM religion.
* Bombing churches, mosques, temples, synagogues or other religious venues
-- or using any physical violence against religious groups -- is morally
wrong, politically illegal, and does nothing to foster any rational
* Government has no legitimate right in extending special treatment to
religious groups; this includes the establishment of special loan funds,
material aid (such as the use of tents and equipment from a local Air Force
base to help out one congregation), or the passage of special laws such as
the Church Arson Prevention Act.
* We do not think that a church building or other "house of worship" is
entitled to special consideration above private residences, businesses,
schools and other facilities. * Blacks, whites and other ethnic groups are
victims of religious ideology and mental colonization. The "liberatory"
effects of religious ideologies are minimal. In the case of American blacks,
while we recognize the limited, positive role that certain churches and
religious leaders have played in the struggle for civil rights, we suggest
that this contribution could well end up being overshadowed by the negative
effects of religion. Hundreds of thousands of dollars are being spent to
rebuild decrepit churches; may we suggest, instead, that this sort of money
is deperately needed in public schools and scholarship funds aimed at
educating black youth, particularly in the areas of science, high-tech and
engineering? In fact, it would be a good idea if our society were of
sufficient mind to stop building and rebuilding ALL churches, mosques,
temples and other "houses of worship." These hundreds of billions of dollars
could go for more practical and enlightened programs -- education, space
exploration, health care and research. Instead of praying to the stars, we
could explore them!
* We should be skeptical about claims that the church arsons are
necessarily the result of a conspiracy with racial or religious motives.
Some of the fires may very well be; but facts are facts, regardless of the
wishes of religious leaders and political hopefuls who look upon blacks,
religious worshippers and others as "voting blocks."
* We should also be skeptical of efforts by religious-right groups like
the Christian Coalition to exploit the church arson story for its own
theopolitical agenda. White Christian conservatives have had very little
interest in blacks until now; not surprisingly, this concern oozes over the
issue of religious belief. Religious right leaders such as "Dr. Ralph Reed"
of the Christian Coalition have already expressed their belief that they can
find common ground with black religious elements over issues such as
abortion, censorship, prayer and other "family values" topics. Is this
cooperation or cynical manipulation? Are blacks reduced to being bit-players
in some theopolitical strategy devised by religious-right leaders?
* As Atheists, we should speak out against Bill Clinton's exploitation of
the church fires issue. Mr. Clinton continues to position himself for
November, using election rhetoric, and constantly mentioning "our country's
religious heritage" and the importance of "freedom of religion." He ignores
the 25,000,000 Americans -- white, black, hispanic, Asian, Native American,
and others -- who are Atheists or non-believers of some sort. Our own ranks
are larger than most of the American mainstream religious denominations!
What about us?
* If religious leaders insist on a massive government investigation, then
agents must be permitted to do their job. Church leaders are already
objecting to any hint that members of their congregations -- or even they --
may be involved in at least some of the arsons. But the fact remains that
arson is often a "for profit" activity. The investigation must be guided by
facts, not wishes, religious prejudices or political expediency.
* We should resist any attempt to allow the disgusting nature of any
church arsons to stampede us into special treatment (or muted criticism) of
religious groups and ideologies.

 #41    -  - 5/17/96
  In This Edition...
  * Freemen Negotiator Loves Dogs, Not Gays Or Abortion.
  * "Bo" Gritz (More)
  * Mass Excommunication Lurks in Lincoln!
  * Indian Election Puts Hindu Nationalists In Power
  * TheistWatch: Prayer, Orgasms, The Shroud Of Turin -- Bingo!

  As the confrontation between the Montana Freeman group and the FBI goes
 into its 54th day, a new negotiator is on the scene trying to end the
 standoff. Colorado State Senator Charles Duke, flanked by two federal
 agents, held a fact-to-face meeting with Freemen yesterday, and plan to
 continue talks this afternoon.
  About 20 members of the Freemen group are holded up on a ranch they call
 "Justus Township." The group embraces a religious doctrine known as
 Christian Identity, which teaches a blending of white supremacist and
 biblical fundamentalist views.
  Last week, attempts by James "Bo" Gritz to mediate the standoff failed.
  Gritz has links to the militia and Christian Identity movements, and was the
 negotiator who helped end the 1992 confrontation between government agents
 and separatist Randy Weaver during the infamous "Ruby Ridge" shootout.
  Senator Dukes is another political figure approved by the Freemen group as
 someone they would be willing to talk to. In Colorado, he enjoys the
 reputation as a bit of a right-wing iconoclast. He has served two years in
 the state Senate after a six year term in the House, and is now campaigning
 for a position in the United States Senate.
  Duke, 54, denies that he is "some kind of wacko." He has a professional
 background as an electrical engineer, and is a member of the high IQ club,
  Mensa. His politics sometimes jumps across the political spectrum. The
 Rocky Mountain News reports that Duke is "a bleeding heart when it comes to
 animals rights," but "despises" gays and abortion. He also voted against
 building a Holocaust memorial "because he didn't believe the Nazi's had
 killed homosexuals," a theory advanced in a fundamentalist book called "The
 Pink Triangle." Duke is also a supporter of the militia movement, but he
 insists that he does not know any of the Freemen personally,and does not
 consider himself to represent "either side" in the confrontation.
  "I think some of the methods are not the best they (Freemen) could have
 chosen, and they'll have to answer for that, but nothing they have done in my
 opinion merits their injury or taking their own life," Duke said yesterday.
  Meanwhile, in Washington, Attorney General Janet Reno -- anxious to not
 repeat the government debacle of Waco and Ruby Ridge -- told a news
 conference that she hoped the confrontation with the Freemen would be
 resolved peacefully, and said she was "satisfied that we are pursuing that
  - - -
  The role played by "Patriot Movement" Guru James Gritz has come in
 question, following the leak of secret documents which the ex-Green Beret
 supposedly wrote to the FBI. While Gritz was presenting one face as a
 negotiator to the mass media, he was apparently telling government agents
 that "A coordinated nonviolent strike against all four areas on a moonless
 night might well result in capture of all 21 occupants (in the Freemen
 compound) without bodily injury to either side."
  Gritz recommended the use of "Night vision, tasers (stun devices),
 flashbangs and chemical sprays in the hands of well-trained teams." Such a
 raid would "re-establish the FBI as a law enforcement arm that is interested
 in peaceful solutions..."
  According to the Denver Post, Gritz's report suggested that a "gang of
 four" were responsible for "keeping the rest" of the Freemen "in line." He
 also called the Freemen "a potpourri circus of over-the-hill outlaws, people
 with no past or future, victims of run-amok government, a pair of New York
 City scam artists, and three young girls." Among the "gang of four" named by
 Gritz were Dale Jacobi and Rodney Skurdal. AANEWS has detailed Jacob's role
 as a Christian Identity preacher who advocates the so-called "Two Seed"
 theory. This religious doctrine states that the devil and Eve had sexual
 intercourse producing a "seed line" of jews, blacks and "mud people," while
 the white race came from a separate "Adamic" line.
  Meanwhile, word this afternoon is that Colorado State Senator Charles Duke
 is "optimistic" about an impending end to the standoff. Duke insists that
 while he "admires" Bo Gritz, the Vietnam war hero was "buffaloed" by the
 convoluted doctrines of the Freemen.
  - - -
  May 15 came and went in Lincoln, Nebraska, but for thousands of diocesan
 Roman Catholics, their church membership may been been revoked. Last
 Wednesday was the deadline for Catholics under the leadership of Bishop
 Fabian Bruskewitz to terminate their memberships, if any, in a dozen taboo
 groups ranging from Masonic Lodges to Planned Parenthood and Call to Action.
  Bruskewitz announced the ban in March in the local Catholic newspaper; it
 applies to all of the 80,000 followers the Lincoln diocese claims to have.
  AANEWS noted in its April 15 edition that "while Bruskewitz insists that he
 intended for this to be only a local issue, it has set off debate throughout
 the church over some long-standing prohibitions, as well as the nature of
 church organization."
  Open (Hypocritical)
  The Wednesday deadline seems to have prompted more grumblings in the Roman
 Catholic flock. Members of Call to Action, a group which advocates
 ordination of married men and women into the church priesthood, said they
 would not give in to the Bishop's demand. One told the New York Times that
 the excommunication was "an effort to invoke spiritual capital punishment."
 Others insisted that they would openly defy the ban; one couple announced
  that they would continue to receive communion and had no intention of
 altering their behavior to obey the Bishop.
  But back in April, AANEWS questioned the wisdom, and intellectual
 consistency of such actions. We wrote that these brushfires within Roman
 Catholic ranks may not stem from "rational questioning of dogma, but due to a
 'warm and fuzzy' movement for 'democracy' and 'laity involvement' that is all
 the rage. Everyone from women to gays wants 'in' on the action; the pomp and
 glamour of the church has basically been in the hands of select males for
 centuries, and now the sheep want a greater role in participating in the
 superstitious antics of the church."
  Since unquestioning deference to ecclesiastical authority is integral to
 Catholic religious superstition, AANEWS encouraged straying sheep within the
 ranks to "Love it, obey it, or leave it...!"
  Among the organizations on the Buskewitz hit-list are Freemasons, Planned
 Parenhood, Catholics for a Free Choice, Hemlock Society, DeMolay (Masonic
 boys), Eastern Star, and Rainbow Girls. The Vatican has issued over
 two-dozen declarations or "Papal Bulls" against Masonry, and opposes
 voluntary suicide, as well as the ordination of married men, or any women
 into the ecclesiastical ranks.
  Bruskewitz declared earlier this week that his threat of excommunication
 was for the purpose of "unmasking some people who previously had a very
 questionable relationship with the Catholic Church."
  Those who fall under Bruskewitz's diktat can either defy the order
 (secretly or openly), leave the church, or return to good standing by
 confessing their transgressions and then doing penance.
  Atal Bihari Vajpayee was sworn in as India's first Hindu nationalist prime
 minister yesterday during a ceremony in New Delhi at the presidential palace.
  He replaces Narashimha Rao, whose Congress Party ruled the country in all
 but four years since the nation won independence from Great Britain in 1947.
  Vajpayee's BHP, or Bharatiya Janata Party, was the single biggest vote
 getter in the recent national elections, but now the new prime minister faces
 the daunting task of putting together a workable coalition in the 545-seat
 Parliament, where BHP has only about one-third of the seats.
  Foreign and domestic observers are worried that BHP could over-turn the
 limited progressive reforms of the Rao government, and possibly establish a
 Hindu theocratic regime and bring down another round of religious conflict.
  Muslims have already expressed their fears about the BHP, particularly its
 agenda for "one nation, one people, one culture," as stated in its 1996
 Election Manifesto. Other points in the Manifesto include:
  * "Faith in cultural nationalism which is the core of Hindutva.
  * Construction of the enormous Ram Temple, a Hindu monument which "moves
 millions of people in our land."
  * Enactment of laws which debar any public office holder who happens to
 have more than two children.
  The BHP has also vowed to protect the special status of the Hindu religion
 by stopping "foreign funding of religious and missionary organizations" and
 ending what it terms "fraudulent conversions," which would become a
 punishable offense.
  Critics note that the BHP's theocratic nationalism, though, is artfully
 concealed with a good deal of political rhetoric. While the Hindu party
 "welcomes foreign investment", the Election Manifesto notes that "it will be
 allowed only in those areas which require high technology and high finance
 input." Some fear that India's access to global communications media could
 suffer, especially if foreign programming or "outside corrupting influences"
 are censored. And while the Party promises "radical changes" and
 "co-sharing" of power for women, it limits women to filling only a third of
 positions in any elected body.
  BHP also vows to beef-up the military and pursue development of atomic
 weapons, a clear signal to neighboring Muslim countries like Pakistan.
  - - -
  How DID this tid-bit of news slip by? Earlier this month, a Milwaukee
 judge dismissed charges brought by a 73-year old woman against St. Florian
 Catholic Church. Mary Verdev claimed that she suffered injuries when a
 300-pound board toppled from a stage during a church bingo tournament back in
 1990. As a result, said Mary, she became sexually turned-on to women and
 even experienced spontaneous orgasms, "sometimes in clusters" according to
 Associated Press.
  But James Green, a church attorney was unimpressed. "It is unexplained in
 modern medicine how a bump on the head can alter sexual orientation or cause
 recurring orgasms," he said. The court agreed, especially after Verdev
 repeatedly refused to undergo a psychological exam.
  More roadblocks on the Information Superhighway. There's plenty of
 grumbling in Singapore, where government censors have constructed a veritable
 maze of rules and regulations concerning on-line materials, mostly to
 protect people from hate literature, pornography, and anything which could
 possibly incite violence. All political parties now have to get a license if
 they want to set up a web site, and erotic material is prohibited. The State
 wants its version of the net to link schools, libraries and businesses.
  Seems that Singapore passed its own version of the Communications Decency
 Act back in 1994; it covers areas well beyond the internet, though. As in
 Muslim countries, ownership of a direct satellite broadcast dish is
 prohibited. One out of every three homes in Singapore has a computer, and
 there are some 100,000 people on the limited-internet. Government plans call
 for everyone to be on-line by the year 2,000.
  But that enthusiasm appears contradictory to many critics, especially
 given the numerous restrictions on content and programming. Some even
 suggest that the government is trying to censor political opinions;
 Singapore's tough anti-graffiti laws, for instance, were written to deter
 writing of un-authorized political slogans in public.
  One student at the Technological University said that the maze of rules
 was "like putting up a giant sunshade to make sure everybody's protected from
 ultraviolet, rather than relying on people to wear hats."
  - - -
  Have we told you that the Roman Catholic Church is making its own plans
 for the upcoming Millennium Follies? In Turin, Italy, Roman Catholic
 Cardinal Giovanni Saldarini has announced that the phoney, discredited Shroud
 of Turin will be dragged out of the closet for public consumption in 1998 and
 again in 2000. The 14-foot long cloth has a "negative image" of what some
 believers insist is the body of Jesus Christ following the alleged
 crucifiction. But extensive tests carried out on pieces of the Shroud say
 that it is only several hundred years old, from a period when the manufacture
 of religious fakes was very much in vogue.
  Which goes to demonstrate that credulity and feckless belief are never out
 of style!
  A Superior Court judge in Washington, D.C. has quashed a proposal which
 would have placed a school prayer initiative on the local ballot in November.
  Judge Georffrey Alprin said that the move was "patently unconstituional."
  The proposal came after 16,000 people signed petitions to have the prayer
 initiative included; it would have allowed so-called "student initiated,
 voluntary" prayer.
  Where are all of those yapping, right to life types when it comes to
 salvaging a real, live family? Not on the Connecticut Supreme Court. That
 body has ruled that a hospital violated the constitutional rights of a
 Jehovah's Witness mom when it compelled her to get a blood transfusion after
 she experienced medical complications during childbirth. Apparently,
 hospital officials were unaware that Nelly Vega, a JH, had signed papers
 refusing any blood transfusion, which is against her church's religious
 doctrine. Doctors argued that this was necessary -- or her child would grow
 up without a mother.
  This may indeed represent a case where individual, religious preference
 collides with social norms about family structure. But under the proposed
 "Religious Equality Amendment", children born to JH couples could be denied
 life-saving medical care as well, all in deference to the "religious beliefs"
 of parents.
  - - -
  AANEWS is a free service of American Atheists, a nationwide movement
 founded by Madalyn Murray O'Hair for the advancement of Atheism, and the
 total, absolute separation of government and religion. For more information
 about AA, just send e-mail to: info@atheists.org. Be sure to include your
 name and address.
  Additional information on this list may be obtained by sending e-mail to:
 aanews-request@listserv.atheists.org; put "info aanews" in the message body.
  You may forward, post or quote from this dispatch, provided that
 appropriate credit is given to American Atheists and the aanews. Edited and
 written by Conrad F. Goeringer, The LISTMASTER.

#252   - -  2/21/97

In This Issue...
* Atheist Repeat Call -- Investigate Temples!
* Jesus And Zoning In Utah
* TheistWatch: God Laid-Back After Flood?
* Resources
* About This List...

A Senate Committee Issues A Subpoena For President Of Hsi Lai Temple

American Atheists repeated it call to IRS officials yesterday for a probe
into the tax exempt status of two Buddhist sects linked to John Huang and
other principles in the controversial "soft money" scandal. In a letter to
Margaret Richardson, Commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service, AA
President Ellen Johnson wrote: "I again wish to request that your Office
examine the tax-exempt status of both the Hsi Lai Buddhist Temple and similar
corporate entities linked to Supreme Master Ching Hai..."
Both Buddhist organizations were used to funnel questionable funds into
the coffers of the Democratic National Committee and President Clinton's
Whitewater defense account. The Hsi Lai Temple, a $30,000,000 structure
located in the Hacienda Heights suburb of Los Angeles, was the venue for a
luncheon held in April, 1996 which featured Vice President Albert Gore. That
event was organized by DNC operative John Huang, a former official at the
Commerce Department who had ties with both the White House and elements of
the Chinese Government, including individuals linked to arms dealing. Huang
was also former head of U.S. Operations for the Lippo Group, a financial
conglomerate headed by the Riady family; Lippo has donated to numerous
political causes, and is in business with right wing American televangelist
Pat Robertson pumping "no news, no sex, no violence" TV program throughout
Asian markets, including 500 cable systems based in Peoples Republic of
American Atheists also called for an IRS probe into the "Supreme Master"
cult headed by a woman calling herself Ching Hai. Charles Trie, a follower
of Hai, is also linked to the Lippo conglomerate, and was another major fund
raising expert for the Democratic National Committee. He delivered over
$600,000 funnelled through the Hai religious group which included
"questionable" or "suspicious" checks, sequentially-numbered money orders,
and cash to the DNC and the defense fund for Mr. Clinton.
American Atheists National Media Coordinator told media yesterday that the
1996 campaign was a "high water mark" for questionable political activities
by religious groups. "Not only were the candidates trying to out-do each
other with religious rhetoric," said Barrier, "but churches, temples and
sects -- as well as organizations like the Christian Coalition -- were
ignoring state-church separation and mixing religion with political
Temple Office Is Subpoenaed
Meanwhile, it has been learned that the Senate Governmental Affairs
Committee has issued a subpoena for Hsin Kuang Shih, president of the Hsi Lai
Temple. Other orders to appear were served Wednesday and include figures
linked to Asian financial groups, as well as John Huang and Charles Trie.
There are reports that Trie has fled the country, but Huang is said to be
discussing immunity in exchange for his cooperation in any probe.


Does "Jesus" Have An Opinion On Land Use Rateables?

LINK: UT Atheists

Utah American Atheists Director Chris Allen is a busy, busy man. When not
trying to prevent the Salt Lake City-based Church of Jesus Christ of
Latter-day Saints (the Mormons) run roughshod over state-church separation,
he also has to worry about government officials throughout his state giving
religion a helping hand, or an outright official endorsement. Case in point:
Davis County, Utah where the Planning Commission Chairman, Larry Jay Davis,
now wants to open meetings of that government body with a prayer. Davis is
reportedly taking his lead from Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt, who proclaimed in his
January 6 inauguration that Americans have displaced god from home and
government. Davis, identified by the Salt Lake Tribune as a former Bishop of
the LDS church, agrees, and insists that prayer has "gotten us where we are
At least one other Planning Commissioner agrees, while others opine that
prayer ritual can "comfort" government officials and the public.
Four years ago, the Utah Supreme Court ruled that city councils and
commissions may begin meetings with prayer, as long as all religious groups
are given "equal access' in leading it. That unfortunate decision ended a
lawsuit filed by Society of Separationists, the legal arm of American
Atheists, to abolish the practice. In Salt Lake City, where a religious
culture war has divided hard-shell Mormons and secularists, the city council
has decided to open meetings instead with a simple pledge of allegiance. But
out in the boonies, as Allen knows, it's a different story. A number of
towns begin official meetings with prayer, including Midvale, Sandy, Draper
and West Valley.
Allen sees some humor in the latest situation in Davis County, telling
media that "Everybody knows (councils) need help with the decisions they have
to make." He adds, though that "one suspects that they are trying to wrap
themselves in some kind of divine endorsement. And anybody who disagrees
with them is some kind of heretic."


Pat Boone, a favorite on Trinity Broadcasting Network, has gotten the boot
thanks to his foray into heavy metal music. TBN, which beams its
fundamentalist and charismatic "signs and wonders" religious message to 400
stations, announced that it was cancelling the plain-vanilla crooner's
"GospelAmerica" program. The network has supposedly received thousands of
complaints from supporters after Boone -- a fundamentalist Christian --
appeared in black leather and fake tattoos at the January 27 American Music
Awards. Yesterday, TBN officials justified their decision by saying it was
"based on recent changes in the focus and content of Pat's music.
The 62-year old Boone is ruffled by the move, though. He told USA TODAY:
"The sad part is after 30 years or more of public declaration about being a
devout Christian, suddenly so many of those folks decided that I totally sold
out and were so quick to judge me."
It appears that Pat will get a chance to recant, or at least explain his
bare-chested, spiked-collar-and-shades look that went out over the Associated
Press photo wire. TBN says that he will appear on the "Praise" program on
April 15 with his pastor, to "explain his actions." Boone added: "I'm going
to wind up losing a lot of fans but I'll gain new ones who'll realize I'm not
as square as they thought..."

Columnist George Wills seems a bit critically sympatico with Ohio
Representative John Kasich, a golden boy in the Christian Coalition pantheon.
"Kasich needs to tone it down to be viable in 2000 election", reads the
headline to the latest Will column. Seems that Kasich happened to walk into
a Blockbuster store and spotted a cassette of the movie "Fargo," which he
didn't find to his liking. Ever since Blockbuster started censoring videos
to achieve that wholesome "family" image (they wouldn't carry "The Last
Temptation of Christ", caving into the gripes of Rev. Don Wildmon and the
Traditional Values Coalition), we thought that just about everything on the
shelves would get the "seal of approval" from a guy like Kasich. Guess not.

Wills also fessed-up: "The most important player in Republican nominating
politics is the Christian Coalition. It believes that in 1996 it was too
reactive, with the result that it did not have influence commensurate with
its weight." He adds that when the scrap for the next presidential
nomination begins big time -- say, mid-1999 -- "the Coalition might embrace a
candidate it deems both sympathetic and plausible."
Are we talking Kasich, anyone?
We'll be watching.

We're talking apocalypse here, folks.
Seems that with the national consciousness a bit burned-out on the threat
of invading aliens a la "Independence Day" (or, might we suggest the poorer
special effects of "Alien Autopsy"?), the latest case of pre-millennium
jitters involves rogue asteroids dropping in to exterminate humanity, juggle
the gene pool and set off world wide ecological catastrophe. In just the
past few days, we've had a fairly credible Discovery Channel presentation
("Three Minutes to Impact"), some good NOVA reruns about space debris, and
the less-than-praiseworthy NBC impact on our collective brain cells,
"Asteroid." The peacock may have won the ratings war earlier this week
(about 55 million of us mushed out for a couple of prime time evenings), but
it didn't do much for educating people about science, specifically how we
might divert a large body from crashing into the planet, and ushering us down
the same extinction path as the dinosaurs.
Comets, and to a lesser extent meteors streaking in the night sky, have
traditionally been considered omens of disaster. A Taoist prince of the
second century, b.c.e. proclaimed in "The Book of the Prince of Huai-Nan"
that wars and apparitions of comets were related; and Halley's Comet of 1066
is portrayed in the famous Bayeux Tapestry, in retrospect to some a harbinger
of the Norman invasion of England and the death of King Harold at the Battle
of Hastings.
Asteroids, or "very large bodies," however are not comets and do not
announce themselves with such visual splendor. But the solar system -- and
Earth -- are littered with the evidence of their impacts and havoc.
The current phobia of collective demise by an asteroid meshes neatly with
many Biblical fundamentalist, charismatic and even new age notions of how the
earth is to end (perhaps giving rise, in the process, to a small band of
chosen, the "elect" who go on to build utopia and the New Jerusalem.) The
more programs you watch about the subject, the more guesses -- alright,
preliminary estimates -- of how many such bodies there may be whizzing
through our Earth's orbital path, and the odds of our planet encountering
such an interloper in the next century you hear. By the most conservative
odds, the chances appear to be about 1,000 to 1. Think of that in terms of,
say, money, and it might have a sobering effect on your early case of
apocalypse jitters.
The Pope of Rome isn't worrying, though. Last Sunday, John Paul II made a
curious pronouncement before thousands of pilgrims and tourists in St.
Peter's Square, assuring him that God will never destroy the world again, as
he presumably did in the Great Flood so colorfully and fancifully described
in Genesis. "From the words of alliance between God and Noah," declared
JP-2, "it is understood that now no sin could bring God to destroy the world
he created."
One might display the arrogance to inquire why, assuming Genesis or other
Biblical accounts are correct, God waited until after Noah to be so generous,
or why he choose to inundated the planet for 40 days and nights resulting in
the drowning of innocent victims, products of "His" creation.
Tsk, tsk. The Vatican was making some progress there, especially in light
of the Pope admitting that evolution does seem to carry the day (an
acknowledgment of scientific evidence that comes a bit late in the game).
Now we're back to that pesky flood bit, and divining the future. Will these
Popes never learn?

Well, if you're not looking skyward for a rogue asteroid, why not hike
instead to the Mohave desert of California on the 13th of the month to catch
a glimpse of the Virgin Mary? Seems that ever since a woman named Maria Paula
Acuna claimed to have had a vision of the mom 'o Jesus several years ago,
crowds have been dragging their lawn chairs and cameras to witness the
apparition of "Our Lady of the Rock." Maria leads the crowd in prayer, and
then gives the signal -- Mary's here! -- and the shutters begin clicking.
Skeptics point out that nothing is going on, except maybe the interaction
of active imaginations, or maybe flaws in lenses, films and shutter
mechanisms. The "pictures" of Mary aren't nearly as distinct as the outline
of the "Soybean Savior" Jesus is said to have made a decade ago on the side
of a grain silo in the mid west. Even so, the crowds are enthused, and their
numbers are growing. The Los Angeles Times recently reported that upwards of
1,000 people or more are making the trek into the Mohave; some of them are
vendors peddling rosaries, or religious kitsch.
Some are "Mary groupies," part of a growing Marian movement within the
Catholic Church which strikes even the ecclesiastical leadership as a
potential problem. The Diocese of Fresno which has religious authority over
that part of the Mohave, "gently" tries to tell believers that no miracle has
been verified. A spokesman for the Los Angeles Archdiocese told the Times:
"The church's official position is that there are no apparitions, and people
are to be discouraged from going there." The Church spent a year
investigating the reports and concluded that the visions are "due to
somebody's imagination."
We'll buy that.
Even so, credulous Mary worship is becoming a fad ever since the "miracle"
of Fatima on May 13, 1917 when the Virgin supposedly dropped in on three kids
in Portugal. Curiously, she supposedly told them to return to the same
location on the 13th of each month.
Maria Acuna seems to have fostered a bit of a cult around herself; she
graces these events -- on the 13th, religiously -- decked out in a white
veil, gown and somewhat more functional white gym shoes. "She is attended by
white-clad volunteers," notes the Times. The ritual includes a process where
a statue of Mary is carried in a procession, complete with a bed of (plastic)
red roses. Why not recycle? When Mary supposedly arrives, Acuna "works the
crowd" while an aide trails behind carrying holy water and "holy oil."
Mary worship is indeed breaking out all over, from the Mohave to the town
of Medjugore in former Yugoslavia. A busy lady...
Sure, it's an example of social angst, credulousness and boredom... but
what if it's for real? I can see it now. Maria arrives, prayer's, a burst
of brilliant light!
"Where are you going, my Virgin?!"
"Me? I'm going to Disneyland!"

(Thanks to Helen Johnson in Los Angeles and Margie Wait in Denver for
We've always been amused at the frantic scramble of many mainline
religious denominations to "keep up" with the times in hopes of holding on to
congregations. Some churches have to resort to rock 'n roll to woo younger
folks, or free day-care or bowling leagues to hang on to the boomers. And
the National Council of Churches has frantically rewritten the Bible in hopes
of removing "sexist" and other offensive language from the Infallible World
of God. Hmmm....
Jews are scrambling too, especially since they (and the Christians) are
rapidly losing percentages in the believer marketplace to crank cults and
Islamic groups. In hopes of reversing the trend, a couple of Ojai,
California rabbis have launched a "Synagogue 2000" project to design the
synagogue of the future. Rabbi Lawrence Hoffman admitted to the Los Angeles
Times recently that "We are taking the principle of how ideas work in
Disneyland or in church and applying them to the synagogue."
Part of the effort involves bringing together the Orthodox, Conservative
and Reform flavor rabbis who have congregations that "work," i.e. are big and
not in decline. One official of Synagogue 2000 has even attended seminars on
customer service run by the Walt Disney corporation to see what could be
learned. And movie maker Steven Spielberg is kicking in $300,000 over the
next three years; another $600,000 for the project is coming from a
foundation started by the founder of Sara Lee Foods.
Advance word is that Synagogue 2000 participants are quickly picking up on
the need to emphasize vague "spirituality" talk, rather than stuffy
references to "religion" or "doctrine."

* For information about American Atheists, send mail to info@atheists.org
and include your name and postal mailing address.
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and other products is available upon request. Get yours by contacting
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* Are you already an AA member? If so, join the "spirited" discussion on
aachat, our on-line discussion group. For further information, contact the
moderator through aachat@atheists.org.

#42  - - 5/20/96

In This Edition...
* Congressional Calls for "Church Socialism"
* Iranian Cleric Echoes Hard-Line
* Myths Supporting 'Religious Equality Amemdment'


While "hot button" bills such as the "Defense of Marriage Act" and the
"Religious Equality Amendment" maneuver their way through Congress, other
backburner legislation still threatens the integrity of the wall of
separation between government and religion. American Atheists is tracking
two bills which have languished in the legislative hopper, both of which
concern direct and indirect government aid to religious organizations.
The Community Partnership Act would "jointly establish a State grant
program for an information network for matching nonviolent criminal offenders
and, on a voluntary basis, welfare families as well, with churches,
synogogues, and other religious groups.
The Bipartisan Welfare Reform Act is designed to "administer and provide
services...through contacts with charitable, religious, or private
organizations." This is an extension of government policy which uses
religious groups to operate social services outreaches, and covers a gamut of
programs from feeding services to drug and alcohol rehab. But whereas
previous programs (such as Community Development Block Grants) were required
to consider the "state-church separation angle," and restircted programs to
purely secular activities, the Partnership Act would provide religious groups
with taxpayer funds "without impairing the religious character of such
organizations, and without diminishing the religious freedom of
"Religious Privatization" With Taxpayer
State-church separationists charge that these policies constitute another
violation of the First Amendment, and establish religious organizations
through the granting of public, taxpayer funds. Critics maintain that
churches and other religious groups should not be receiving public monies,
especially when those grants are used to operate social service programs that
inevitably take on a religious character.
Section C of the Welfare Reform Act says that religious groups may accept
"certificates, vouchers, or other forms of disbursement...so long as the
programs are implemented consistent with the Establishment Clause of the
United States Constitution." But the following section then states that
"Neither the Federal Government nor a state shall require a religious
(receiving funds) to -- (a) Alter its form of internal governance; or (B)
remove religious art, icons, scripture or other symbols: in order to be
eligible to contract to provide assistance...
Critics charge that this the Act pays cheap lipservice to the First
Amendment, then gives religious organizations a wide loophole to mix their
tasks of social service provider and clerical proselytizers.
A spokesperson for American Atheists charged that the act "blurs the
distinctions between religious groups and what should be clearly secular
social service programs."
Others note that such a funding arrangement constitutes "socialism for the
churches." Religious organizations obtain government funding, then take
credit for contributing to the "public good" by running a charity. Yet,
statistics show that more and more, churches and religious charities depend
on taxpayer funding for their operations. Last year, for instance, over 60%
of the budget for National Catholic Charities came through government grants.
And throughout the nation, Community Development Block Grants -- usually
doled out by local municipalities -- fund religious/church operations which
give away food, provide counselling, administer health clinics and even
establish programs for unwed moms.


Despite reports in some western media and intelligence cirlces, the
clerical regime in Iran is stepping up its call for an Islamic revolution
throughout the region. Some European negotiators and trade representatives
have recently tried to portray the government of President Hashemi
Rafsanjani as a moderating force on more militant Shi'ite militants,
especially those linked to the Hezbollah, Council of Guardians and the
Vanguard group.
On Friday, however, a senior Iranian cleric -- Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati --
reaffirmed his country's efforts of behalf of regional de-stabilization and
the spread of Islamic Revolution Tehran-style during a prayer sermon
broadcast. He said, "The wave of revolution is slowly taking over the land
of Arabia and also spreading to other places...the young generation of young
theology students are protesting." Jannati was referring to neighboring
Saudi Arabia;although the Kingdom is firmly Muslim, it does not support many
of the expansionist goals of the Tehran regime, and adheres to a non-Shi'ite
interpretation of the Koran. Sunni Moslems constitute the majority in Saudi
Arabia, and despite domestic policy difference, allies itself with U.S.
foreign policy in the region.
Jannati added that "A revolutionary movement is taking root among Muslims,
threatening America and Israel's hegemony...over Islamic states."
The cleric's remarks come one week after the closing of the annual Haj, a
religious event where hundreds of thousands of Muslims make their pilgrimage
trek to the "holy city" of Mecca. In past years, Iranian agents have tried
to turn the holiday into a platform for political demonstrations aimed at
Israel, western countries, and the governing Saud family in Saudi Arabia.
Jannati is secretary of the Council of Guardians, a clerical-religious
watchdog group established by the Iranian government to filter-out potential
opposition candidates during elections, and monitor spiritual affairs in the
society. In the recent elections, the Council eliminated nearly 20% of
candidates for public office even before the voting began, charging that they
were "un-Islamic."
His statements also come on the heels of armed attacks and other violent
actions carried out by Islamic hard-liners throughout Iran. A good deal of
Jannati's sermon focused on Saudi Arabia, however, which has taken a firm
stance against Iran's attempts to meddle in its domestic affairs. Four
Saudis linked to the bombing last November in Riyah which killed five
Americans and two Indians, have confessed ties to Islamic groups abroad.
"God does not want this voice to be silence," added Jannati, "or fail to
spread beyond Iranian borders."


Claims Made By Ammendment Supporters Often Turn Out To Be Questionable, False

Two versions of the Religious Equality Amendment are currently in
Congress, each supported by different factions of the religious right. The
differences in wording are subtle, but proponents agree that such a law --
one which ostensibly protect the religious freedom of believers -- is long
overdue. They cite not only the alleged need for school prayer, a major
objective of the Amendments, but numerous cases where the "religious rights"
of "people have faith" have been violated. Such violations have also become
a major focus of religious groups like the Rutherford Institute and Pat
Robertson's American Center for Law and Justice. They and other
organizations paint a bleak, even frightening picture of the status of civil
liberties -- at least those related to religious believers -- in the U.S.
But is this picture accurate? Are the "rights of believers" really "under
attack" by government, schools and other institutions? Critics of the
Religious Equality Amendment charge that the specific cases often raised by
the acts proponents are exaggerated, even false. The American Bar
Association Journal dealt with this problem in its December, 1995 issue, and
AANEWS recently received a copy of a letter
in response:
Dear Editor:
The article "Defenders of the Faith" in your December issue got our
attention. We wanted to know more about the "cases" featured in the article
that were handled by law firms associated with the Religious Right and to
discover the basis for the complaint that public schools routine trample on
the constitutional rights of religious students.
First, we called the author, Mark Curriden. He told us that all his
information came from several of the organizations featured in the article.
We then called these organizations and, when possible, the school districts.
Jasy Sekulow's assistants at the largest of these organizations, the ACLJ,
could provide no information about any of these "cases." Mr. Sekulow himself
declined to return our calls. We had more success with other organizations.
This is what we learned about some of the "cases" reported in your article:
1) 'In Arkansas, a fifth grader was ordered by a teacher to turn his
T-shirt inside-out to hide the Bible verse on it.'
According to Susan Engle of Liberty Counsel, a fifth-grade girl in
Arkansas wore a shirt to school with a picture of a garbage can and the words
'It's no place for a baby' and 'Stop Abortion' on the front. The back said
"God made woman with a womb, not a tomb' and 'It's a child, not a choice.'
Her teacher asked her to turn the shirt inside-out. She told her parents and
they called the Liberty Counsel. Mat Straver told her to wear the shirt again
and say that her lawyers said that she had a constitutional right to do so.
She did, and that was the end of the matter.
Incidentally, we were also told by the Rutherford Institute that it
handled a similar matter (the T-shirt had a drawing of a dismembered fetus
and the words 'Kind of looks like murder'). Neither of these incidents
involves Bible verses and in our view would be more properly described as
raising issues of students' freedom of speech rather than freedom of
2) 'A boy in Spokane, Wash. was told by his principal that he violated the
separation of church and state when he prayed silently before eating in the
school lunchroom.'
The Western Center for Law and Religious Freedom told us that a father
called to complain that the assistant principal at Glover Junior High School
in Spokane told his son and daughter not to pray in the school cafeteria at
lunch. The Center told the father this was a violation of the students'
constitutional rights but did not know the end of the story because the
father had not returned the Center's calls.
We called the assistant principal. He told us that the father and the
students had met with him and that he had told them he knew nothing of the
incident. When the father then asked his children if they were sure it was
the assistant principal who told them not to pray, they said 'No' because
they had not looked up from their prayers. They said they assumed it was the
assistant principal because he usually patrols the lunchroom. It turns out
that the students are often teased by their classmates because they pray
conspicuously. The father than apologized.
3) 'Another student in Florida had her Bible confiscated by a teacher who
saw her reading it during recess.'
We cannot find anything to corroborate this story.
4) Bryce Fisher 'was told he couldn't read from his Bible in class.'
Bryce is a first-grader in South Bend, Indiana. His teacher told her
class to bring in and read from a favorite book. Bryce brought a Bible. The
teacher stopped him because, as the assistant superintendent of the district
explained to us, she was caught off guard and reacted quickly to prevent what
she feared would be a complaint-generating event. The district has now
adopted a policy that readings of this sort must be from a selected list of
It appears to us that the 'outrageous cases' described in 'Defenders of
the Faith' are not 'cases' , are not particularly 'outrageous,' and do not
really involve religious freedom. It would have been more accurate to say
they are anecdotes which, when repeated, tend to cause people to believe that
isolated and inaccurately reported incidents reflect typical school policies,
tend to confuse people about the law regarding religion in the schools, and
tend to lead people to conclude that the Supreme Court's current
interpretations of the First Amendment should therefore be changed.
While we are troubled generally that debate on these important issues
should proceed on the basis of misinformation, we are particularly troubled
that a publication such as yours, which reaches a half-million of the most
influential people in America, should lend its considerable credibility to
this sort of apocrypha and hope you will take this opportunity to correct the
Very truly yours,
Howard Stambor
Bruce Lamka
David Wright Tremaine

#136   - -   8/21/96 (Nightowl Edition)

In This Issue...
* Federal Court Strikes Down Crosses On Public Land!
* Media Ignores "Christian" Night Riders
* TheistWatch: Today's "Cult", Tomorrow's "Religion"
* About This List...

Ninth Circuit Renders A Significant State-Church Separation Verdict

In a major blow to public-financing and display of religious symbols, the
Ninth Circuit Court yesterday ruled that a 51-foot high cross in Eugene
Oregon which sits on public property violates the Establishment Clause of the
First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The ruling of the three-judge
panel was unanimous; city officials in Eugene must now decide whether they
wish to appeal to the case to the U.S. Supreme Court, or dismantle the cross.
The case was brought by a state affiliate of Americans United for Separation
of Church and State, and two local residents. It was also the third case
concerning the landmark religious symbols, which sits conspicuously atop the
city's Skinner Butte. In April of 1991, U.S. District Court Judge Michael
Hogan ruled that the cross could stay, but that decision was promptly
appealed to the Ninth Circuit.
Dave Kong, a California representative of American Atheists, was overjoyed
with the decision, and noted that the Circuit Court's ruling also applies to
the 103-foot tall cross which sits on public land on Mount Davidson in San
In its brief, the Court noted the long history of First Amendment abuse on
public lands in Eugene beginning in the late 1930's when "private individuals
erected a succession of wooden crosses in the park, one replacing another as
they deteriorated." The present cross -- 51-feet tall and constructed of
concrete with inset neon tubing -- was erected in 1964.
"The parties who erected the cross did not seek the City's permission to
do so beforehand; however, they subsequently applied for and received from
the City a building permit and an electrical permit."
Beginning in 1970, Eugene city government illuminated the cross for
fifteen days out of the year; seven during the Christmas season, five days
for Thanksgiving, and on Independence Day, Memorial Day and Veteran's Day.
In 1969, the Oregon Supreme Court ruled that the cross violated both state
and federal constitutions, in that it was a clear endorsement of
Christianity. In May, 1970, Eugene Oregon sponsored a charter amendment
election; voters approved an amendment to the city charter which then
designated the cross as a "war memorial." A bronze plaque was placed at the
foot of the cross, and the local Charter then amendment to read that the
"concrete cross on the south slope of the butte shall remain at that location
and in that form as property of the city and is hereby dedicated as a
memorial to the veterans of all wars in which the United States has
Oyez! Oyez! No Way!
In its decision, the Ninth Circuit ruled that "The fifty-one foot Latin
cross located in a public park on Skinner's Butte clearly represents
governmental endorsement of Christianity," and cited the "maintenance of the
cross in a public park" as providing "official approval of one religious
faith over others." The court also cited the Establishment Clause, observing:
"Whatever else the Establishment Clause may mean (and we have held it to
mean no official preference even for religion over nonreligion...it certainly
means at the very least that government may not demonstrate a preference for
one particular sect or creed (including a preference for Christianity over
other religions..."
Judges also disputed the City's claims that "the cross is no longer a
religious symbol but a war memorial," by referring to the case of Grand
Rapids School District v. Ball (1985). In that ruling, the U.S. Supreme
Court observed:
"It follows than an important concern of the effects test is whether the
symbolic union of church and state effected by the challenged governmental
action is sufficiently likely to be perceived by adherents of the controlling
denominations as an endorsement, and by the nonadherents as a disapproval, of
their individual religious choices."
The Court reviewing the Eugene, Oregon case closed its decision by
"There is no question that the Latin cross is a symbol of Christianity,
and that its placement on public land by the City of Eugene violates the
Establishment Clause. Because the cross may reasonably be perceived as
governmental endorsement of Christianity, the City of Eugene has
impermissibly breached the First Amendment's 'wall of separation' between
church and state."

(Thanks to Margie Wait and Kevin Courcey for information on this ruling.)

While much of the media and government hooplah about an alleged string
of church-related "arsons" has died down, there also seems to be considerable
bias in how information in the cases is being reported. One example is last
week's plea in federal court by two members of an organization known as
Christian Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. Timothy Welch, 24 and Gary Cox, 22
both pleaded guilty to torching two black churches in South Carolina in 1995.
Those fires involved the 90-year-old Mount Zion African Methodist Episcopal
Church in Greeleyville, S.C. and the 100-year-old Macedonia Baptist Church in
Bloomville. Welch and Cox also pleaded guilty to a state charge of beating
and stabbing a black man.
Media coverage about the pleas, though, left out an interesting and
over-looked point in the whole "church arson" scenario. Both Welch and Cox
were members of the Christian Knights of the Ku Klux Klan; but in media
coverage monitored by AANEWS, including major newspaper accounts, the only
reference to the men's association is simply their affiliation with "the Ku
Klux Klan."
What's Going On?
Despite arguments from religious leaders and many politicians that recent
church arsons were "connected" or involved "a conspiracy," there has been
little concrete evidence to support those claims. Even so, religious
representatives of groups ranging from the liberal National Council of
Churches to the Christian Coalition, have been insisting that the fires were
part of what Ralph Reed of the CC termed a conspiracy "against religion."
That sentiment was echoed by the head of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission.
But a variety of government and media probes have failed to support that
contention. An exhaustive probe conducted by USA TODAY revealed that there
was "no evidence of an overall conspiracy," Indeed, some of the fires in
black churches were set by blacks (in one case an individual associated with
the church, and many of the fires involved racially- mixed congregations, or
even white churches. Representatives of the insurance industry noted that
the "church arson epidemic" which had become a buzz-phrase in the newsmedia
and in political speeches, was not supported by statistical evidence.
When the "church arson epidemic" hysteria peaked in June and July, AANEWS
observed that most of the cases which had been solved by arson investigators
involved lone firebugs, disturbed teens, or were attributed to petty
vandalism. Even so, millions of dollars have been donated by a variety of
different religious groups, and once-shabby church buildings have been
replaced by modern structures. The National Council of Churches has poured
in $8,660,000, Kenneth Copeland Ministries donated $400,000, and the
patriarchal Promise Keepers raised $300,000. Southern Baptist Convention
took time from its boycott of Walt Disney to contribute $300,000, and the
Christian Coalition contributed $200,000. That figure is low, considering
that the Coalition declared two Sunday's as fund-raising events for its
affiliated churches; AANEWS observed that since CC insists that its "voters
guides" will be distributed at some 100,000 participating churches, that
figure works out to a miserly $2.00 per congregation.


Our story about the "Ghost Month" in Korea and China brought an
interesting comment from a Chicago AANEWS reader. "My wife went on a busness
trip to Korea recently, selling nursing supplies to various medical offices.
In some of the obstetrics offices she noticed signs 'We deliver after
midnight.' Since anyone in that business must have a 24-hour service she
asked what this really meant.
"It seems a lot of Koreans believe very seriously in astrology and want
their children born on auspicious days. These doctors are willing to advance
or retard delivery a few days to hit a desired date. These aren't ignorant
peasants; by any standard Koreans are more educated than Americans."
Unfortunately, skepticism and critical thinking do not always correlate
with educational levels. Teaching critical thinking skills -- and getting
people to question preposterous, or at the least oustanding claims -- should
remain a major social objective for Atheists.

Priorities, priorities. Even if for some reason you happened to dislike
homosexuals, if you were a member of the California Assembly couldn't you
find better things to do with taxpayer time and money than fret over an issue
like "gay marriage"? Try driving on some California freeways, or breathing
the air in LaLaLand. Hey, what about unemployment and the slump in the
aerospace industry? There are plenty of problems crying out for attention,
but solons in the Golden Bear State are just determined to make sure that
gays -- those Sodomite types the Bible warns about -- can't have equal
rights. On Tuesday, the California assembly narrowly approved a state Senate
bill that denies recognition to gay men and women who want to marry. It's
the fad thing, you know, bashing gays -- especially with election time coming
up. Supporters of the bill say that wish to deny recognition to any gay
marriages both in-and-out of California.

Bad news for Ralph Reed and any politicians who insist that America is a
"religious nation" populated with bug-eyed, credulous, church going fools. A
recent survey conducted by the Barna Research Group reveals that while most
Americans think Christianity "has had a positive impact on society," fewer
people are bothering to attend church. Nearly 85% of those adults polled
expressed approval of Christianity, but only 58% had similar sentiments for
the older religious belief on the creed-block, Judaism. Approval was only
40% for Islam, and 45% for Buddhism. According to the Denver Post, "Most
non-christians, including atheists, also gave higher positive ratings to
non-Christian groups than Christians did."
Barba surveys indicated that 37% said that they attended church in a given
week -- that's the fifth consecutive year for a decline in that figure, and
represents an 11-year low. As for those "baby boomers" that some believe are
just flocking to church, well, attendance has dropped the most for that
demographic category.
We're gettin' there folks!

40 Months and Counting...
Is it just a coincidence that popular culture is swimming in books,
discussions and movies which have a distinctly millennialist, even
apocalyptic theme? Maybe not. Everyone from Christian fundamentalists to
the Roman Catholic Church and blissed-out new agers are getting stoked for
The Millennium which (depending on your personal scenario) could usher in
Apocalypse, a World Church, or a landing by the Mother Ship. Or maybe the
landscape will end-up as just so much dystopian rubble, populated by the
sorts of charactes in John Carpenter's new thriller, "Escape From Los
In Britain, the rumblings about doomsday are being taken seriously, at
least in a report titled "The Prophets of Doom: The Security of Religious
Cults," published by the Institute for European Defense and Strategic
Studies, an independent think-tank. The Institute warns that there are now
over 500 cults operating in Britain, some of which are "so unpredictable that
they are potentially more dangerous than terrorist groups," noted The London
Times. The reports author, Martin Hubback, says that as the year 2000
approaches, cult activity is likely to intensify. He notes: "It is the
combination of individuals belonging to a group without rational ends, who
are not in a bargaining relationship with the authorities, who are reckless
as to their own survival and who possess the ability and inclination to use
hithertoo taboo methods of destruction, which makes cults such a serious
threat to society."
That strikes a mixed-chord with us, however. After all, "cults" is just
another polite term in describing a religion which hasn't yet hit the
big-time and taken over the culture. You can characterize groups like
Scientology and the Branch Davidians as cults, but the respectable, accepted
mainstream religions are equally irrational and absurd. The only difference
is, for now, the size of the bank accounts and the numbers of followers. Who
knows? Today's "cult" is tomorrow's "religion"!

#45  - -   5/22/96

* "Gene Rights" Debate (Are These Folks Serious?)
* Heavenly Wacks: Bible Discipline in Britain
* Infamous Quotes
* The Vatican Globetrotter  - A Portable Bully-Pulpit
* TheistWatch: Strip Joints, Heresy, End of the World Jitters


Jeremy Rifkin, dubbed the "Pied Piper of Anti-Technology", is at it again.
Next Tuesday (May 28), Rifkin plans to hold a press conference annoucing
his latest effort at blunting important bio-technology research, and
formation of the "first genetic-rights movement in history."
According to reports, including CNN, "Rifkin and the groups with whom he
is working say that human genes are a part of nature, not an invention..." At
issue is the question of whether genetic material can be patented. Rifkin and
his coalition insist that it is not only immoral to allow patenting of
genetic material, but that such a policy discourages research and
development. Most researchers, biotech firms and bioethicists say that the
coalition, which opposes any gene patenting, has it backwards. According to
CNN, "Patent protection...encourages research by giving investors and
researchers financial incentives."
Regardless of the financial concerns, though, critics accuse Rifkin and
many of his supporters of using religious doctrine to thwart cutting-edge
biotech research. Last May, for instance, Rifkin announced the formation of
another coalition made up of religious groups throughout the country to stop
genetic patenting. Working with Rifkin were American Baptist Churches,
National Baptist Convention, United Methodist Church and representatives of
Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu and Catholic groups. A statement from the
group declared: "We believe (genetic engineering) is going to dwarf the
pro-life debate within a few years. We are on the threshold of mind-bending
debates about the nature of human life and animal life. We see altering life
forms, creating new life forms, as a revolt against God's sovereignty and the
attempt by humankind to usurp God and be God."
But the "mind bending" debate goes back to at least 1980, when the U.S.
Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision that custom designed microbes useful in
cleaning up dangerous oil spills could be patented.
Critics of Rifkin and his religious allies say that such anti-technology
phobia endangers important research into lethal illnesses, including cancer
and diabetes. They note that the first animal patent was granted in 1988 on
a genetically engineered mouse used for development of anti-cancer agents.
Rifkin is also the author of several books, most with anti-technology and
spiritual themes, including "Algeny." While much of his concern is directed
against the possible consequences of new technologies such as
bio-engineering, some critics have warned that Rifkin is also promoting a
medievalist, anti-science and religious agenda.
Rifkin's new protest zeroes in an application by a Utah-based firm known
as Myriad Genetics. In 1994, the firm announced that it had discovered a
specific gene known as BRCA1, which is linked to breast cancer. The firm
claims to have a new test which can tell women which type of gene they have;
women with a particular mutation of that gene have about an 85% chance of
developing cancer of the breast. The discovery brought praise from the
National Alliance of Breast Cancer Organizations, which noted that "without
that huge infusion of capital (by Myriad), it (a test) wouldn't have happened
so quickly."
Carl Feldbaum, president of the Biotechnology Industry Organization,
acknowledged that there are legitimate concerns over gene patening and its
consequences, including privacy rights and discrimination based on genetic
"But that's entirely separate from the patent question," said Feldbaum. "
Jeremy Rifkin seems to have linked them in an unconscionable way, and
convinced some people who are not really cognizant of the issues that they
all relate to each other."
Critics also worry that considering Rifkin's stable of supporters, which
even includes Bishops of the Roman Catholic Church, the emphasis on
"violating god's creation" and "gene rights' will feed other issues,
including rights for fetuses and the whole abortion question.
- - -

After "much prayer" by Anglican and Baptist ministers, an independent
religious school in Britain has announced that it will be incorporating what
the Electronic Telegraph news terms a "bible-based approach" to discipline,
and will begin smacking pupils. Beginning in September, students unfortunate
enough to end up at the Bradford Christian School in West Yorkshire, could
face corporal punishment. A local businessman who happens to be on the
school's board of governors remarked that "We are praying that God will be
glorified by our decision," even though the school does not appear to have
any disciplinary problem.
The National Union of Teachers quickly denounced the policy as "a return
to the Dark Ages," and a Member of Parliament branded it as "barbaric."
Government schools in Britain did away with the practice a decade ago, and
the European Court of Human Rights banned spanking and hitting of children as
Other groups are speaking out about the "bible discipline" approach,
including the National Society for the Prevention of Cruety to Children. The
announcement also prompted critics to point to a June, 1995 study that showed
that violence against children was already out of control throughout
Britain, with one in six children being severely beaten at home. Even the
Bishop of Bradford chimed in saying "I would not send children of mine to a
school in which corporal punishment is used."
- - -

"I honestly believe that in my lifetime we will see a country once again
governed by Christians...and Christian values."
-- Ralph Reed, Christian Coalition
"The activities engaged in by the Christian Coalition...were a vital part
of why we had a revolution at the polls on November 8, 1994."
-- Newt Gingrich
"Are we courting you? Maybe we are, but what's wrong with that? You
are the glue that holds America together."
-- Bob Dole, to a rally of the Christian Coalition.
"Seventy percent of the people have a broad sympathy with the goals of the
revolution. Iranians don't want nightclubs. They don't want their daughters
in miniskirts. They don't want lots of Americans wandering around."
-- anonymous diplomat quoted by Reuters news service, April 28.
- - -
John Paul II has becoming the most travelled pope in history. Last
Friday, he celebrated his 76th birthday by taking a two-day visit through
Yugoslavia with the usual public receptions and staged public masses at
airports, stadiums and other venues. But in countries where Catholic
populations are large, even a majority, the prospect of a papal visit has
become a bargaining chip in the Vatican's game of international politics.
Last week, a Polish church official declared that the pontiff may not
visit his native Poland next year unless the Parliament in that country
buckles under and ratifies a agreement with the Vatican. The pope has
visited his homeland five times since he was named pontiff in 1978; observers
note that his sixth visit "would be of great significance as it would take
place prior to parliamentary elections," according to United Press.
The Poland-Vatican concordant was originally negotiated in June, 1993
under the Solidarity government of Hanna Suchocka. Many Poles feared that the
church was starting to play to invasive a role in government affairs,
however, and even constituted a threat to civil liberties. They cited the
church's hard-line position on issues such as abortion and censorship; a new
Parliament then refused to ratify the agreement.
The social democrat government of President Aleksander Kwasniewski has
invited the Pope for a visit next year, but there has been no official reply.
Vatican and Polish church spokesmen warn that they do not approve of a new
draft constitution which omits all references to God in its preamble.
(Similar objections united religious groups recently in South Africa, where
the new constitution did not include sufficient spiritual language, including
references to the Trinity.) Bishop Tadeusz Pieronek has also announced that
''there cannot be any bargain made'' where the church would support the
constitutional preamble if the government signed the 1993 Concordant.
- - -
Sometimes church big shots are smarter than we think. Last Wednesday, for
instance, an Episcopalian panel of eight bishops declared as non-binding a
1979 church law that said ordaining "practicing homosexuals" was taboo. That
averted the first heresy trial of a church Bishop since the 1920's, and saved
the Rev. Bishop Walter Righter a prolonged ecclesiastical trial. Righter had
ordained a fellow named Barry Stopfel as a deacon back in 1990, knowing that
he was gay. Stopfel then became rector of a church in Maplewood, N.J.
Smart move, guys. Imagine the social opprobrium, scorn and just plain
guffawing that would descend on the Episcopal Church if, in the middle of the
1990's, you held a HERESY trial. Mention the H-word, and I think of some poor
sap locked in a stockade, or standing before some puffed-up judge wearing a
dunce hat. (The defendant wears the hat, stupid!). We still have to agree,
though, with the cranky church hard-liners on the issue of homosexuality.
Homosexuality IS a taboo practice in the bible, and Christianity -- when
interpreted consistently -- frowns upon the practice as "sinful." Which is
why we'd like to see the nation's 25 million or so gay men and women OUT of,
not IN, church. And don't just quote us on this issue... AP found a
"leading conservative in the (Episcopal) church who said the ruling was
wrong, especially since 'the practice of homosexuality is a flagrant
violation of long-held Christian belief.' "
- - -
Your correspondent is no great fan of strip joints, which may be said to
be bastions of mutual exploitation. Hordes of human stags, often with beer
guts and bad breath, drool over dancers and waitresses who, hopefully, manage
to part these guys with their money at a tempo as fast as the pounding music.
So with that said, consider this story to be an example of the "lesser evil"
conundrum. In Monroe, Ohio, a small church decided to open during the recent
National Day of Prayer, and send forth blasts of religious music into the
neighbor's parking lot. The lot happened to belong to " Bristol's Showclub
and Revue," a strip club, which happens to share a common driveway with a
garage housing the ministry of Rev. Rick Thomas. Thomas also is president of
the local Citizens for Community Values.
CVC has been trying for weeks to rid the small town of 4,500 residents of
this "gentlemen's club," but nothing -- from pickets to proposed laws and
calls for municipal regulation -- has worked. The "Showclub and Revue" is
thriving, presumably with dollars from some (if not many) of those 4,500
folks the good reverend wants to protect from themselves.
Blasting church music, though, apparently has not worked. Rev. Thomas has
now painted biblical quotes on the side of his ministry building-garage, one
of which declares: "Jesus said: Look at a woman with lust in your eye and you
have committed adultery in your heart."
Amen to that.
- - -
More End of the World Angst? TW has been tracking the course of our
culture's growing fixation with the approach of the year 2000. From TV
specials to supermarket tabloids, the word is getting out -- something BIG
will happen as humanity closes out the second millennium. The money seems to
be on an even-split between The Second Coming of Christ and the arrival of
aliens. Who knows? So, expect all sorts of pre-millennium fundamentalism,
pseudo-science, doomsday prognostication and just plain silliness.
We recently informed readers about the CBS special "Mysteries of the
Millenium" which managed to fuse mythology, the babble of Nostradamus,
science-fictionesque scenarios involving collisions with asteroids and good
old religious fundamentalism into a seamless tale about how we're really on
the eve of destruction. But there's more to come. Seems that Chris Carter,
creator of the TV hit series "The X-Files", has a new program in production
called "Millennium." According to USA TODAY: "A former FBI agent moves to
Seattle to save the world from the evil forces that prey on people at the end
of the century." (I didn't realize they were waiting!)
We're seeing more evidence of "Millennialist angst" in cyberspace, too.
There is a thriving newsgroup dealing with the religious, cultural,
sociological and political aspects of the approaching millennium, and
prophesy sites are sprouting up all over the world wide web. There's even a
"Rapture Index" which seeks to measure the approaching Final Judgment by
monitoring significant international events. And in the next three or four
years, we may even see a proliferation of those bumper stickers which
declare: "WARNING! This car will be un-mannned in case of Rapture!"
There are some pretty dubious claims being made about the Millennium, of
course, including the prediction that Mikhail Gorbachev is going to play some
big role in the eschatological stage-show. Gorby was a candidate just a few
short years back for the post of Anti-Christ, in part because suspicious
biblical fundamentalists believed his distinct "wine spot" skin on his
forehead was surely the "Mark of the Beast." But Mikhail being some kind of
fin de siecle heavy? Doubtful. He's running for President in Russia, and
even Vladimir Zhirinovsky will get more votes than Gorby.
Some bible bangers are even crossing over to that wicked, New Age art of
astrology, seeing a series of planetary conjunctions in the year 2,000 as
just bursting with prophetic significance. After all, Luke 21 refers to
"great earthquakes...famines and pestilences; and fearful sights and great
signs shall there be from heaven."
Books about the End of the World are also enjoying a thriving sales
record. Christian bookstores are stocking up on titles such as "Final
Signs," "RAGING into Apocalypse," and new editions of classic doomsday titles
by pop-eschatologist Hal Lindsey. And just about every current event is
being cited as "proof" by some religious groups that The End Is Near. One
bible prophesy website called The Hotzone, for instance, cited a quote by Ted
Turner, founder of CNN, who said that Americans were "The dumbest people in
the world."
He may be right.
Still another website gives a long list of possible Antichrists, ranging
from Ayatollah Khomeni and Saddam Hussein to John Kennedy, Adolph Hitler and
even Barney The Dinosaur.
According to Millennial Prophesy Report which does a good job at tracking
such cultural craziness, "more people than you think" accept the notion that
the Day of Judgment is just a few flips away on the old wall calendar.
Millions are apparently serious when they discuss the probability that the
"elect" will suddenly vanish from cars, planes, offices, beds, schools and
other venues, to be wisked off to heaven while the rest of us remain behind
to endure the Tribulation and antics of the Antichrist. One web site
declares with enthusiasm, "To have millions of people disappear without a
trace, the media focus can not (sic) be imagined...After the rapture, the
media will have 1000's of examples to choose from...Many businesses would be
paralyzed by the loss of key personnel, the economy will suffer a devastating
blow, and millions of people who had friends and family members raptured will
be terrified...If you turned on your television, you would find 24-hour
coverage on every channel, the President having emergency meetings after
emergency meeting (sic), and churches filled ot overflowing."
Reportedly, there is even a California attorney who is specializing in
preparing post-rapture trusts to ensure that the possessions and monies of
the elect are passed on to the proper heirs. Surely, this is the stuff of an
Andy Rooney commentary, or another Leslie Nielson hit. I can hear it now...
"Well, Mr. Jones, you're wife flew off to heaven along with your kids and the
boss, but the good news is that you're a rich man!"

# 73  - -    6/23/96 (Weekend Edition)

In This Edition...
* Sorry, Bob, the Abortion Issue Fat Lady is STILL Singing -- In Texas!
* Creationism at Washington Grade School
* Zodiac Killer Toted Bible, Quoted Verse, Attended Church
* Cults in Europe Thriving  - Creation, Destruction, Making Money
* TheistWatch: Vatican Bucks, Phoney Legends in Mexico!
* About This List...

National Leadership Worried Over Anti-choice Zealotry ?
Senator Bob Dole was picturing himself as the great internal peacemaker
for the Republican Party last week, but that may end up being a false hope
considering what has happened at the Texas GOP state convention. Yesterday,
religious and anti-choice forces within the party, led by Ralph Reed and the
Christian Coalition, turned back an effort by several prominent state
Republicans considered soft on the abortion issue to win delegate slots at
the national convention. Most of the candidates were delegates from the Bob
Dole camp; and while they generally opposed abortion rights, they had earlier
refused to sign pledges vowing to oppose any changes in the GOP platform and
oppose a Dole running mate who was pro-choice.
It was a clear and sobering message to candidate Dole, who spent last week
trying to promote a "tolerance" declaration in the GOP platform, admitting
that Party ranks reflected a diversity of opinion on the heated abortion
question. The Republican platform officially supports passage of the
controversial Human Life Amendment which would effectively outlaw abortion in
the United Strates by classifying a fetus as a human being with rights.
CC Director Reed told The New York Times that "It was always our goal that
the Texas delegation would be overwhelmingly pro-life and pro-family." He
called the floor elections a "major victory for the pro-family movement."
For pro-choice or "tolerance" Republicans at the San Antonio meeting, it
was like the battle of Alamo replayed. Tempers reached a peak over the
struggle to keep Senator Kay Baily Hutchinson off the state's 123-delegate
contingent to the national convention, mostly due to her stance as a
pro-choice Republican. That effort failed by one lone vote, and calls for a
recount were adroitly quashed by the Texas GOP Chairman Tom Pauken.
Hutchinson was one of the few "tolerance" Republicans who can smile about
yesterday's convention squabble; others lost their delegate slots to
anti-abortion religious activists.
Along with the Christian Coalition, another powerful group at the San
Antonio meeting was Texans United for Life. The president of the
organization, evangelist Bill Price, helped to orchestrate the drive to boot
Hutchinson off the delegate list. His remarks to the convention were
frequently punctuated by "Amen!"s from the crowd, and Price declared: "When
it comes to killing unborn children, there is really no room for tolerance.
We're not sending pro-aborts to San Diego to try to change our party
platform." He later said that while the effort to deny Hutchinson a delegate
post failed, "we sent a signal that a lot of people didn't think we could
send." Part of that signal is the fact that anti-choice activists won 88 of
the 123 delegate slots.
Mrs. Hutchinson told CNN that she was the target of "a small group that is
not in the mainstream of our party."
Meanwhile, there is growing evidence that top-Republicans are worried
about their love-hate relationship with the religious conservatives, who seem
focused on abortion as the main issue in the GOP agenda. Both Sen. Phil
Gramm of Texas and House Speaker Newt Gingrich supported Mrs. Hutchinson
enthusiastically; Gramm reportedly threatened that he would not serve as a
delegate if she were not permitted to represent the Texas organization at the
national convention in San Diego. And behind the scene, Dole handlers were
busy trying to avoid the floor fight over Hutchinson, and seemed frustrated
that the abortion question had once again become a lightning rod issue.
Dole Meets With Hyde to "Talk Tolerance"
On Friday, Senator Dole huddled with Rep. Henry Hyde of Illinois, a major
Christian Coalition supporter and chairman of the GOP Platform Committee.
Not much has been made public about that meeting so far. Meanwhile, groups
like the National Right to Life Committee kept up the pressure on the
presumed nominee, and even made a statement about pro-life Democrat.
Spokeswoman Carol Long declared that "we're waiting to see if Bill Clinton
is going to tell party leaders that he wants the same statement in his
platform as well," referring to Dole's proposed "tolerance" declaration.
Other 'culture war" issues were also being fought in San Antonio over the
weekend. The Log Cabin Republicans, an independent gay-rights GOP group, had
lost a court fight earlier in the week to obtain an information booth at the
state party gathering. Members protested outside. Anti-choice delegates
inside the Alamodome took an aggressive stance from the opening gavel,
ignoring warnings by former Gov. Bill Clements to avoid "catfights over small
issues" (presumably abortion), and declared that "we're the majority here,
and the chairman better listen."
According to the Times, many delegates wore lapel stickers passed out by
the Christian Coalition which read: "Tolerance, inclusion for Unborn
Republicans" and "My Big Tent is Big Enough for Babies."
On Saturday, Pat Buchanan and Alan Keyes worked the convention. Keyes
"drew a far more rousing reception here than either of the state's two
Senators," noted the Times. Buchanan's role in the August national convention
remains problematic, and the fundamentalist-Reconstructionist US Taxpayers
Party is still courting the former nomination contender as a third party
candidate in November.
It is still unlikely that the "culture war" flap over questions like
abortion can be a winner for the Republicans. Despite revelations about
Whitewater and Filegate, President Clinton remains mostly unscathed, and
holds a commanding lead over Bob Dole in the latest polls. Studies indicate
that it will be the economy that could be the make-or-break factor when
people head to the voting booths in four months.
- - -

In the town of Cheney, Washington, the local school district last week
voted to suspend a teacher for two days for showing a class of eight-graders
a video tape and sponsoring a guest speaker on creationism.
The teacher, Aaron Mason, insisted that he was not teaching religion to
the students, merely "presenting science facts that support both these
theories" (evolution and young-earth creationism). But he did admit to not
following procedures when he invited a speaker who presented a creationist
viewpoint. Mason said that he turned in the necessary paperwork late, and
added "That's my mistake and I need to be held accountable."
The Cheney case highlights the dual-role which creationism wants to play
in the classrooms. "Scientific" creationism makes the controversial claim
that the earth is much younger than most scientists think it is, and that
evolutionary accounts of the planet's origin and the formation of life should
be considered highly suspect. But Eugene Scott of the National Center for
Science Education points out that this "young earth" theory central to
creationist doctrine is bad science, and that evidence against it is
overwhelming. Critics also charge that creationism is also a rationale for
biblical fundamentalist accounts of the origin of life, and is a way of
advancing a religious -- specifically Christian -- agenda in public schools.
Often, creationists cite data which they insist undermines mainstream
scientific findings, such as rates of magnetic decay, or the accumulation of
dust on the moon. Jim Marish, the guest speaker in Mason's class, told the
Spokane Spokesman-Review that "I told them as far as the formation of the
Earth, there are two theories: One's evolution and one's creationism."
Critics charge that it is unfair to present creationism as a "competing
theory" with evolution though, since it is based on poor reasoning,
inaccurate interpretation of data, and ultimately certain religious,
faith-based premises. They also charge that teaching of creationism in public
schools masks a religious agenda, and ultimately amounts to religious
proselytizing -- not discussions about scientific evidence.
Marish, head of an organization known as Creation Outreach, had spoken
last year in Mason's class. But this year a parent complained after his son
returned home and began talking about creationism.
(Thanks to AANEWS Correspondent Rich Andrews for this information)
- - -


Last Tuesday, when Heriberto Seda decided to shoot it out with the New
York City Police Department, he probably took that one big step into the
history books as the infamous Zodiac killer. For several hours, Seda held
off a small army of cops after shooting his half-sister. When the stand-off
finally ended and his fingerprints were run through a local data base, it was
revealed that they matched those of the Zodiac killer who had terrorized the
Big Apple from 1990 to 1994. Seda later confessed to those crimes which
consisted of eight attacks, three of them fatal; the killer targetted victims
based on their astrological sign, and taunted investigators with cryptic
notes and symbols, and was soon dubbed the "Zodiac Killer."
But it now appears that the early profile put together by psychologists
about the Zodiac killer has to be updated a bit. Include "religious zealot"
on Zodiac's criminal profile, based on what is now being learned about Mr.
Seda. Seda was often seen walking around his run-down Brooklyn neighborhood
at night clutching a bible and quoting verse to drug dealers and other
nightlife. " He was always preaching, talking a lot about God," one neighbor
told the New York Times. An NYPD detective added that "He was very
religious. He kept talking about Jesus and good and evil and salvation."
Zodiac/Seda was also a regular attendee for Sunday mass at the St.
Fortunato Roman Catholic Church. He told parishioners that he was waiting to
get god's permission in order to have sex. Other sources note that Seda was
obsessed with "drug dealers and trouble makers," and was angry at his sister
because she was "hanging around with the wrong people."
Mr. Seda may go down in the annals of crime as one of the nation's most
infamous serious killers; and his religiosity and devoted church attendance
and bible quoting certainly leads to questions about the psychological
benefits of such practices.
When confronted with fraudulent evidence that participation in church and
other religious affairs promotes humane behavior, Atheists may wish to point
to Mr. Heriberto Seda -- the Zodiac Killer -- as a problematic example.

- - -

An outbreak of cult activity is sweeping Europe, prompting fears of
millennialist violence as well as concerns over free expression and religious
liberty. In France, Switzerland, Belgium, Holland and Germany, there are
major investigations underway into groups ranging from the Church of
Scientology to the Order of the Solar Temple and the Holy City of Mandar'om.
* The New York Times notes that in France, authorities suspect "that
behind a religious facade, some groups launder money or carry on
inappropriate business: some extort money from their members, pressing them
to give large donations."
* In Germany, the government has a "continuing battle" with the Church of
Scientology and says the group should not have a tax exemption "because it is
a business organization that also disseminates totalitarian views." In
France, a Scientology office was recently shut down because of tax debts.
European officials are also worried that with the approach of the
millennium and the year 2000, apocalyptic sects like the Order of the Solar
Temple could be triggered into violent acts against their own members, or
others outside the group. In December, 16 members of the Order were found
dead after a ritual murder-suicide. This followed a 1994 death ritual which
took the lives of 53 other cult members in Switzerland and Canada. In
subsequent probes, investigators were shocked to learn about the wealth and
influence amassed by the cult -- a fact which has also surprised Japanese in
revelations about the Aum Shinryo "Supreme Truth" sect in that country.
* The number of cults and "fringe" religious sects throughout Europe is
growing, say reports. A government report in France claims that there are
172 major groups in that country alone, with another 800 smaller sects
commanding the allegiance of over 250,000 people. That figure may actually
be larger when hanger-on types and covert sympathizers are included. Worried
observers point to the Solar Temple murder-sucides, the disaster at Wacto,
and the gas attacks in the Tokyo subway by Aum followers as a warning sign.
Even so, some of the concern over cults and fringe sects is coming from
established, mainstream religious groups which have a history of identifying
competing religions in pejorative terms. Human rights and civil liberties
groups warn against a "witch hunt that could threaten religious freedom," and
point out that sometimes very little distinguishes a "cult" from a
respectable "church." In France, Interior Ministry officials told the Times
that they are mostly concerned with apocalyptic cults that "break the law or
endanger the lives of members, including children." They cite a pamphlet
from the leader of a burgeoning group who calls himself the Cosmic Messiah,
and heads the Holy City of Mandar'om; it warns that "God has invested upon me
the powers of creation and destruction." The group had recently planned to
erect an emormous $5 million pyramid-shaped temple with four great towers on
their mountaintop compound in Provence; environmentalists objected, though,
saying that the monstrosity was really a "religious theme park" in the midst
of great natural beauty.
- - -


Here's another example of "Do as I say, not as I do," this time from the
Vatican. Recall that Mother Church -- especially in the United States --
isn't exactly leading the charge for equitable taxation. Millions -- make
that billions of dollars in church property is tax exempt, along with
revenues from business investments, stock portfolios, wills and other
sources. We're NOT just talking about the Sunday collection plate here,
folks. So isn't it a bit hypocritical when church leaders start talking
about "sharing the wealth" to ostensibly help the poor? At Habitat II, for
instance, the Vatican delegation called for a massive investment in housing
and other social programs, all well-and-good, but at everyone ELSE'S expense.

Now, even the Vatican admits it's making money. The Vatican LOSING money,
of course, makes about as much sense as those Hollywood studios who claim a
loss on a picture which brings in $200 million in revenue; someone is
engaging in creative accounting! But according to Cardinal Edmund Szoka of
the Vatican's Prefecture for Economic Affairs, the Roman Catholic Church took
in $194.1 million last year just to operate the Pope's offices, with expenses
of $1.7 million less. Reuter notes that "Much of the Holy See's income
derives from investments -- mostly bonds -- rent from real estate holdings,
and contribution from the faithful..."
This year's surplus comes after a string of 23 years of deficits, which
peaked allegedly in 1991 when the Vatican ran $87.5 million in the red. Just
like it is absurd for a group of (ostensibly) celibate, geriatric males to
instruct the rest of the world about sexual matters, it it also lunacy for
them to proscribe economic nostrums as well.
- - -
Remember our recent story about the legend of the Virgin of Guadalupe?
How the abbot in charge of the shrine where the "lady" appeared to a local
peasant -- thus establishing one of the great national religious myths in
Mexico --said that the story was just so much bunkum? Abbot Guillermo
Schulenburg (also listed in reports as "Schulemburg") must be receiving some
pressure and arm-twisting. Reuters now says that "he believes in the
existence of the dark-skinned virgin despite press versions of his cynicism."
He now insists that the popular religious icon is "the Empressw of the
America's, the Lady that is in all of our homes, that is not only in our
wallets but also in our hearts."
The flap began when Schulenburg was quoted in several relatively obscure
publications as saying that Juan Diego, the peasant to whom the Virgin
allegedly appeared, was simply a legend. The story was then picked up by
Mexico's daily press, and resulted in near-riots, threats, even vandalism.
Religious Mexicans were just outraged to hear that Ma' Guadalupe was just
another cheap religious stunt, a "legend." (Hey, Atheists in Mexico and
elsewhere suspected that all along!)
The Mexican Catholic church is pushing for sainthood for Juan Diego --
another "saint" who probably never existed -- and the Vatican is "reviewing"
the matter of Abbot Schulenburg. Reuter adds that "Anthropologists and
historians have said that there has been a debate within the church over the
historical nature of the appearances since 1531 and that the 'cult of the
Virgin' is a deliberate blending of Catholicism with Indian tradition." One
last note in this amusing if not pathetic story: un-named sources, accordng
to Reuters, also suggest that the controversy also reflects a struggle for
internal control within the Mexican Catholic ecclesiastical establishing over
the Basilica which commemorates the Virgin. It's important "not only
symbolically", but as "the greatest source of church income in Mexico."

#46  - -    5/25/96

In This Edition...
* High Court Rules Again On School Prayer
* Hindu Nationalists Keep A Steak In India
* Clinton May Sign "Marriage Defense" Bill
* Vatican Tampers (Again)
* TheistWatch: (A Laugh For Those NOT On Vacation This Weekend!)

Supreme Court May Be Next Step

The Third U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reaffirmed a 1993 ban on prayers
at high school graduation ceremonies Friday, and the ruling is seen as
another step bringing the controversial issue closer to full Supreme Court
The court ruled in its 9-4 decision that officials at Black Horse Pike
Regional School District in New Jersey violated the Constitution's
Establishment Clause by allowing "student led" prayer in 1992. The prayer
policy was based partly on a vote taken by graduating seniors at Highland and
Triton Regional High Schools; a plurality of students supported prayer. But
one student -- Edward Ross -- took the issue to court. Four days before the
June, 1993 graduation ceremonies, a district judge ruled that the prayer was
permissible since school district authorities did not ostensibly try to
affect the outcome of the voting. That decision was quickly appealed to the
Third Circuit, which overturned the lower court finding and issued a
temporary injunction against the student-led prayer.
As a result, some students and parents protested at the 1993 Highland
graduation ceremony, chanting "We want Prayer" and waving signs.
Yesterday's Circuit Court decision means that school districts in
Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Deleware and the Virgin Islands may not permit
student led or "student initiated" prayer; it also means that there is a
conflict on school prayer issues involving three of the nation's eleven
Circuit Courts, and adds impetus for a final decision from the U.S. Supreme
In Friday's decision, the court noted "the prevalence of religious beliefs
and imagery" in society, but added that this "cannot erode the state's
obligation to protect the entire spectrum of religious preferences from the
most pious worshiper to the most committed atheist. These preferences are
the business of the individual, not the state nor the public schools it
Important Legal, Social Questions
The nation's courts have ruled in several important cases that prayer and
bible recitation in public schools, especially when orchestrated by teachers
or other school authorities, clearly violate the "Establishment Clause" of
the First Amendment. One, Engle v. Vitale, found unconstitutional a
"Regent's Prayer" which had been invented by the Board of Education of New
York State as a "non-denominational" religious utterance. The "prayer" did
not mention the person of Jesus Christ, but did begin with the words
"Almighty God."
Another case was Abington Township School District v. Schempp, which
concerned a Pennsylvania State Statute proclaiming that:
"At least ten verses from the Holy Bible shall be read, or caused to be
read, without comment, at the opening of each public school on each school
day by the teacher in charge."
The Schempps were members of the Unitarian religion. Writing in the
August, 1995 issue of AMERICAN ATHEIST MAGAZINE, Madalyn O'Hair noted: "The
complaint in the case (Schempp) indicated that there was also a unison
recitation by students and teachers of the Lord's Prayer. Such recitation
was not covered by the challenged statute. The two religious exercises were
then followed by students' recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance -- against
which no complain was made. One of the Schempp children, Ellroy, contested
the Bible reading, refused to stand during the recitation of the Lord's
Prayer, and finally requested that he be permitted to leave the room."
But with the Schempp challenge, Pennsylvania legislators quickly moved to
save at least the Bible reading portion of the school prayer ritual. An
amendment to the law was promptly passed, declaring: "Any child shall be
excused from such Bible reading, or attending such Bible reading, upon the
written request of his parents or guardian."
This amendment cleared by 1959 Congressional session in Pennsylvania, was
approved by the governor and in October, 1960, the Supreme Court vacated the
judgment of a lower court and remanded the case to the federal district
court. O'Hair continues:
"The same three-judge court then granted a motion to amend the pleading,
to include the amendment to the statute. However, Ed Schempp decided 'after
careful consideration' that he could not have his children excused from the
morning ceremonies for fear that they would be labeled as oddballs or
Atheists. He thought that their classmates might 'lump all particular
religious difference(s) or religious objections (together) as 'Atheism' 'He
opined that at the time of the hearing the word ATHEISM was often connected
with 'atheistic communism' and had 'very bad' connotations such as
'un-American' or 'Red" with 'overtones of possibly immorality.' "
But it was the case of Murray v. Curlett which had two important
consequences in the fight against school prayer. First, the Murray case was
filed by Atheists: it not only utilized the "religious liberty" arguments of
other cases (that is, government-sponsored prayer may offend the "religious
liberty" of smaller sects and un-popular denominations,) but declared openly
that the civil liberties of Atheists were being violated as well. In fact,
the brief in Murray began with the statement "Your petitioners are
Atheists..." and then followed with a statement about Atheist philosophy.
Murray also challenged the gamut of prayer and bible recitation in public
schools; the 1963 U.S. Supreme Court decision then effectively outlawed this
religious rituals in public schools throughout the land.
Subsequent decisions upheld the wisdom in Murray and related cases. In
Wallace v. Jaffree (1985), the Court overturned a law mandating a "period of
silence" which critics charged was simply an excuse to sneak prayer back into
schools. In 1992, the Lee v. Weisman case found that prayers at public
school graduation ceremonies were indeed a violation of the First Amendment
since the practice constituted the Establishment of religion.
Why Graduation Prayer Is Wrong
Atheists oppose the practice of school prayer -- including "student
initiated" or "student led" prayer for a number of reasons.
* Graduation ceremonies are an official function of public schools; the
same rules which apply to "day to day" business in schools also apply to
graduations. There is nothing distinctive or unusual about the ceremony
which would exempt it.
* School officials, teachers, or school board authorities have no business
orchestrating a religious ritual at any school function.
* School prayer which is "student initiated" inevitably ends up being
"initiated" only by SOME students, and ignores the rights of other students
-- including those who are Atheists -- be be free of such a coercive ritual.
* The prayer at graduation cannot be "voluntary" any more than a daily
prayer in class could be considered a "voluntary" affair. Courts have noted
that students who choose to opt-out of the prayer are often subject to
harassment, mental, even physical abuse. If students who do not choose to
pray are given the "option" of remaining silent, or leaving the
classroom/school event where prayer is being recited, why shouldn't the same
standard apply to those who do wish to pray? Why shouldn't religious
students leave the classroom instead?
* Prayer during the school business day, or at a school function, creates
the appearance of official sanction by teachers, administrators, or board
members. School or other government functions and events are simply not
suitable venues for prayer or other religious exercise.
* Atheists challenge the irrationality of prayer -- whether Christian,
Muslim, Jewish, Hindu or "non-denominational." This ritual is noxious to the
25,000,000 Americans who have no god-belief.
* Prayer or religious ritual in a public school setting will act to divide
students and teachers on the basis of belief, and the basis of belief versus
non-belief. It is divisive and bigoted, especially since the "student led"
or "student initiated" prayer often reflects a sectarian bias.
School Prayer and "Law 'n Order"
Despite clear injunctions against prayer in public schools, the practice
is still found throughout the country. Prayer enthusiasts often permit or
encourage prayer or religious ritual in some form, until caught and
challenged in court. In parts of the U.S. south, school prayer is openly
flaunted; in March, for instance, a mother in Oxford, Mississippi had to take
the Pontotoc County schools to court when it was learned that a school in
Ecru was broadcasting prayers and other religious slogans over the public
address system. A preliminary injunction has temporarily stopped that
practice, declaring that the school district "excessively involved itself
with religion and crossed the line drawn between church and state."
Ironically, the practice -- despite court rulings -- is not only defended
by "law and order" type conservatives, but encouraged. In the Pontotoc case,
the School Superintendent declared "We believe we have the right to pray in
schools. We've been doing it for 50-plus years..." Religious proselytizing
in schools appears to be one of those cases where breaking local, state and
federal statutes is justified "in god's name."
The Future: A "Religious Equality Amendment"
Friday's Circuit Court ruling will also contribute to the clamor from some
religionists for a "Religious Equality Amendment." Two versions of the
proposed legislation are currently in the U.S. Congress, and both would
amendment the Constitution to permit "student led" or "student initiated"
prayer in public school settings, including graduation ceremonies and the
classroom. The Amendments are supported by various fundamentalist and
evangelical groups, including Christian Coalition, Focus on the Family, and
Eagle Forum.
- - -

A proposed ban on the slaughter of cows resulted in a uproar Friday as
India's new parliament concluded its first day of official business. Members
of the Hindu nationalist BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) began chanting "Hail,
Mother Cow!" as a measure to ban the slaughter of the "sacred" animals was
passed. According to CNN, opposition members "loudly bewailed the death of
The legislation underscores growing tension between the new Hindu
government of President Shanka Dayal Sharma, and the country's 110-million
Muslims, many of whom do eat beef. Cows roam freely throughout India,
including the streets of major metropolitan areas, since they are considered
"sacred" by the Hindu population, which by some estimates is close to one
A former minister of the deposed Congress Party, Mamata Banerjee, walked
out of the parliament session after telling lawmakers that "This kind of
thing (the ban) will hurt the sentiments of the minorities."
The BHP has until the end of this month to assemble a coalition capable of
governing the country. The first Hindu Nationalist premier, Atal Bihari
Vajpayee, was sworn in on May 15, after the BHP defeated the ruling Congress
Party of Narashimha Rao, which had governed India in all but four years since
1947. The BHP is seen by many observers as a fundamentalist reaction to the
limited reforms of the Rao era; the Hindu militants have promised to beef-up
the country's military posture, seen by many as a challenge to neighborhing
Muslim countries such as Pakistan, and continue a program to develop atomic
weapons. It is not certain, though, that the BHP can assemble a workable
coalition government in time to avoid another round of elections.
- - -

President Clinton is under attack from civil liberties and gay rights
group, following a White House announcement that the President would sign any
bill which denies Federal recognition to same-sex marriages. According to
spokesman Michael McCurry, Mr. Clinton also "broadly hinted" that he would
endorse and sign the "Defense of Marriage Act" which has been rushed into
Congress, and is co-sponsored by the presumptive Republican presidential
nominee, Kansas Sen. Bob Dole. That Bill would define marriage as "the union
of one man of one woman," and deny any federal benefits such as health
coverage or pensions to gay couples.
The move is seen as efforts by Clinton to moderate his tone on social
issues, and compete favorably with the religious "family values" agenda being
pushed by fundamentalists and evangelicals inside of the Republican Party.
The N.Y. Times quoted a friend of the President's, fundraiser and gay rights
activist David Mixner, who said that the White House announcement was
"nauseating and appalling, an act of political cowardice." Mixner also
suggested that Clinton was using the issue of gay marriage as "this year's
Sister Souljah," an apprent reference to the black rap artist Clinton
condemned in 1992 -- a move seen as an effort to appease moderates in his own
Clinton Under Pressure?
Many see Wednesday's announcement as part of a tactical effort by Clinton
to respond to GOP pressure on "culture war" issues. Republicans have been
pushing the "Defense of Marriage Act," which was rushed into Congress
earlier this month following a series of gay-rights victories in the courts.
In Hawaii, that state's highest court ruled that the government could not
withold granting a marriage license on the basis of sex. This past week, the
U.S. Supreme Court overturned a controversial Colorado law known as
Amendment 2 which had nullified local ordinances protecting gays from public
Religious groups throughout the country have been promoting both the
"Defense of Marriage Act" and various state versions of the proposed federal
legislation. The Traditional Values Coalition, a network of 31,000
fundamentalist and evangelical churches, is promoting the measures, and
chairman Rev. Louis Sheldon promised last week that "This is going to be a
front-burner campaign '96 issue."
- - -


Vatican mouthpiece Joaquin Navarro-Valls admitted during a press
conference yesterday in Rome that the Church had formally asked American
authorities to destroy a taped confession made to a priest by a jail suspect
in Lane County, Oregon. The case involved a conversation between the cleric
and Conan Hale, who is a suspect in a triple murder case. The local District
Attorney had earlier said he was considering using the tape as evidence, but
last Wednesday apologized for his remarks and announced that he would not use
the recording in court.
According to Reuter and other news sources, Vatican Secretary of State
Cardinal Angelo Sodano contacted U.S. Ambassador Raymond Flynn, "insisting
that the tape be destroyed."
The Vatican spokesman said that the Church considered it a sacred duty to
"safeguard the rights of Catholic faithful to profess their faith, rights
connected to religious freedom and respect for conscience."
Civil libertarians are mixed in their reaction. Some critics say that the
Oregon case should have been the business of American courts, not Vatican
foreign policy. Others worry about Ambassador Raymond Flynn, who has been
cited by internal State Department investigators for being a conduit for
Vatican positions rather than American interest. An internal report cited
Flynn's actions on issues such as abortion.
The Vatican recently condemned President Clinton for his veto of the
so-called "Partial Birth Abortion Act."


Politics makes strange bedfellows. In the postmodern hullaballoo of
Russian intrigue, for instance, Russian nationalists, Orthodox and the
just-plain-far out find themselves united against any progressive reforms in
that troubled country. Last week, Communist (Democratic Socialist) strongman
Gennadi Zyuganov was treated to verbal demands from his own party members
that "non-Russians and non-Christians" get the boot from any subsequent
Russian government he might control.
- - -
Speaking of Russia, since the fall of the wall, and vestiges of common
sense and clear thinking appear to have taken flight along with stolid
Stalinist orthodoxy. Former-Soviet society is awash in a cultural wave
bringing everything from religious fundamentalism to new age hokum into the
intellectual markeplace. Astrology has made a strong comeback, and it seems
that the star-gazing soothsayers are throwing their support behind President
Yeltsin as the likely winner in the June 16 election. The head of the
Russian Astrological Society has proclaimed that "Astrologically, this is an
excellent year for Yeltsin. His sun is in the 10th house -- the house of
power and fame and the highest peak of the horoscope." Turns out that
Yeltsin is an "Aquarius," and challenger Gennady Zyuganov a "Cancer." How
much of the booze IS Boris passing around?

It's amazing how hypocritical religious leaders can be, especially in the
area of "selective indignation." Take Paris Archbishop Jean-Marie Lustiger,
who has built up a clerical career as a bootlicker for Vatican hardliners and
an authoritarian in his own right. Yesterday, when it was revealed that
seven French monks kidnapped recently from a monestary in Algeria were
beheaded by Islamic fanatics, Lustiger loudly condemned the action and helkd
a ceremony at Notre Dame Cathedral cofered by the national media. But
Lustiger wasn't so compassionate with another victim of Muslim hooliganism,
author Salman Rushdie. Back in 1989 when Rushdie's novel "The Satanic
Verses" was attracting howls of protest from Tehran, and demands for
censorship (as well as the author's own head!), Lustiger joined in the
flatulent call for banning the book, declaring that it offended the
"religious sensibilities" of Muslims. It seems that Lustiger has two
standards -- one for those who promote religious (specifically Christian)
superstitition, another for those who dare question it.

#185   - -   10/26/96

In This Issue...
* It's 'Bout Time: Pope Admits Darwin Was Right
* Our Take: The Vatican Can Afford To "Accept" Science
* About This List...

But JP-2's Declaration May Bolster Church's Status As "Moral

Tell us something we don't already know.
On Wednesday, Pope John Paul II declared that "fresh knowledge leads to
recognition of the theory of evolution as more than just a hypothesis" in a
formal statement sent to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. The Vatican
announcement generated headlines in the international media, and guarded
disapproval from Protestant fundamentalist sects and representatives of the
"creationist" movement who insist that literal accounts of the origin of life
and the universe as stated in Genesis are true, rather than evolutionary
scenarios espoused by Charles Darwin and successive generations of
scientists. News groups on the internet were buzzing, and there continue to
be lively exchanges of opinion on just what this latest papal declaration
* John Paul's statement, made public on Thursday, underscored an
ambivalent position which the church has taken on the controversial subject
of evolution since the 1950's when Pope Pius XII issued his encyclical,
"Humani Generis." Pius maintained the Roman Catholic tradition of not
condemning evolutionary doctrines, or seriously questioning the growing body
of physical evidence which had, even then, accumulated and supported some
form of evolutiony mechanism at work. He did, however, warn that at the
time it should not be accepted as "certain doctrine," and he cautioned that
"while evolution as such might not be objectionable, it played into the hands
of materialists and atheists, who sought to remove the hand of God from the
act of creation" (New York Times). Indeed, the more conservative Catholic
papers -- specifically the daily Il Messaggero in Rome, ran headlines stating
"The Pope Rehabilitates Darwin", while Il Giornale greeted this past week's
announcement claiming "The Pope Says We May Descend From Monkeys." (sic).
Both quoted the statement by Pope Pius XII that evolution was "gladly made
use of by the proponents of communism to make of themselves defenders and
propagandists of dialectical materialism and to take from minds every mention
of God."
* Evolution has long been taught in the Catholic school system, and it
does not generate the heated emotions that other issues such as abortion and
celibacy do within church circles. The New York Times noted that teaching
evolution "is already a standard part of the curriculum" in parochial schools
and Catholic universities. Even People for the American Way was gushing at
the papal declaration: a spokesperson insisted that John Paul statement
"reaffirms the message that devout religious belief and the teaching of
evolution are not incompatible."
* The biggest impact from the Pope's declaration may be felt in two
diverse social-political groups -- the ecumenical movement, and the
religious right. Despite reactionary and medievalist teachings on abortion,
celibacy, "sin" and other issues, John Paul's message on evolution improves
the image of the Vatican in the eyes of "progressive" religious groups which
are objects of Rome's ecumenical ambitions. Anti-evolutionists, though, were
displeased with Thursday's announcement; a representative of the Institute
for Creation Research, a leading creationist group in California, told the
news media that "I expect that it's the kind of thing people will pont to as
evidence that evolution is more than a theory, that even the pope is saying
it's so thoroughly validated that it's not something people should have a
skeptical attitude toward."
So far, there has been no reaction from the major American religious right
groups such as the Christian Coalition, or its "subsidiary" organization, the
Catholic Alliance. Thursday's revelations, though, may strain relation
between conservative Catholic groups and their fundamentalist-evangelical
comrades who have united around a common nexus of issues, including abortion,
pornography, assisted suicide, gay rights, vouchers for private religious
schools, and tax-breaks for large families.
The Vatican statement did manage to discuss evolution without once
mentioning Charles Darwin, who proposed his popular evoltuionary theories in
two works, "On The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection" (London,
1859) and "The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex (London,
1871"). Nor did the papal letter explicitly make the statement that human
beings evolved from other species, including an order of apes. John Paul's
letter is also being viewed as an attempt to "rehabilitate" the image of the
Church; in 1992 he made a similar statement to the Pontifical Academy,
annoucing that the Church had acted improperly in its condemnation in 1633
of Gaileo who declared that the sun, not the earth, was the center of the
solar system.
Perfect Timing?
There is evidence that the release of the papal statement was carefully
timed; indeed, the pope had wanted to deliver it in the form of an address
but was unable to do so since he was still recovering from abdominal surgery.
The statement was released in time for the plenary session of the Pontifical
Academy of Sciences, an organization of prominent scientists (not all of whom
happen to be Catholic), which seems to be playing an increasingly important
role in the Vatican's image building, PR campaign. John Paul's statement
also touched on millennialist and eschatological themes when he noted the
Pontifical Academy's "reflection on science at the dawn of the third
millennium in the domain of inanimate and animate nature, the evolution of
science and its applications (which) make new questions arise." He called
for attention "to the need for a correct interpretation of the inspired word,
of a rigorous hermeneutics. It is fitting to set forth well the limits of
the meaning proper to Scripture, rejecting undue interpretations which make
it say what it does not have the intention of saying..."
The day before releasing his evolution statment to the Pontifical Academy,
Vatican Information Service began its drumroll on behalf of the group's
meeting by releasing a list of new "ordinary" members of the organization; it
included scientists from Germany, Great Britain, Russia, the United States
and France. Not surprisingly, the topic for this annual meeting of the
Academy was the origin of life and evolution
John Paul also spoke of "diverse orders of knowledge (which) allow(s) for
the concordance of two points of view which seem irreconcilable (science and
religious doctrine)"
And the pope's statement coincides with the release of yet another article
supporting evolution which was published yesterday in the journal Science.
A team of researchers from the State University of New York led by Dr.
Gregory A. Wray has uncovered further evidence that the first simple forms of
life may have appeared on the earth over a billion years ago -- nearly twice
as early as was once theorized. The team researched divergence rates of
different genes in order to establish genetic variation as a kind of
"molecular clock." Based on these new, detailed findings, the team says their
study will "cast doubt on the prevailing notion" that life form groups
"diverged explosively during the Cambrian or late Vendian, and instead
suggest that there was an extended period of divergence," up to a billion
years ago.

Our View On The Pope's Statement...

No sooner had word of Pope John Paul II's letter to the Pontifical
Academy of Sciences attempting to reconcile scientific findings about
evolution and religious faith been made public than aanews began to receive
calls, e-mails and faxes. "Isn't this great?," gushed one reader. "The Pope
has finally admitted that they (the church) were wrong all along!" Said
another, "this is the end of the Catholic Church -- in affirming evolution,
they're essentially uncutting the reason for their whole existence. If
evolution is true, then how can they talk about Adam, Eve, original sin and
As Atheists, we disagree with most of what the Vatican and other religious
groups have to say about the nature of science, reason, belief, and
faith-based creeds. But we do recognize that as an institution, religion in
one form or another has endured for centuries, and so has the Roman Catholic
Church. Despite obvious errors such as the condemnation of Galileo, its
rationales for social imperialism, and its insidious fostering of the
"slave mentality" within indigenous oppressed groups, "Mother Church" remains
a vital and thriving institution, and one wielding considerable economic,
social and cultural power.
The papal statement accepting evolution is anything but an admission that
religious doctrine is erroneous; indeed, Atheists and secularists should
avoid the trap of false optimism, believing that "religion has taken a step
backwards," and that religious faith is somehow crumbling before some
inexorable juggernaut of scientific enlightenment.
If anything, John Paul has adroitly turned a potential disadvantage and
embarrassment into a remarkable success. He has avoided the pitfalls made
by biblical literalist and creationist-fundamentalists who increasingly find
themselves at odds with scientific finding and the secular world. The
Catholic Church (and many other religious groups) know that they have little
to gain by conducting a rear-guard action against scientific inquiry; what
CAN be salvaged, though, is religion's role as a "moral authority" and
arbiter of human conduct, and dispenser of "spirituality" which still remains
a powerful craving in human society.
Even today, thanks to the growing body of scientific knowledge about the
universe, Atheists can enjoy an occasional joust with fundamentalists who
adhere to the most sclerotic religious ideologies, especially some form of
biblical literalism. Books and pamphlets about biblical errancy are still
hot sellers; and what Atheist or other non-believer hasn't secretly enjoyed
the pleasures of pointing out the numerous contradictions in biblical text,
or the absuridy of believing that Noah's Ark could possibly hold all two of
every animal, plus food and other supplies, for weeks on end while the earth
was deluged? If all that religious ideology was ultimately based on was a
series of empirically falsifiable statement about discreet events in the
natural world, Atheism would long ago have been the dominant intellectual
trend in our culture.
But increasingly, the world's religions -- especially those of a Christian
flavor -- are retreating from the implausible artifacts of biblical
literalism to a revised position which emphasizes a vague but pervasive
"spirituality," all the while affirming the role of religious belief as the
unquestioned arbiter of how human beings should behave and organize
themselves. Unable to survive the incursions of scientific method, religion
-- especially the Roman Catholic Church -- ends up affirming the findings of
science (in this case, that evolutionary forces drive the developments of
life forms), all the while providing the equivalent of a theological "golden
parachute." If the Genesis accounts of creation, Adam and Eve, a
Hebrew-speaking serpent and other vestiges of biblical folklore do not make
literal sense, religionists can still speak of a "soul" which is is
implanted by an invisible deity and animates the human consciousness.
Unlike other segments of Christianity, Catholicism has created for itself
a streamlined image of being an open-minded, inquisitive and even
cosmopolitan institution concerning the findings of science, all the while
still promulgating a medieivalist social agenda. Most church officials and
followers sees no conflict here. The Vatican can fund observatories for
astronomical research, or establish its own Academy of Sciences with a
who's-who roster of nobel prize laureates, or admit that Mr. Darwin was
correct (albeit without mention of the famous naturalist's name), and still
play the role of ontological-theological "spin doctor" by insisting that
"this is all further proof of god's creation." In some respects, this
intellectual evasion becomes more difficult to combat than cruder
fundamentalist claims about the world.
Indeed, press accounts suggest that many Catholics feel the way one
75-year old follower did, when, reacting to the pope's statement on
evolution, she declared "It's very encouraging for me to see the church
coming into the 20th century instead of backing into the 19." Another, a
25-year old man, told the New York Times that "I'm with John Paul on
it...whatever he says goes, but I still believe God is the be-all and
end-all. He created my soul no matter where it comes from."
Relevant to the Vatican statement on evolution is a story coming out of
Oxford, England which originally appeared in The Financial Times. Titled
"Atheist Scientists Challenged," it noted that "For several years, scientific
atheists have argued aggressively that religion in any form is incompatible
with modern physics and biology." That is supposedly changing. Keith Ward,
a theologian and Professor of Divinity at Oxford University, has prepared a
"point by point refutation of scientific atheism," one which suggests that
"God is the best explanation for life, the universe and everything" ("God,
Science and Necessity"). Dr. Ward's salvo is in response to claims by two of
Great Britain's most vocal atheists, biologist Richard Dawkins and chemist
Peter Atkins, who have declared that belief in the supernatural is at odds
with the method and finding of science.
We have little doubt that Drs. Dawkins and Atkins are quite capable of
marshalling considerable support for their claim. But what is remarkable
about Keith Ward -- and what rests implicitly in the latest statement of
Pope John Paul concerning evolution -- is that both end up essentially trying
to coopt scientific evidence by insisting that it is "not incompatable" with
other artifacts of religious belief.
Ward even goes a step further. Financial Times reports: "Ironically, Ward
says, modern fundamentalist Christianity -- taking the Bible as literal truth
-- 'could not exist without science.' Some fundamentalist are obsessed with
applying science to the Bible, trying even to calculate the speed with which
Jesus ascended into Heaven." Remarkably, Ward states that "fundamentalism is
capitulating to the materialist world view."
That statements seems to mirror the view of certain postmodernist critics,
who resent attempts by scientists to, say, monitor the brain states of
ecstatic religious visionaries, as a crude form of "materialist
reductionism." But whereas the postmodernist insists that a spiritual
hallucination is just "another version of reality," (and one not necessarily
inferior to the scientific method in terms of revealing "truth") Ward, the
pope and a growing legion of more sophisticated religionists acknowledge the
findings of science -- even when they disprove earlier theological tenets.
"Science and faith are not incompatable," becomes the new religious mantra.
Unfortunately, some Atheists accept the notion that religious belief and
institutions are inevitably characterized by threadbare doctrines which never
change. Religious belief, though, is remarkable elastic, maleable and
resilient; when necessary, religious institutions can adopt contemporary
trappings. Like pseudoscience and any form of mystical thinking, it can be
molded and recycled to accomodate the exigencies of the moment, all the while
preserving a set of core beliefs. Mormon officials, for instance, were
granted a convenient "revelation" and altered church doctrine to accomodate
the demands of statehood for Utah. Other religions have engaged in a
somewhat reluctant process of "updating" their theology as conditions
warrant. Many Protestant sects have engaged in a trendy "re-writing" of
liturgy and biblical texts to conveniently excise potentially embarrassing
passages which might have "racist" or "sexist" overtones.
Of course not all religious groups are so adept at morphing into more
socially hip and acceptable versions of their past. Much of religion still
involves an atavistic "revolt against modernity," a search for doctrines and
values which, to enlightened people (and even at times their contemporary
religionists) , seem totally out of place and inappropriate. The Taliban
enforces a dranconian brand of militant Islam which offends even the
authoritarian mullahs in Tehran. Christian Reconstructionists advocate a
cranky Calvinism which mandates the death penalty (by stoning) aganst
"transgressors," ranging from murderers and rapists to heretics and
disobedient children. Christian fundamentalist continue to espouse
"creationism" as an "alternative" to evolution, despite a continual
accumulation of scientific evidence to the contrary. That view is shared by a
shockingly high percentage of Americans, who also manifest a disturbing
illiteracy concerning science and technology.
To varying degress, the offerings in the religious marketplace seems to be
between and among various brands of mystical doctrine authoritarian social
and theopolitical schemes, and calls upon the primacy of faith.
Religion long ago lost any battle to have its mystical credo verified in
the findings of science; Pope John Paul can afford to maintain that "there is
no conflict between science and religion," because religion no longer even
bothers to aggressively regulate the direction and progress of the scientific
enterprise on the scale it once attempted to do. For the Roman Catholic
Church and most other western religious groups, evolution is just the final
lesson which began long ago with the confrontation over Galileo. Rather than
combat science, many religious institutions -- including the Vatican -- seek
to coopt it, and use its findings to demonstrate the alleged "mysteries of
Capitalizing on its new-found "peace" with the scientific enterprise, we
expect that the Vatican will amplify its demands that religion must
therefore be the dominant force in non-scientific affairs -- in shaping our
standards of morality, social organization, civic virtue and political
institutions. By publicly recanting on the church's obstruction of knowledge
over the centuries -- indeed, by even embracing a selective interpretation of
scientific knowledge, all the while maintaining the "religious option" that
evolution is only a "partial explanation" of "deeper mysteries" involving god
and the soul -- John Paul has managed, once again, to preserve the
irrationalist core of religious ideology thanks, in part to skillfull use of
the trappings and rhetorical baubles of modernity.
Atheists and secularists should not be fooled into believing that
religious ideology will "wither away" by a magical process of scientific
enlightenment. If anything, we now face the task of defending the scientific
enterprise not against those who attack it, but by those would coopt it.

# 76  - -    6/27/96

In This Edition...
* "Religious Rights" Aren't OUR Idea of "Rights"  - Phoney "Dissidents"
* Church Loan Guarantee Clears Senate
* One Man's Opinion: Should We Pay For Church Fires?
* About This List...


As investigators continue to probe the wreckage of a U.S. Air Force
housing complex in Saudi Arabia, attention is beginning to focus on an
international network of Islamic fundamentalist "dissidents" linked to
terrorist activities in Egypt, Sudan, Iran, Afghanistan, and even European
On Tuesday, a truck bomb estimated to carry up to 5,000 pounds of high
explosive materials, detonated outside a base apartment building in Dhahran
killing 19 and injuring hundreds of others. There is evidence to suggest,
though, that this attack was directed as much against the ruling Saudi royal
establishment -- a network of over 5,000 princes and princesses who control
the government under the leadership of King Fahd -- as it was against the
American military presence. Observers note that while Saudi Arabia considers
itself to be a strict, Islamic nation, there is widespread religious
fundamentalist opposition to the government which considers the presence of
foreigners on Saudi soil to be a corrosive influence.
According to reports gathered by AANEWS, two shadowy Islamic groups are
now being considered as likely candidates for the bombing at Dhahran -- the
Movement for Islamic Change and the Tigers of the Gulf, which claimed
responsibility for bombing a military communications center in Riyadh last
year. Seven people, including five Americans, were killed in that attack.
The Saudi government arrested four local Islamic militants who were beheaded
for the crime earlier this month.
The Movement for Islamic Change first surfaced in April, 1995 when
leafletts appeared throughout the country protesting the presence of foreign
troops on Saudi soil for Operation Desert Storm. Even less is known about
the Tigers of the Gulf, although officials see similarities in Tuesday's
bombing and the previous terrorist attacks.
But is is in the ersatz "dissident" networks outside the country where the
answer to the Dhahran bombing may well lay. Despite its heavy emphasis on
Islam, religious fundamentalists say that Saudi Arabia has not gone far
enough in protecting the Muslim culture from outsiders and foreign interests.
The issue is especially emotional since the country considers itself to be
the birthplace of the Islamic religion, and maintains the holiest religious
shrine in the Muslim world, the Great Mosque at Mecca. It's role as a
leading producer of oil has also provided Saudi Arabia with enormous wealth,
and a problematic relationship with foreign powers including the United
States and Great Britain. The country was a major political and military
ally in Operation Desert Storm, and the U.S. has a considerable investment
in equipping and training Saudi security forces. The presence of foreigners
-- especially American military personnell -- angers many of the religious
There is also the problem of the ruling House of Saud, a family dynasty
that has unified and ruled the country since the turn of the century. There
is no written constitution, and all political parties are banned. Since
1992, a Consultative Council known as the Majlis Ash-Shura has existed to
provide advice to the king, but its members are appointed and represent the
Saud family line.
According to the U.S. Department of State (Feb. 1995 position paper on
Human Rights), "The concept of the separation of religion and state is not
accepted by either society or the Government. The legitimacy of the
Government depends to a large degree on its perceived adherence to the
precepts of a puritanically conservative form of Islam." Even so, outspoken
clerics and fundamentalist movements that seek to make Saudi Arabia even
stronger in its support of Islam have encountered persecution. The clerical
ranks have been divided over the country's role in Desert Storm, it's lack of
support for the "Islamic Revolution" in neighboring Iran, and even the
limited western influences which have percolated throughout the country.
There are also widespread charges of corruption and "infidel" practices
within the House of Saud. As a result, those seeking to establish an Iranian
pro-active style of aggressive religious imperialism have been imprisoned,
executed, or exiled.
This has fostered an extensive, well-organized "dissident" network
stretching throughout the Gulf and Mediterranean region.
But while this "dissident" movement criticizes the harsh actions of Saudi
officials and demands "human rights," its notion of rights has little in
common with democratic, western concepts. Most of the organizations support
an explicitly Islamic state; and they are part of a wave of religious
fundamentalists confronting not just the religious Saudi governmentl, but
avowedly secular nations such as Egypt, Tunisia and Algeria.
One of the most outspoken Saudi critics is Mohammed al-Masari, who runs
the Committee for the Defense of Legitimate Rights based in London. The
British government has tried to deport al-Masari for his provocative remarks,
such as his call for the extermination of Jews. Mr. al-Masari has been
profiled in previous aanews dispatches. Today, The London Times noted that
he refuses to condemn the latest attack at Dhahran, although he added that he
does not support terrorism.
"As an Islamicist, I am not going to condemn the actions of an Islamic
group...I condemn the Americans for sending troops to occupy our country, and
King Fahd for inviting them in," he said.
Masari's operation is tied to networks of Saudi-based dissidents,
including Sheick Sefr al-Hawwali (lecturer in religion at the University of
Mecca), and an agronomist named Mohsen al-Awaji from the King Saud University
in Riyad. Much of the support for the CDLR comes from young, relatively
educated Saudi's who nevertheless face record unemployment and other social
problems. The Committee may also be linked to a former Saudi diplomat,
Mohammed al-Khilewi, who has sought asylum in the United States. It was
rumored that Khilewi had information not only about extensive human rights
violation in Saudi Arabia, but an alleged clandestine nuclear arms program as
The European-based dissidents receiving funding from a number of sources,
including Iran and the Islamic government in the Sudan. Another name
mentioned in reports is Osama Bin Laden, a former Saudi construction magnate
with extensive ties to the Afghanistan Mujahedin. Bin Laden recruited and
trained thousands of Egyptians, Algerians, Lebanese, Turks, Kuwaitis and
Tunisians to join the Afghan resistance movement in a war that turned out to
a debacle for the Soviet Union. At the time, he was the "middleman" between
the Saudi government and the Afghan Mujahadeen. Returning home, Bin Laden's
social and religious views became more extreme, and he began opposing the
social and foreign policies of the Saudi regime. He presently lives in the
Sudan, and is revered by the population of his home town of Almatig,
especially for his recent construction of a new highway connected Khartoum to
Port Sudan Mr. Bin Laden's money is believed to be funding a number of the
London groups, and in 1994 he came out publicly in support of Masari and the
CDLR. The four Saudi dissidents arrested and beheaded for their role in the
November car bombing also acknowledge their alleged involvement with Osama
Bin Laden; and it has been suggested that Tuesday's attack could have been
in retaliation for their deaths.
The active presence of Islamic "dissident groups" is perhaps the ultimate
irony in this new mid-east war for religious purity. Many of the
organizations are now based in European countries which are allies of the
Arab regimes they seek to overthrow. And while groups such as the Committee
for the Defense of Leigitmate Rights often criticize "oppression" and say
they support "rights," it is always within the strict notion of religious
law, or "Sharia" that such statements are to be understood. The Arabic name
of CDLR specifies "the defense of Sharia rights," a point often lost to
western observers.
While political analysts believe that the Saudi regime is stable for now,
Islamic fundamentalism is emerging as a powerful movement throughout the
entire region. Unfortunately, the Arab states are turning toward increased
use of brute force and repression to stem this tide. The head of Saudi
Intelligence, Prince Turki al-Faisal has visited Cairo for meetings with his
counterpart there, and the former Egyptian Interior Minister, Zaki Badr, has
been serving as a special consultant to the Saudi Arabian government in its
fight against terrorism. According to Associated Press, Britain is allowing
over 100 Egyptian agents operate on its soil to help monitor dissidents in
that country.
But that strategy seems to be less and less effective; fundamentalism in
Saudi Arabia appears to be thriving in a climate of economic uncertainty and
the ambiguities of change as former tribal cultures confront modernity. The
birthpangs of secularism in the middle east are proving to be increasingly
painful; and for religious fundamentalists, the only true path is one leading
back to the past.
- - -


A story which has gone on-and-off the political (and news) radar screen
for the past couple of weeks is, well, back again. Earlier, AANEWS reported
that President Bill Clinton was proposing government loan guarantees to
rebuild churches damaged in the recent alleged spat of church arsons. While
condemning any violence of this type, American Atheists insided that these
suspected arsons could not serve as an excuse to by-pass the First Amendment,
and begin handing out public money to religious organizations. Last week, a
special AANEWS dispatch reported that Senator Edward Kennedy was working on
proposed legislation which would give outright grants to churches which had
been destroyed due to arson motivated by racial or "religious-hate."
Subsequent stories in the media suggested that this funding would circumvent
the First Amendment by pretending that the money was to compensate churches
as "victims of crime," and that the grants could be funneled through agencies
like the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
This afternoon, CNN reports that a federal loan guarantee provision to use
taxpayer moneys in order to rebuild churches has been included in a Senate
Bill similar to one enacted by the House last week by a 422-0 vote. (What
does THAT say about the status of genuine free speech and dissent in this
culture?) The loan guarantee is packed in with a measure that would "double
federal penalties for church arson" and, according to CNN, "gives the federal
government greater jurisdiction to investigate and prosecute arson at
religious buildings."
Isn't it nice to know that churches are valued more in America than, say,
schools, private homes, or places of businesses upon which people depend for
their living? Isn't it assuring to know that taxpayer money will always be
there when churches encounter calamity?
As of now, we think that the House Bill is the "Prevention of Church Arson
Act." The Senate measure now goes to the House and, if accepted, will
promptly be rushed to Bill Clinton's desk for his expected signature.


(One Man's Opinion)

Earlier today, Christian Coalition Director Ralph Reed appeared before the
Senate Judiciary Committee and called for a review of any insurance firm that
drops coverage of churches that have been fire bombed. According to a press
release sent out by the Coalition, Reed told the Senators:
"During our recent summit on church arsons in Atlanta on June 18, we heard
heart-wrenching testimony from several pastors who have lost their insurance
coverage...I call upon this committee to look into this matter to see what
can be done to ensure the continued protection of these churches once they
are rebuilt."
It is indeed an odd position for the Christian Coalition which, to some,
is a champion of free market economics. Just what does Mr. Reed have in
mind, anyway? If my business burns, or my car is in an accident, or my house
catches fire, my insurance rates will (alas) go up. We don't see Mr. Reed
and his group out protesting the insurance-gouging of millions of working
Americans who depend on their automobile for transportation, and who face
constant rate-hikes from insurance firms.
It is curious that when matters of religion are involved, the State is
suddenly called upon to become the loan guarantor and insurer of last resort.

Many of the burnt churches have been described as "older structures" which
are in "remote locations." Some of the fires have been attributed to things
like defective wiring. And just about ANY rural building which is vacant for
long periods of time can become home to vagrants, curious kids, pranksters,
and yes, arsonists. Considering this, exactly what should insurance
companies do? If they do not pass on costs to the churches, they will
eventually pass on those costs to other consumers.
Mr. Reed's indignation is a bit selective. Churches account for about 1%
of arsons annually, and despite reports of an "epidemic" of such fires, that
statistic remains relatively stable.
And Mr. Reed is being a bit greedy here as well; the Coalition says that
it will be sponsoring a "Racial Reconciliation Sunday" on July 14 and July
21, and is urging the 100,000 churches on its mailing list to raise betwen
$500,000 and $1,000,000. By our count, that's a feeble $5 - $10 amount from
each of these churches. Were these "people of faith" truly in the
"christ-filled" spirit of giving, they should be able to come up with enough
money to rebuild the churches AND pay the insurance premiums without
demanding special treatment and funding from the government.
Yes, this whole matter of church "arsons" IS volatile and easy to
misinterpret. Opposition to government loan guarantees, though, does not
amount to condoning violence of any kind against churches. We also suggest
that the whole "church arson conspiracy" has, thus far, not withstood the
test of evidence. Contrary to the statements of many religious and political
figures, these fires reflect a number of different causes. Some involve
racist nitwits linked to groups like the Christian Knights of the Ku Klux
Klan, some are the work of "mentally disturbed" lone teenagers, others stem
from more prosaic causes. At least one black church fire appears to have
been started by a church deacon!
So, we'll say it again: Defense of the First Amendment, the separation of
state and church, MUST be color blind and religion-blind. Government has no
business appropriating tax monies to construct religious edifices or assist
religious congregations.
Ralph Reed will just have dig a little deeper, cough up a little more, and
keep his hands out of everyone else's pockets.

#140   - -   8/26/96 (Nightowl Edition)

In This Issue...
* Mother Teresa -- Media Hype?
* Space Nazis & Mystery Kissers
* Legal Points in The Mt. Davidson Cross Case
* About This List...

"Hyperbole and Credulity" ?

Is she the essence of goodness and charity? A heroine helping the poor?
Or is she a shameless apologist for privilege, acceptance of faith, and an
embarrasment to the nation whose poor she claims to assist.
Tonight, the 85-year old Albanian nun known as Mother Teresa remains in
serious medical condition in a nursing home in Calcutta, India. But
admiration for her is reaching fever pitch, and there is worldwide
death-watch on her behalf. Associated Press reports that while she remains
under the care of a team of physicians who are using the latest medicines on
her behalf, there is a virtual "prayer-fest" involving groups of Christian
and Hindu priests, Buddhist monks and Muslim clerics. A joint statement from
religious leaders announced: "We pray so that our Mother could be among us
again. So is not the mother of only the Christian community, she is the
mother of all communities.
Indeed, Mother Teresa has become a pop-culture icon of religious altruism;
along with her Missionaries of Charity order of nuns, she has cultivated a
media image of caring for the homeless and poor of Calcutta.
But is that the whole story? Some say no. An amidst the uncritical and
fawning statements about Mother Teresa, some are re-discovering a 1994
British documentary titled "Hell's Angel," which dissected the mythology
surrounding the popular Catholic nun, and spoke of image-molding which was a
mixture of "hyperbole and credulity."
Reuters news service noted this past weekend that "For decades television
has helped spread Mother Teresa's message of hope for the destitute and
brought the image of her tiny, stooped, birdlike figure into homes across the
world." But the 1994 documentary questioned not only the effectiveness of her
actions, but her motivations as well. An article in the British medical
journal The Lancet noted: "Mother Teresa prefers providence to planning,"
noting that the Missionaries of Charity are primarilly a religious order
before their role as medical care-givers.
The documentary "dismissed Mother Teresa as a conservative Catholic who
ran an order weak on healing skills and preached surrender and prostration to
the poor...(It) accused the Albania-born nun of preaching the message that
the poor must accept their fate while the rich and powerful are favoured by
Mother Teresa has also become an outspoken opponent of contraception and
birth control -- a position which leads some to doubt her sanity considering
the teeming and overpopulated cities she labors in.
Christopher Hitchens, who wrote the script for ''Hell's Angel" adds that
Mother Teresa "lends spiritual solace to dictators and to wealthy exploiters,
which is scarecely the essence of simplicity, and she preaches surrender and
prostration to the poor, which ia truly humble person would barely have the
nerve to do."

Recent Events, Including a Spat Over a Famous Photo, Show the Biases of Human Belief.

Cropcircles -- those often ornate patterns carved into fields of wheat,
oat and corn -- have become a cause celebre for a bevy of new agers, UFO
enthusiasts and others who believe that "someone" is trying to communicate
with Planet Earth. Some recent events, though, suggest that not only is a
good deal of selective thinking and bias required to accept such a notion,
but that even prosaic happenings are sometimes peppered with misperceptions,
contradictions, and even possibly lies. Two seemingly unconnected events tell
the tale --
* In Burlington County, New Jersey, a 60-foot high swastika was carved in
the middle of a 30-acre field. Police have made no arrests.
* In New York, the mystery concerning the identity of a couple in a
famous picture snapped by the renowned photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt rages
on. The photo appeared on the cover of Life Magazine on August 27, 1945 --
the issue celebrating VJ or Victory-Over-Japan day. A sailor is kissing a
nurse in her white dress, bent backward, a foot in the air.
In the first example, despite wide regional media coverage, no group which
subscribes to the hypothesis that cropcircles represent mysterious paranormal
forces, or are in some way connected with alien spacecraft, has proposed that
the swastika outline was made by extraterrestrials -- either as a joke, a
warning, an innocent, symetrical design, or a statement of political belief.
The swastika was surprisingly well aligned -- placed near the exact center
of the cornfield, with the arms are right-angles to adjacent roads and a
driveway. The image could have been carved as long as a month ago; it was
only first noticed last week by pilots flying out of nearby McGuire Air Force
base, who informed Burlington County authorities.
Jeffrey Maas, executive director of the New Jersey Anti-Defamation League,
told news reporters that he had never heard of "swastika carving" in the 21
years he has been with ADL. "I find it disturbing, but nothing surprises me
these days", he told the Philadelphia Inquirer recently.
But what is equally puzzling is a) why the usual list of crop circle
groups and publications has not stepped forward to claim this latest
apparition as yet another manifestation of aliens, spirits or other
paranormal forces and b) the fact that there is nothing unusual between this
swastika and other patterns which have described as being "impossible" to
have manufactured as hoaxes. Contrary to the assertions of many cropwatchers
as they are called, there is nothing "mysterious" about these ornate
patterns; two British men say they started the whole crop circle rage years
ago, and in the case of the Burlington County swastika, the Inquirer reports:
"Township police guessed that the swastika could have been the work of nearby
high school students..." Far from requiring the advanced technology of
space-faring aliens, construting a crop-pattern hoax is relatively simple,
though somewhat time consuming.
The other event may cast a skeptical light on unusual claims made by
individuals who insist that they participated in or witnessed events of an
equally unusual nature. What comes to mind? Perhaps remembrances of
miracles, apparitions, even autopsies allegedly done on dead aliens.
Earlier this month, the question of who the sailor and nurse really were
who graced the cover of Life magazine in one of the most famous photographs
ever taken, received another lease -- on life. In 1980, the magazine tried to
ascertain the mystery couple's identity, and received an "outpouring" of
claims. Some even suggest that Alfred Eisenstaedt hadn't taken the
photograph on VJ day, since several of the sailors in the background were
wearing woolen uniforms. Since then, dozens of individuals including a
retired police detective from Fort Laudcerdale, and a retiree from Rhode
Island, have been considered likely candidates.
Last week, a 75 -year-old machinist whose wife recently died claimed that
he was, indeed, the faceless sailor in Eisenstaedt's photograph. Although
neither the face of the nurse nor sailor is visible in the Life photo, the
man claims that he was quickly recognized by his then-fiancee and prospective
mother-in-law -- a potentially embarrassing situation since the nurse was not
the fiancee! He says that he escaped blame by claiming that he was in
California at the time the picture was taken. According to Reuter, "His wife
died this year and he said he longer minded admitting that he was the sailor
in the blue wool suit in the photograph."
It is remarkable that a celebrated photograph of such renown would
inspire so many claims and theories -- including accusations that Eisenstaedt
posed the two subjects, or that it was not taken on VJ Day. Life Magazine
tracked down Eisenstaedt's photo records and assignment log for that day in
question; he was indeed in Times Square. He also wrote of the events on
August 27, 1945, including the serendipitous encounter with the amorous and
celebrating couple. It is possible, of course, that some of those who claim
to be the mystery kissers sincerely believe that they were; but what would
the motivation be of the others who have come forward? Even so public an
event -- one which resulted in the creation of a cultural icon symbolizing
the end of a tragic era -- can result in diverse, often contradictory claims.

Perhaps one lesson which links the cropcircle swastika and the mystery of
the missing kissers is the selective nature of human perception. Circle
watchers see mazes and other designs as "proof" of alien visitation; but why
not the swastika? It is, after all, a symbol which pre-dates the Nazi era
and appears in various configurations throughout cultures in ancient America,
India, Japan and Persia. Why not New Jersey? And what about the
contradictory claims of the would-be kissers? They can't all be right. If we
have to be suspect over the stories of individuals who say they are the
anonymous subjects of an Eisenstaedt photograph on the cover of a major
American magazine, what of the more extraordinary claims we are asked to
accept at face value -- of being witness to an alien autopsy, a miracle, an
In our quest for answers, for certainty, perhaps the first step involves a
healthy skepticism of unusual claims, and an appreciation of how problematic
the human psyche can be.


In its decision which found the Mt. Davidson cross in San Francisco to be
unconstitutional, the U.S. Court of Appeals used a substantial body of
evidence and law -- including the California State Constitution. Among the
* The 103-foot cross stands in a 40-acre park owned by the County and City
of San Francisco. There is a copper box within the foundation of the
monument which contains "a number of items including newspapers, telephone
directories, two Bibles, two rocks from the Garden of Gethsemane, and a jug
of water from the Jordan River." In addition, there is a plaque
commemorating the first Easter Sunrise service held at that location in 1923.
*Previous crosses had been erected, but were destroyed by fire. In 1932,
the City gained clear title to the land and the following year authorized
"the allocation of public funds to build a permanent cross." That allocation
also authorized floodlights which were used to illuminate the structure
during the Easter session. President Franklin Roosevelt activated the lights
by telegraph from Washington in a special ceremony; that spectacle attracted
a crowd of 50,000 people.
* Between 1934 and 1987, the Cross was at times illuminated during the
week before Easter and during the Christmas season..." That practice was
halted in 1990.
The challenge to the use of public funds to maintain the Mt. Davidson
Cross rested on the claim that the practice violated the No Preference Clause
and the Ban on Aid to Religion Caluse of the California Constitution, and the
Establishment Clause (First Amendment) of the U.S. Constitution. The No
Preference Clause guarantees "free exercise and enjoyment of religion without
discrimination or preference." Article I, Section 4 of the California
Constitution also states: "The legislature shall make no law respecting an
establishment of religion."
* The court noted several factors including "the religious significance of
the display," "the size and visibility of the display," "the inclusion of
other religious symbols," "the historical background of the display," and
"the proximity of the display to government buildings or religious
facilities." It also observed that the Latin cross (similar to the one in
Eugene, Oregon, which was also ruled unconstitional) "is a preeminent symbol
of many Christian religions and represents with relative clarity and
simplicity the Christian message of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus
Christ, a doctrine at the heart of Christianity." Other relics in the cross,
such as the two bibles, had obvious religious significance as well. The court
observed that "the Mount Davidson Cross' history is intertwined with its
religious symbolism" and that "This kind of historical significance simply
exacerbates the appearance of government preferance for a particular
The judges rejected the view that the Cross "has become well recognized as
a cultural landmark similar to other notable San Francisco landmarks, like
the Golden Gate Bridge..." It cited "the mistaken notion that 'the longer the
violation, the less violative it becomes'." And the justices likewise
disagreed with the contention that the cross was essentially "a work of art,"
saying "the argument that a religious display is art or a tourist attraction
will not protect the display from restrictions on government-sponsored
religion which the people of California have put in their constitution."

#207  - -   12/4/96

In This Issue
* "People Of Faith" Resent Gay Rights Ruling
* "Billboard Mary" On The American Road
* Send A Winter Solstice Card This Season!
* About This List...


Religious organizations reacted quickly yesterday following a decision by
a Circuit Court Judge in Hawaii which enjoined the state from prohibiting
same-sex marriages. The ruling by Judge Kevin S.C. Chang marks the first
legal decision in U.S. history permitting couples of the same sex to legally
wed. Chang noted that Hawaii's attorney general had "failed to present
sufficient credible evidence...that the public interest in the well-being of
children and families, or the optimal development of children would be
adversely affected by same-sex marriages." The ruling also found that the
government did not demonstrate a "compelling" interest in banning homosexual
While the ruling elicited praise from civil libertarians and gay rights
supporters, opponents of gay marriage blasted the court decision and vowed to
appeal the case. Taking a holiday break before the new Congressional session
next month, Rep. Robert Barr (R-Ga.) promised to continue his fight against
what he called the "homosexual lobby."
"Thank God we were able to get the Defense of Marriage Act passed and
that the president signed it," Barr told the Washington Post. DOMA was a key
agenda item for religious right groups, which have also pushed through laws
in sixteen individual states prohibiting same-sex marriage.
Meanwhile, Jay Sekulow of the American Center for Law and Justice -- a
Christian legal action group founded by televangelist Pat Robertson -- issued
a press release calling the decision an "outrage." Rev. Lou Sheldon of the
Traditional Values Coalition declared that "Just because we've lost this
battle doesn't mean the war is over," and vowed "We have just begun to
fight." He described the Circuit Court decision as "judicial tyranny."
The reaction was much the same from other groups as well. Robert Knight,
a director with the Family Research Council told the New York Times that the
Hawaii ruling was a denial of "not only the wisdom of generations but the law
of nature and nature's God."
More Fights Ahead
Both sides in the case had predicted a lengthy appeal process regardless
of the judge's ruling. The Hawaii case opens the possibility of individual
states taking different positions concerning the legal recognition of gay
marriages. Same sex unions may be recognized in certain states, but not in
others. States were given the "option out" by the Defense of Marriage Act
passed earlier this year. Although the administration denounced DOMA as "gay
baiting," the President went ahead and signed the legislation which also
withholds pension, health and other benefits for members of same-sex unions.
Appeals to the case can be expected to retrace the ground covered in the
Hawaii decision, and raise new issues as well. There may be challenges to
DOMA and the state laws prohibiting homosexual marriages based on both the
"full faith and credit" clause and the equal protection portions of the U.S.


Roadside billboards proclaiming that "Virgin Mary Speaks to America
Today," and enticing motorists with a 1-800 number are popping up on the
nation's highways in greater numbers. The latest apparition of "Our Lady of
the Billboard" is in Columbus, Ohio where the virginal countenance of Mary
looks down on pedestrians and automobile drivers on Rt. 33, or the Kings
Avenue overpass. Billboard Mary is also appearing on major interstate
highway routes, including the heavilly-trafficked I-95 on the east coast.
It's all part of a burgeoning epidemic of Mary and Jesus sightings, and the
growing millennialist fixation with supernatural messages of apocalyptic
Symptoms of Millennialist Hysteria
Cultural observers and social scientists acknowledge a growing number of
claims concerning apparitions of either the Virgin Mary or Jesus.
Historically, such reports have been linked to conditions of social
uncertainty, disruption and economic dislocation; and in the United States,
where such reports have been on the rise, there is already a long tradition
of belief in biblical prophecy involving everything from the Second Coming to
the end of the world. With the society approaching the year 2000,
millennialist expectations continue to escalate. A poll taken back in 1992
by Time Magazine and Cable News, for instance, indicated that 53% of
Americans questioned anticipated the return of Jesus Christ sometime within
the next millennium.
Millennialist angst, of course, can manifest itself in numerous ways from
jingoistic cultural and ethnic nationalism, to religious or political
fundamentalist movements, and fascination with new age, occultist themes.
But in America, millennialism has traditionally existed as a prophetic
belief in biblical scenarios of the so-called "end times" or final days. In
the 1840's, an obscure farmer and freelance Baptist preacher named William
Miller gave his followers three different dates on which the world was to
end. The failure of such predictions -- known in history as "The Great
Disappointment" -- did little to defuse such anticipations, and Miller's
faithful later coalesced into groups like the Seventh Day Adventist movement.
Indeed, the thread of Millerite apocalypticism has persisted even in
churches and cults today; the Branch Davidian sect of David Koresh can trace
a long and convoluted organizational history back to the teachings of Miller
and subsequent oracles of doom.
Much of the popularity of millennialist anticipations in the United States
stems from Protestant theology. According to Dr. Belden Lane, a theologian
at St. Louis University, even in the twentieth century many "mainstream
Protestants live in hope of the return of Christ." And like Roman Catholics,
they see the upcoming millennium (generally argued as being either the
beginning of 2000 or 2001) as a temporal marker of sorts, as either the
anniversary of the birth of Christ, or the demarcation between respective
biblical "ages" or seclorae.
Epidemics of Mary-Worship
While Protestants reject any divinity or special status in the biblical
tales about Mary (even challenging the notion that she was a Virgin and
remained so after giving birth to the god-man Jesus), a "cult of the Virgin"
has been growing within the rank-and-file of the Roman Catholic Church.
Often, the enthusiasm of ecclesiastical officials is being surpassed by the
laity amidst claims of apparitions, miracle cures and prophetic utterances.
Pope John Paul II may have inadvertently contributed to the flourishing
worship of Mary this past summer when he reaffirmed the Church's teaching
that Mary's virginity was not just in terms of myth or thematic metaphor, but
was rooted in biological fact.
Mary cults are thriving in Western Europe, Latin America, the former
Soviet eastern block countries and now in the United States. In the former
Yugoslavia, the so-called "Miracle at Medjugorje" has become a lucrative
tourist attraction, and spawned a world-wide movement complete with books,
magazines, and internet site and speakers who carry the "message of the Lady"
throughout the world. Most of the "messages" -- hundreds of them ground out
in the utterances of children in this remote village -- are a mixture of
sappy, homespun advice and vague apocalyptic warnings. Sociologist Stjepan
Mestrovic ("The Coming Fin De Siecle," Routledge, 1991) places the Medjugorje
phenomenon in a different perspective, though, noting that the "cult of the
Virgin Mary is the only surviving remnant of primitive female goddesses in
modern, Western culture," and chronicles the interest in Mary during
historical periods of considerable social stress and anomie.
The Bayside Movement
Beginning in the early nineteenth century, most major claims of
apparitions involving the Virgin goddess took place in Europe, including the
sightings at Lourdes and, later, Fatima. The first American apparition was
reported during the 1920's, and involved a string of sightings in
Massachusetts by one Eileen George. In the 1970's, though, a New York
housewife, Veronical Lueken (1923-1995) claimed that she was being visited
regularly by the Virgin Mary, and became the focal point of a group soon
known as the Bayside Movement, named after a Catholic church in the Bayside,
Queens section of the city.
Publicity about Lueken may have spawned "copycat" sightings of Mary; the
mid-1980's, American-based reports of such visitations were becoming more
popular, with the Virgin popping-up in such unlikely locales as Cleveland,
Ohio (1985), Conyers, Georgia (1987), Phoenix, Arizona (1988), Marlboro, New
Jersey (1989) and even Falmouth, Kentucky (1992). In most cases, these
reports attracted considerable media curiosity, and thousands (sometimes tens
of thousands) of people descended on the apparition site. Some situations
involved the image of Mary (or Jesus) on a tortilla, wood grain cabinet, the
side of a rusty grain silo (the "Soybean Savior"), a grease and oil spill
under a car, or the reflection of light from an automobile windshield.
Witnesses often made public testimony of ecstatic feelings of well-being and
religiosity, while others claimed miraculous healings and prophetic
But the Bayside Mary as "channeled" through Veronica Lueken resulted in a
thriving, organized movement of followers, and carried a distinctly menacing,
apocalyptic message. "Our Lady of the Roses" demanded the building of
shrines and pavilions, and laid down a strict ritual for all to obey during
the apparitions to Lueken. Followers drank in the Lady-Lueken message, and
even began publishing highly dubious photographs which, they claim,. clearly
depict an image of the Virgin.
A Message of Menace
"Billboard Mary", unlike most of the other Virgin visits, is distinctly
apocalyptic and mean-spirited, making the Bayside Movement one of the loudest
drumbeaters for millennialist doom and gloom. The group's "Directives From
Heaven" claim to be excerpts culled from over 25 years of regular apparitions
to Lueken, and cover everything from the need for orthodoxy within the Roman
Catholic Church to the evil of homosexuality and the special status of New
York City as a modern-day Babylon. Mary is offended by "immodest dress," for
instance, and tells the faithful that "Shorts, slacks, shall not be worn in
the presence of My Son! There will be no rationalization accepted for the
commission of these acts of impurity." Dancing in the aisles is taboo as
well: "Pagan practices of diabolical music is not condoned by the Eternal
Father, nor shall We condone dancing and all manner of worldly entrance
within the holy houses of God."
And Billboard Mary's socio-political agenda is strictly theocratic and
reactionary. She warns that despite the overthrow of communism in the Soviet
Union, "Russia has but one plan: to Capture (sic) the whole world," and that
"being an atheistic country, My children -- Russia, you cannot believe what
they tell you, nor what they print in their tabloids."
There are also stock-in-trade warnings that resemble earlier outbursts of
phobic nationalism and paranoia from extreme ends of the political spectrum.
Lueken reported alleged conversations with both Jesus and Mary warning of a
secret international cabal ("The Octopus" or "The Illuminati") run by a
council of "Grand Masters" intend on controlling the world and establishing a
"false religion." While Billboard Mary doesn't specifically mention Jews,
Lueken's dark visions suggest that she was aware of traditional anti-semitic
materials and conspiracy theories involving Freemasons and other groups. And
The Big Apple has a special significance for Billboard Mary. "Because of the
major role the city of New York plays in the world governments and the
governing of your nation, the United States, My child, it is for this reason
that Satan chose that area for his start to bring into your country a full
overthrow of Christian belief. It is his endeavor now to replace the Church
of My Son with the church of Satan."
A Vortex of Villains and Villainy?
The "Directives From Heaven" chronicle a lengthy list of villains, all of
whom are said to be united in a common conspiratorial enterprise against "My
Son" (Jesus), and the integrity of the Catholic Church.
"All of you who now plan in conspiracy in My House," Luekens warned in
1977, "to bring about a new world religion, a religion that is not of the God
you know, but a religion that is coming up from the depths of hell! Deluded
you are, Oh pastors..." Villains include theologians "who now consider
themselves as gods upon earth", a one-world religion "based on humanism and
modernism," "Third Worlders" who "seek to destroy My Son's Church and build
one on the creation of man," and Protestant and Catholic Charismatics who are
compared to "children (who) have lost their way."
One also wonders about the sources of Luekens fantasies, some of which
seem to closely parallel the more serious conspiracy theories of Lyndon
LaRouche . Among the "Directives" is a conversation the "Seer of Bayside"
claimed to have had with St. Michael in September of 1975 wherein the
identity of "a man who hides behind the mask ruling your country!" was
conveniently identified. "He is the man who compromises your country for the
love of power... Step down and reveal yourself, the leader... Oh, my
goodness! Oh, my goodness! The man behind the mask, Mr. Rockefeller, the
man behind the mask!"
In the modern conspiratorial mind-set, mere mention of the Rockefeller
name is often associated with other old chestnuts of cabal-politics,
including Freemasons, devil worshippers, money holders (a police revision of
"Jews") and Illuminists. Bayside Mary promises "Listen well, My children,
and understand that I ask you to remove all diabolical musical recordings
from your homes. Your children are bringing demons into your homes because,
at the time that these records were produced, called rock, 'hard rock,' they
were produced in the temple of Satan -- consecrated to Satan!" And it's not
just wiccan musical writers one has to fear, either. Look out for the masons
and other fraternal regroups, warns Billboard Mary, "Because they worship
false idols! My children, man has accepted gods of nature! Pagans you have
Satan As Abortionist
The hot topic of abortion occupies an exhalted status in the "Directives"
of Billboard Mary. Lueken claimed that in one conversation with Jesus, she
was told that the devil "entered your city on January 21, 1971. He was in
Albany first to promote the murderous evil of the killing of the young."
Jesus, though, may have his dates off; New York was one of the first states
to liberalize a draconian anti-abortion law, which took effect on July 1,
1970. Even so, Jesus warns that "All who become part of or condone abortion,
the murder of the young, shall be destroyed!" He added, in subsequent
conversation that Nuns are even in collusion with the abortion industry (a
theme popular in certain anti-Catholic Protestant tracts), adding: "This is
one of the reasons Theresa is crying constantly when she looks into the
convents and sees what is going on. Many (nuns) now believe in abortion, the
murders of the children; and many have committed this act upon themselves."
Abortion is just one of many ills Baysiders are warned against. Billboard
Mary told Lueken: "You must remove from your homes these diabolical agents of
hell, the recordings of Lucifer (rock-and-roll), that will put into your
child a spell, a hypnotism leading to promiscuity, deviant sex,
homosexuality, drugs, murders, abortions and all manner of foul deeds that
could only be conceived in the mind of the prince of darkness, Lucifer
Roaming Homos, The End Of The World
Along with New York Babylon, abortion and rock music, Billboard Mary saves
perhaps her greatest wrath for homosexuals, and paints a cataclysmic vision
of apocalypse that out does the special effects of old Irwin Allen movies, or
the warped dreams of the Japanese Aum Cult. New York, of course, is to be
destroyed by a "killer comet", a "tremendous fire ball" which wreaks havoc on
the east coast. That and other terrible events are foretold as the
"Chastisement" -- but there are so many punishments, one wonders about their
order of occurrence. Jesus, Billboard Mary and Lueken seem to have concocted
a slew of events that, somehow, are part of the apocalyptic demise. They
include an invasion from Russia, a missile parked on a train (presumably in
New York City), terrorism, the antics of 13 witches covens (mostly on Long
Island), flash fires, explosions, an impact from a comet, and "roaming bands"
of homosexuals. The west coast doesn't get off easy, either. Billboard Mary
purportedly provided Lueken an end-times preview of houses slipping into the
sea, a theme popular in many new age circles and especially in the writings
of the late Edgar Cayce. Indeed, Lueken was grinding out her Prophecies on a
regular basis throughout the mid-to-late 1970's, and the printed rendition
abounds with capitalized references and underlining, and promises dire
consequences if followers do not pray sufficiently.
By the late 1980's, Lueken had refined her attacks and warnings of
"roaming bands of homosexuals'" intent on "seducing the young", and begun
including admonitions that AIDS was cosmic karma from God for bad behavior.
"Homosexuality shall never be accepted," warned Billboard Mary.
Jesus-Leuken put in his two cents of cosmic wisdom: "We warned you over and
over again, through years of visitations upon earth, My Mother going to and
fro to warn you, that homosexuality, birth control, abortions and all other
aberrations that bring sorry to My Mother's Heart, this must be stopped now."
AIDS was soon to be followed by yet another plague, and Lueken prophesied: "I
tell you now that there shall not be a cure found for the disease of AIDS.
It is a punishment from the Eternal Father."
Billboards For Doomsday
The prophetic vision of Veronica Lueken is already percolating into the
American cultural scene, and promises to be both a competing vision and a
complementary scenario in some respects to other depictions of Doomsday.
With her forebodings of catastrophic floods, comet impacts, "balls of fire,"
famine and other maladies, the Bayside Seer joins the swelling ranks of
prophetic hucksters, everyone from Nostradamus to Edgar Cayce, Ellen White,
backwoods evangelists, eco-catastrophists, and whatever Hollywood can
frantically grind out in the next few years as we approach 2000 and
Official ecclesiastical authorities within the Roman Catholic Church do
not officially recognize either Lueken or the Bayside Movement she inspired.
But there has always been a gap between apocalyptic millenarians and the
establishment church. The Vatican is more reserved, less frantic and more
couched in its public stance concerning millennialist prophecy, and officials
insist that we cannot know precisely when and how the world might end. Early
apocalyptics were often branded as heretics; their enthusiasm for the "end
times" was seen as a threat to the more mundane exigencies of the
institutional church with its systematic organization and special interest
hierarchy. Indeed, millennialist movements like Bayside represent a kind of
"religious populism" unrestrained by the practical requirements of modern
religious institutions.
With the Millennium just a few more calendar pages away, the Bayside
Movement -- along with a slew of other end-times prophets and cults -- is
busy galvanizing the faithful, warning sinners, and spreading the word.
Followers are encouraged to visit the Bayside apparition site for prayers
and cures, and to participate in the group's aggressive billboard campaign.
There are books, magazines, cable television shows in dozens of states, a
platoon of Baysiders on the lecture circuit, and even a web site
(http://www.roses.org). Best hurry, though; you never know when that Ball of
Fiery Retribution could strike.
And stay out of New York City.

Thanks to Frank Zindler for material in this
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time for your holiday order!

#114   - -   7/30/96

In This Issue...
* Representative Hyde & Banker Hyde  - A Day In Court!
* "Decency" Act Goes Down Again
* TheistWatch: The Devil DIDN'T Make Me Do It!
* About This List...


Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Ill) is back in court today concerning charges of gross
negligence in the $67,000,000 collapse of Clyde Federal Savings and Loan
Association in 1991. Hyde is a high-profile poster boy for the Christian
Coalition, and last week was grandstanding on Capitol Hill to promote his
version of a Religious Equality Amendment which would return prayer to public
schools and, insists Hyde and others, "restore morality" in American society.
Hyde is also the head of the Republican Platform Committee which is
presently embroiled in a fight over a controversial abortion plank, and is
Chairman of the powerful House Judiciary Committee which has been the
launching pad for much of the religious right "morals agenda" legislation
being pushed by Christian Coalition and its allies.
But today, Hyde will again be defending his own moral values. In April,
1993, the Resolution Trust Corporation sued Hyde and 11 other Clyde Federal
Savings directors, charging evidence of gross negligence and mismanagement,
and seeking $17.2 million in damages. That figure is considerably short of
the $67 million which was spent bailing out the troubled thrift. Indeed, the
collapse of Clyde was part of a nationwide scenario where boom-and-bust
savings and loan institutions went belly-up in what some critics say is a
$500 billion scandal. RTC was created to sell-off the assets of the ailing
thrifs; its charter expired last year, and the Hyde case is now in the hands
of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation.
Rep. Hyde insists that he is a victim of overzealous prosecutors, and
refers to the "trophy-hunting" aspect of the case in media interviews. He
also claims that he is a victim of a "dragnet" by the Clinton
administration; and Hyde's attorney describes the FDIC allegations as
Charges against the congressman and the other S&L directors say that they
deliberately engaged in risky financial practices, and exercised inadequate
supervision of Clyde's managers and accounts. Even after the being warned of
potential wrong-doing by the Federal Home Loan Board, though, the RTC/FDIC
says that the group still continued the practice of making risky loans,
including a $5,000,000 investment in a beach-front project in Texas.
Records show that Hyde received a monthly stipend for attending Board
meetings at Clyde S&L, and that he voted for investments on what some
consider to be extremely risky speculation, including some $10,000,000 for
commodities futures.
Hyde maintains that Clyde Federal Savings was in sound financial condition
when he left the board, and that he "paid attention" when investment
strategies were discussed. But Tim Anderson, a former bank consultant,
insists that minutes of board meetings at CFS show that Hyde knew the thrift
was in financial trouble prior to his resignation.
- - -

Supreme Court Test, "Son-Of-CDA" Still Possible

The so-called Communications Decency Act suffered another blow yesterday
when a three-judge federal panel in New York ruled that the law was
unconstitutional, and clearly restricted free expression in a new
communications media, namely the internet.
A separate panel in Philadelphia also declared the CDA unconstitutional
last month. Federal authorities announced that they would appeal that
decision, and it is probable that the New York case will be consolidated with
the earlier decision. The N.T. Times noted, though, that yesterday's ruling
will "reinforce the notion that the law cannot pass constitutional muster."
The Communications Decency Act was part of a larger legislative package
passed in February which overhauled the country's telecommunications laws.
CDA specified criminal sanctions against those who transmitted "indecent"
material over computer networks to any site which could be viewed by children
and youngsters under 18." Critics charged that the law was excessively broad
in its definitions, vague, and virtually un-enforceable. But CDA enjoyed the
support of a number of religious fundamentalist and evangelical
organizations, and was a key element in the Christian Coalition's "Contract
With the American Family." Opponents of the Decency Act charged that it was
simply a ploy to ban materials offensive to blue-nose groups and others by
invoking hysteria that children "might" view pictures or other content
The New York decision was a victory for the single person who had brought
the suit, Joseph P. Shea of the cyberjounal, The American Reporter. In
February, that publication ran an editorial blasting the CDA which contained
"four-letter words." In May, the editorial was republished in Harper's
Magazine; unlike Shea, though, the editors at Harpers faced no criminal
sanction for the content of the story.
Declared Shea's attorney, Randall J. Boe: "Consider this. Joe Shea
committed a crime when he published his editorial electronically, but
Harper's didn't commit a crime when they published it on paper. There's no
law that says a 12-year-old can't go to a store and buy a copy of Harper's."
Under the Decency Act, Shea could have faced fines up to $250,000 and a
jail term up to two years, all for using an "interactive computer service" --
his on-line publication -- to post "indecent" materials where it might be
viewed by those under 18-years of age.
There were differences between the New York and Philadelphia cases,
however, in both what was being challenged and in what the rulings were from
the respective judicial panels. The New York judges rejected arguments that
the definition of "decency" was too vauge; but they did insist that the
Intenet is different from broadcast media where decency challenges have been
upheld. The judges distinguished between the ease a child might have in,
say, turning on a radio or television set, and logging on to a specific site
on the Internet or world wide web. "Indecent material on the Internet
ordinarilly does not assault the user without a warning," wrote the New York
panel, adding: "A child cannot gain access to Internet content with the touch
of a remote control, and while accidental viewing of indecent content is
possible, there is no evidence in this record to suggest that it is likely."
The New York case included an amicus ("friend of the court") brief filed
by the Family Research Council, headed by censorship and decency zealot Gary
Bauer. The legal director for the Council found cause for optimism in
Monday's decision, noting that the issue will be resolved by the U.S. Supreme
Court, which has found "that the government has a compelling interest to
protect children from indecent material."
"Only the beginning..."
Even with the victories in New York and Philadelphia, cyberrights
activists still have a long fight ahead. Mike Russell of the Christian
Coalition saids that the group is "confident that something will come about
in the long run" which will leigitmize government monitoring of
communications in cyberspace. To the Coalition, Family Research Council and
other religious right movements, the internet is simply another
communications media to be covered by legal statutes against pornography,
obscentiy and other content.
There are also a number of bill in the legislative hopper which promise to
"fix" the constitutional shortcomings of the ommunications Decency Act,
raising the spectre that a "son-of-CDA" will hit the floor of Congress if the
Supreme Court overturns the original legislation. Rep. Zoe Lofgren
(D.Calif.) has cooked up a bill with the somewhat Orwellian description:
"Internet Freedom and Child Protection Act" which simply copies the penalties
from the original CDA to be used against those who send "any comment,
request, suggestion, proposal, image or other communication which is obscene,
lewd, lascivious, filthy, or indecent, with intent to annoy, abuse, threaten,
or harass another person." Lofgren also wants Internet Service Providers
(ISP's) to make available "screening software" for limiting access to parts
of the internet which is "unusitable' for children. It mandates that the FCC
establishes standards to "prescribe minimum technical standards for screening
The 'State's Rights" Threat
The federal battle over the internet is being mirrored in many state
legislatures throughout the nation; some 17 states now have bills that would
regulate on-line content in some fashion. Most echo the terminology of the
proposals introduced in Washington. In nearly all cases, however,
legislators crafting the proposals are supported by religious and decency
groups , and speak of the internet as a "anarchic" or "ungoverned" media
which needs to be "brought under control."
In some states like Virginia, the "decency" issue is linked to what state
employees happen to use their computers for. Starting July 1, state
employees (with the exception of the Virginia State Police) may not use state
computer to obtain "sexually explicit contents" unless they receive
permission from bosses. That legislation was crafted by Robert Marshall, a
Republican state delegate, who said that he had heard stories about problems
in state offices where employees were viewing smut on the internet. "There
is no constitutional obligation to furnish state employees on government time
with the material, period." Even so, critics note that as usual, legal
edicts -- especially when they concern hot topics like pornography and
obscenity -- are vague, broad and not well thought out. In the Virginia law,
they point to state university professors in fields like art history,
sociology or even criminal justice who would be restricted by the ruling.
Besides, insist critics, if the goal is to prevent employees from wasting
time, why is the law limited to adult material? What about sports, the
stock market, news, RealAudio and other offerings on the internet?
Clearly, the decency issue is one which will remain a political hot topic
and vote-grabber for some time. Segments of the news media often portray the
internet as a uncharted void filled with obscenity, or sites for learning how
to build bombs, or platforms for racist or neo-nazi propaganda. Defending
the First Amendment, on or off the net, remains a daunting task.


It's confession time. Your editor considers himself to be fairly well
versed in matters scientific, especially those which have to do with the
subject of astronomy. So, I must thank Mr. Kendall Auel for calling to my
attention an egregious error made in yesterday's AANEWS dispatch, where I
wrote about the problem of rampant mysticism and pseudoscience plaguing
Russia and the rest of the former Soviet Union. We lamented the fact that
"An official in the Presidential Security Service is paid to prepare
astronomoical horoscopes of the leaders of the nation." I should have used
the term "astrological horoscopes," since there is very much a difference
between the science of astronomy, and the pre-science (or even pseudoscience)
belief in astrology. The former had its roots in the latter, but the two
have since parted company. Astronomy has won claim to being an effective
discipline in uncovering at least some of the secrets of the solar system,
galaxy and the rest of our universe (all the while raising a bevy of new and
exciting questions!), while astrology has clearly won the battle for
"believers", adherents, enthusiasts and probably bucks. There are about
2,500 men and women in the country who are considered funded, full-time
astronomers, but well over ten times that number who grind out questionable
astrological horoscopes and list their trade as a full time occupation.
Apologies, gentle readers, if this terrible travesty offended you. I
accept blame, criticism and rebuke, and won't even attempt to insist that the
devil made me do it,
- - -
Those of you who are members of American Atheists may want to join AACHAT,
our moderated discussion group headed by the AA Internet Representative,
Margie Wait. AACHAT includes exchanges about Atheism, religion, First
Amendment topics, state-church separation, AA activities and related areas.
If you would like to participate in AACHAT, send mail to:
aachat@atheists.org, and include your name and postal address.

#117   - -   7/31/96 (Evening Edition)  File: atheista.031.txt

In This Issue...
* Bombast Breaking Before Busty Bra Billboard Battle
* First Amendment Violation in ChiTown: Religious Neighborhoods?
* Recommended Reading: Behind The Veil.
* About This List...


The culture war has arrived in Mexico, a nation which has had a long
history of difficulty with clerics and religious institutions, as well as
political corruption. The ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, PRI, has
generally maintained a "hands-off" policy toward movies, radio, tv, books and
other forms of communications which did not directly threaten its (some say
corrupt) political rule. It also kept a distance between government
institutions and the powerful Roman Catholic Church, which still possesses
enormous cultural influence throughout the country.
But in the backlash against bloated bureaucracy and the corruption said to
permeate the PRI, voters have turned increasingly to the insurgent PAN or
National Action Party. It is the first movement to seriously challenge the
monopoly PRI has kept on Mexico for over seven decades; and while it is
considered to be an advocate of economic development and free trade, the PAN
has nevertheless attracted the support of reactionary Catholics. PAN is
becoming increasingly authoritarian in its effort to govern standards of
public conduct and personal life; and that prospect has many civil
libertarians worried, especially since the party could do well in the
national assembly elections slated for next year.
There is a backlash taking place in the otherwise relatively open and
tolerant culture of Mexico. And nowhere is in more evidence than in the
"brassiere battle" which has now gripped the public consciousness. Indeed,
provocative ads for bras -- often displayed in huge billboards featuring
bosomy models -- have become a metaphor and point of contention over how far
government should go in regulating personal behavior, and whether Catholicism
and religious prudery are gaining influence in the culture.
According to news reports, including the New York Times, the "bra battle"
erupted when Playtex ads featuring the "Wonderbra" were displayed on nearly a
dozen billboards throughout the country, mostly in Monterrey or Guadalajara.
Protest letters poured in to company offices, and public officials suddenly
hopped on the bandwagon, demanding that the skimpy displays be either changed
or taken down. The company did alter some of the provocative slogans which
accompanied the graphics -- "I like what you're thinking" was a favorite --
but the cleavage remained amply displayed.
Most of the anti-brassiere rhetoric comes from officials of the National
Action Party, who are estimated to govern nearly a third of the country. The
Times notes that "The bra dispute has offered Mexicans a peek at the
conservative cultural shift that the party and its followers are bringing in
places where they gain ground." Says cultural critic Carlos Monsivais: "They
(PAN) want to lead us happily back to the 19th century."
The signs of backlash are everywhere; and often the reaction is linked to
clerics, churches and other religious institutions. In the town of Zapopan
where there is a popular shrine to the Virgin Mary, the PAN mayor shut down a
risque bar. Over in nearby Guadalajara, where PAN has enjoyed political
power since 1994, "a mid-ranking city official scolded secretaries in his
office for wearing miniskirts," says the Times, and the Mayor called on women
in his office "not to exaggerate in their clothing to be sexually
provocative." (sic)
PAN has also begun causing problems for creative artists, such as theater
producer Ari Tech. His tragicomedy "Four X" happened to include a nude
scene; PANista's in Veracrux and Puebla banned the production at first, and
only after letters from Tech were published in the local press was there
enough of an outcry against the government to prompt authorities to reverse
their decision were the productions finally allowed.
The ads in Mexico are identical to those used in other countries in Europe
and the United States. They feature a popular Zech fashion model, Eva
Herzigova. But even though religious and cultural sensibilities of some
appear to be offended, the "bra battle" has been good for business according
to Playtex sales officials. The heat of the firm's Mexican apparel division,
Felipe Rivelles, noted that Mexico was so far the only nation where the ads
elicited protests, but that "Store managers just love us. This product is
making so much noise, people are going to the store just to look for it."
Even PANista leadership may end up being embarrassed by the prudish
outcry. The party's president, 33-year-old Felipe Calderon Hinojosa has
drafted an open letter with the ponderous title "On the subject of politics,
morality and bras," saying that the group's national leadership "has never
made any recommendation about the much-publicized underwear ad, nor are we
interested in doing so." Hinojosa also accused the Playtex of company of
exploiting the controversy "to promote their product without paying a single
cent." But in this uplifting and revealing controversy, it appears that the
forces of sexualy prudery and their beholden public officials managed to do
that supporting role themselves.


(Editor's note: As humanity approaches the year 2000, the tensions between
cultural-religious traditions and an emergent global culture have grown more
pronounced. Religious fundamentalism, political nostalgia, cultural
orthodoxy -- all are essentially revolts against the impulse of modernism and
the inevitable changes which it brings.The more frenetic the pace of change,
the more there is evidence of reaction. In this sense, consider the wave of
fundamentalist and political orthodoxy which just a few decades ago some were
dismissing as an impossibility, an artifact of the past which would be
demolished by the existential juggernaut of science, technology and economic
development. Who would have thought that cosmopolitan cities like Beirut, or
Sarajevo would be reduced to rubble by religious zealots contesting city
blocks with mortars and M-16's? Or that Orthodox zealots and secularists
would be slugging it out in the streets of Jerusalem on the question of
whether or not traffic should be permitted during the "sabbath." Or that in
the United States, everyone from Freemen-style militias to street gangs,
retreatest cults, racial eschatologists, religious crazies and other ju-ju
warriors of the modern era would be hunkering-down to defend "turf" and
"autonomous zones"? Or that a litmus test of national leadership would be
not the defense of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, but the
ability to play the role of National Headmaster and Disciplinarian based on a
commitment to religious ideology?
The following story is more than just another example of how state-church
separation in the United States is, increasingly, ommited from public policy
debate. It is likewise more than just a report on yet another example of
religion in the public square -- similar to prayer in schools, a religious
scene in a public park. It is indicative of a wider, more pernicious trend
-- the balkanization of culture, the desire to define ourselves in terms of
hallucinatory beliefs, and most important of all, the credulous
mass-acceptance of utter nonsense.)

In the Northwest area of Chicago , Orthodox Jews are asking the city
government to permit them to surround a public neighborhood with a black
electrical wire in order to create a religious "eruv", or enclosure. The
wire would be strung about 35 feet above the street from an expressway atop
30 lampposts, then along a segment of railroad tracks for half-a-dozen
additional blocks. The purpose of the "eruv", according to news reports, is
to establish a "symbolic enclosure" which permits observant Orthodox Jews to
conduct activities outside of their homes that would otherwise be banned on
the sabbath. The Chicago Tribune notes that such enclosures have already
been established in sections of the city, "without significant objections."
AANEWS has also learned that similar "zones" have been created in New York
A First Amendment Violation?
While the proposal has definite religious overtones, objections to the
idea currently deal with such vapid problems as "visual clutter." The head
of the Edgebrook Community Association opposes the scheme, but he is quick to
insist that the position of the group "is not based on religious
objections...but on aesthetic ones" according to the Sunday Tribune. The
village of Skokie supports the project, noting that it is intended to benefit
Orthodox Jews; the Mayor of Skokie told the paper that "We are pleased to
accomoddodate the needs of the group within this context." A Catholic woman
who also likes the idea said that "They put Christmas lights up. I don't
really see the big deal."
Thus far, no one seems to have suggested that this religious device -- a
wire which is fixed to city-property and will probably be erected at taxpayer
expense -- is clearly unconstitutional. (So are those "Christmas" lights and
nativity scenes.) The reasons for the "eruv" is likewise ludicrous. One
Chicago rabbi told the Tribune: "It's especially good for women because it
enables them to go out and carry their children. It enables them to attend
synagogue. It allows families to go for a walk and be out of the house. And
it can be done legally, Jewishly."
The "eruv" wire is really for the benefit of a large Jewish population in
Skokie and Lincolnwood, but geography requires that the "line" be run through
Edgebook, which "boasts a strong Catholic population and does not have any
Rabbi Joel Lehrfield of the Lincolnwood Jewish Congregation insisted that
"People will find all kinds of reasons (to oppose the "eruv")," but that he
is "just a firm believer that we should help other people to live as
comfortably as possible.
Ironically, the American Jewish Committee -- a national group which often
assists to defend state-church separation -- apparently has little to say
against the "eruv" idea. The Tribune quoted a New York attorney for the
organization who said that opposition against an "eruv" proposal was "the
desire to keep out a group that is perceived as quickly coming into the
neighborhood and pushing out others." But the president of the Edgewood
Community Association reacted differently, expressing his opinion that "When
you put a boundary aorund something, it suggests a sense of possession as

Recommended Reading...
Interested readers may want to explore a story in today's edition of the
Christian Science Monitor (a church-affiliated paper which nevertheless is
noted for its in-depth coverage of current political events) which discusses
the status of women in Saudi Arabia. Titled "Women Live On Own Terms Behind
The Veil," the piece by Scott Peterson discusses some of the subtle, but
nevertheless real changes taking place in that male-dominated religious
culture. Log on at http://www.csmonitor.com .
- - -
If you are a member of American Atheists, consider joining our on-line,
moderated discussion group, aachat. To participate, contact the moderator,
Margie Wait, at aachat@atheists.org. Be sure to include your name and postal

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1996 material edited and written by Conrad F. Goeringer, The LISTMASTER.


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