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THEISTWATCH FOR JULY 6, 1995 ____________________ ____________________ Washington, D.C.--HELMS' REMARK ON AIDS DRAWS QUICK RESPONSE Oregon--RAJNEESH FLUNKIES ACCUSED IN MURDER PLOT United States--FROM SELMA TO CENSORSHIP World--THEISTWATCH SHORT SHOTS ____________________ ____________________ HELMS' REMARK ON AIDS DRAWS QUICK RESPONSE by Conrad Goeringer Republican Senator Jesse Helms has targeted an act which would provide money for the care and treatment of people with AIDS. Arguing that AIDS is the ninth-leading cause of death in the U.S., but receives more federal financing than diseases which kill more people, Helms also blamed the disease on gays who engage in "deliberate, disgusting, revolting conduct." That brought a quick response from gay activists, health officials, and the mother of Ryan White, the young boy who died of AIDS in April of 1990 following a blood transfusion. The act was named after Ryan White. Passed originally in 1990, the Ryan White Care Act is a five-year program which is now up for congressional reauthorizing. Co-sponsors reflect a surprising diversity of ideology and party affiliation, from conservatives like Orrin Hatch of Utah, to liberals such as Barbara Boxer and Christopher Dodd. On March 29, the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee approved renewal of the program, but slashed the amount of funding to $690 million. Since then, the act has stalled. Some AIDS activists blame Helms, along with Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole who is busy courting religious support in his quest for the GOP presidential nomination. The House version has hit a snag by having an amendment that would deny act funding to states that did not mandate the testing of newborns for AIDS. Civil liberties groups have protested that as an invasion of privacy, and some AIDS health care professionals and advocates suggest testing would simply scare away women prone to the disease who might fear the government would steal their infants. The House version was scheduled for a vote before July 4. The conservative Family Research Council told the New York Times (July 5) that "we won't support it (the Ryan White Act) without mandatory testing." A policy analyst for the group said that Dole was taking a wait-and-see attitude on the House action before deciding his next move for the Senate version. Meanwhile, there were immediate challenges to Helms' statistics about AIDS. The National Organization Responding to AIDS, a coalition of 150 groups, said that "This is not the time to retreat on AIDS," noting that Helms' figures took into account sums for research, prevention and housing. When all federal money is calculated, government outlays for heart disease total $36.3 billion, cancer adds up to $16.9 billion, and AIDS is funding at only $6 billion. Ryan White's mother accused Helms of blaming victims for the disease. "After three months the bill is still not scheduled for Senate action, and Sen. Helms apparently hopes it never will be," said Jeanne White-Grinder. "He seems to want to blame people with AIDS for being sick. . . . I wonder if he feels the same about Americans dying of cancer because they smoke?" Helms As "Point Man" for Dole? The role of Sen. Bob Dole in all of this is not lost on those who have been watching the Kansas Senator court the votes on the GOP right-wing. Although he is listed as a "co- sponsor" of the Ryan White Care Act, Dole doesn't want to alienate religious conservatives. Having Helms play a pivotal role in stalling the funding process allows Dole to use procedural strategies to kill the program, all without a floor vote. Critics note that this was essentially the tactics used to derail the nomination of Dr. Henry Foster as Surgeon General. The controversy surrounding the funding demonstrates the fears on Capitol Hill about the influence of the Christian conservatives. Some religious fundamentalists have advocated mandatory AIDS testing of various groups, a strategy which, say AIDS activists, would merely drive the epidemic further "underground" and stigmatize people with (or suspected of having) AIDS. Helms' remarks also reinforce perceptions that AIDS is a "Gay" disease which is the result of moral failure, sin, or what the senator terms "unnatural acts." Ryan White, however, was just thirteen when he was diagnosed with AIDS in 1988; he contracted the HIV virus from a blood transfusion. By "going public," he touched off a widely publicized battle against both the disease and the intolerance surrounding it in his hometown. His mother told Reuter's News Agency that the legislation was important. "If the bill does not move, a lot of people will die. Support in name only is no longer enough. The reality is that the lifeline is in danger and we need action." RAJNEESH FLUNKIES ACCUSED IN MURDER PLOT by Conrad Goeringer As cults go, the Oregon commune founded by the late Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh was probably a scary place. At least that's the picture described by former followers of the self-proclaimed "rich man's guru" who surrounded himself with a staff of pliant devotees and a fleet of expensive Rolls Royce automobiles. Cult members essentially took over the small town of Antelope, Oregon. There were stories of wiretaps, cult-operated surveillance, and attempts to organize "hit squads" to eliminate townspeople and others who didn't follow Rajneesh. In 1985 the commune disbanded after the Bhagwan pleaded guilty to arranging sham marriages amongst the followers, some of whom were Indian citizens who then managed to immigrate to the United States. Bhagwan was deported back to Poona, India, and died there in 1990. Now two followers of Rajneesh are being charged with taking part in "killing conferences" which were organized to plot the murder of the U.S. Attorney for Oregon. The government's case was presented against two British citizens in opening arguments in Portland last Wednesday, July 5. The pair are charged with forming "hit teams" and purchasing firearms in a plot to assassinate Charles Turner, then Oregon's main federal prosecutor. Although Sally-Anne Croft and Susan Hagan insist they are innocent, they were indicted in 1990 along with other cult members and extradited from Britain this year following a five-year legal battle. The hit attempt was never carried out, but the government insists that cult members were dispatched to Texas and New Mexico to purchase weapons while using false identification. One team was assembled to track Turner's movements, finding out such details as where his office and home were located. The present U.S. Attorney said that the government would produce the weapons which had been recovered from a lake years after the commune had disbanded. Croft and Hagen were among 4,000 people who lived on the sprawling commune. Croft, who called herself Ma Prem Savita, was described by her attorney as the product of a working-class family in England who was "smitten" with Rajneesh, but became disenchanted when the Bhagwan told her that he was not concerned for his followers, only his Rolls-Royce cars and a collection of Rolex watches. Susan Hagen went by the name Ma Anand Su. Her attorney insisted that there was no murder plot, even one orchestrated by the mysterious "Sheela," the woman who ran the commune for Rajneesh. Ma Anand Sheela was the cult name for Sheela Birnstiel, also indicted in the plot and believed to be living in Switzerland. Some reports identify her as the person behind an attempt to poison restaurant food in nearby Antelope, with the purpose of killing the townspeople who were generally hostile to the Rajneesh settlement. FROM SELMA TO CENSORSHIP A civil rights advocate is now crusading for restrictions on freedom of speech by Conrad Goeringer Is this a case of a great crusader for civil rights and the liberation of women gone astray? It may be. C. DeLores Tucker has emerged as a controversial crusader in the effort to ban so-called "gangsta rap" and other forms of music and lyrics which she claims are "the source of many of Blacks' social ills," according to the Philadelphia Inquirer (July 6). She's teamed up with conservative culture guru William Bennett of the "Empower America" group (which, charge some, should be more aptly titled "Empower The State") and was blasting away at Time-Warner records before Kansas Senator Bob Dole hoped on that car of the "culture wars" bandwagon parade. Since 1993, Tucker has been picketing, organizing, and pressuring music executives to do something about musical lyrics she says are lewd, violent and anti-women. She's gotten lots of encouragement from 60s-70s pop idol Dionne Warwick who may be doing more harm to human society by promoting pseudo-science schemes like the "Psychic Friends Hotline," but that's another THEISTWATCH topic. Tucker's National Political Congress of Black Women has targeted rappers like Snoop Doggy Dogg, Dr. Dre and Tupac Shakur. Her critics charge that she, along with her new-found religious conservative allies, are creating a climate for cultural and ultimately political censorship. "Her position is ludicrous and untenable from the standpoint of most minority groups," notes Michael Meyers of the New York Civil Rights Coalition. "She won't admit it, but she's calling for censorship, and creating an atmosphere in which minorities, who are most often the targets of such initiatives, will suffer disproportionately." Tucker, the daughter of a minister, quotes the Bible frequently in defending her new position as self-appointed cultural pit bull, trying to contrast the songs sung "during the darkest days of slavery" with the "filth" of today. Tucker's credentials on behalf of civil rights have been impressive, at least up to this point. She earned her "badge of zeal" when she was ordered out of a Detroit restaurant at age twelve for being Black and was arrested during a protest at age seventeen in Philadelphia while picketing a hotel which refused to admit Black athletes. She marched on the road to Selma and served on the national Board of the NAACP. She has been a leader in working on behalf of Black women throughout the country. She may have a point about some rap lyrics; there was a time when Eldridge Cleaver, one of the leaders of the Black Panther Party, reveled in the sexual conquest of White women and came dangerously close to defending rape as some sort of "revolutionary act." That didn't and should not be used to justify the censorship of his book "Soul On Ice." (Unfortunately, Cleaver went on to "find Jesus," convert to the Mormon superstition, and become a "yes" man for conservative republicans like Ronald Reagan and Orrin Hatch. So much for the dialectic of history!) Today, there is a good deal of rage, anger, sexism and hatred in some lyrics and much of it is misunderstood outside of the Black community. It is doubtful that William Bennett even has a clue! The best antidote to "bad" speech isn't censorship. It's MORE speech, free speech, "good" speech. William Bennett and his religious cohorts just cannot seem to learn that message; perhaps DeLores Tucker will, while there's still time. THEISTWATCH SHORT-SHOTS by Conrad Goeringer Let's lead off today's installment with a tip 'o the hat to American Atheists member Ron Barrier, for his great letter in USA TODAY (July 6, 1995). Under the heading "Student prayer ruins graduation ceremonies," Ron made some excellent points about this critical First Amendment issue, including: "Extremist groups like Focus on the Family are setting an unethical and un-American example by encouraging complete disregard and disrespect for the beliefs of other Americans and their families, as well as complete contempt for the First Amendment to our Constitution." Ron aptly labeled school prayer "cheap, side-show antics that serve no purpose other than to demonstrate to the uninterested just how pious (prayer advocates) they are." Amen! to that, Ron. *************** If you think that differing religious sects can't get along, events in the town of Steelton, Pennsylvania, suggest that even various blocs within the same religion don't tolerate each other. Consider the case of this town's new church, Prince of Peace. It was created by consolidating several other churches and parishes, including St. Mary's Church all part of a "downsizing" move by local church honchos faced with declining enrollment and attendance. The 125 parishes have been reduced to 99 (keep up the good work!), but the religious gerrymandering has offended parishioners who happen to be Croatian. Last Sunday, they poured into the Prince of Peace church intent on expressing their displeasure. They dressed in black, occupied the front of the church near the altar, and recited "The Lord's Prayer" in Croatian. Associated Press noted that one protester was "distressed when, during the Mass, sacramental oils from each of the five former parishes were blended in a ritual symbolizing their merger." "They're trying to blend us all together so we don't have any identity," said the disgruntled churchgoer. One's ideological alarm bells should be ringing loud and clear when people start talking about "identity" in such a context, or engage in acts of sympathetic magic like mixing "sacramental" brews and engaging in other acts of juju here in the twentieth century. As for the Croatian aspect of this, draw your own conclusions! *************** Is it to be PRESIDENT or POPE for California Congressman Robert K. Dornan? Choices, choices . . . It's still summer in New Hampshire, but Republican hopefuls are already lining up for that state's presidential primary, which so far has Sen. Bob Dole with a commanding lead and Texan Phil Gramm somewhat behind, but with plenty of conservative cash to spare. And further back is a ragtag assortment of wannabe's, including commentator Pat Buchanan, religious-conservative talk show host Alan Keyes, and Rep. Dornan. This unholy trinity gathered at the New Hampshire Conservative Political Victory Fund gathering on July 4 in Dunbarton, New Hampshire, before 500 righteous, religious and reactionary party faithful. Dornan decided to attack Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa, calling his Washington colleague a "Marxist creep." According to Reuters, he also "called for the excommunication of Catholics who support abortion and vowed to form a third party if the GOP nominated a pro-abortion rights candidate." Not be outdone, Buchanan promised, "If I am elected to the Oval Office, I will be the most pro-life president in the history of the republic." Yeah, Pat, that's what scares us about guys like you. And Mr. Dornan, let's get it straight once and for all. You're running to please the electorate, not the Roman Church Curia. *************** File this under the category "Dumbing Down in America." A study by Michigan State University finds that many common reading materials are, alas, "considerably beyond the comprehension of many adults." That includes lead newspaper stories which are written at the 12th grade level. Nearly one-fourth of adults with an average of ten years of schooling read only at the fourth-grade level. There's more: according to USA TODAY (July 6), "U.S. high school students who are not bound for college lag behind their French, German, and Scottish peers in academic skills." Quoting a study by the American Federation of Teachers, the paper went on to note that European students unlike Americans -- receive " 'consistent, coordinated instruction as they progress,' meet measurable standards and emerge better prepared for the workforce." And while religious conservatives are busy calling for school prayer and more religion as the solution to the world's problems, consider this: in his delightful new book "1939, The Lost World of the Fair," David Gelernter chronicles the history of that famous exhibition and the world in which it was held. Things, of course, were different then, but at least in the naivete of pre-World War II America, the attitude of the population toward science and technology was for the most part positive. Indeed, that fair with its Trylon and Perisphere symbolized a benevolent "world of tomorrow" and an affirmation of the philosophy of progress. And while only a fraction of the population had been to college (about 4 percent compared to 20 percent or so today), attitudes concerning education and learning were different. Gelernter notes that "the 1940 sixth-grader evidently knew around 25,000 words, versus 10,000 for the 1990's edition." One final note about that 1939 fair. The main attraction was the vast Futurama exhibit where tourists were whisked over a miniature future world complete with cities and superhighways. All of this was the creation of visionaries like Norman Bel Geddes. It portrayed a "gentle utopia, not a perfect but a comfortable one." Gelernter adds that "One thing the world of tomorrow DIDN'T have was churches, and their absence (in the Futurama tour) was noted with disapproval. . . . For the 1940 season hundreds were added." *********************************************************************** * * * American Atheists website: * * PO Box 140195 FTP: * * Austin, TX 78714-0195 * * Voice: (512) 458-1244 Dial-THE-ATHEIST: * * FAX: (512) 467-9525 (512) 458-5731 * * * * Atheist Viewpoint TV: * * Info on American Atheists:, * * & American Atheist Press include your name and mailing address * * AANEWS -Free subscription: * * and put "info aanews" in message body * * * * This text may be freely downloaded, reprinted, and/other * * otherwise redistributed, provided appropriate point of * * origin credit is given to American Atheists. * * * ***********************************************************************


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