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THEISTWATCH FOR JUNE 8, 1995 Washington, D.C.--HEARINGS BEGIN ON RELIGIOUS EQUALITY AMENDMENT United States--THE CULTURE WAR: RAPPERS BLAST BACK WHILE NEWT BACKS DOWN TO DOLE Ethiopia--ORTHODOX, EVANGELICALS SLUG IT OUT Cyberspace--QUESTION FROM A READER OF THEISTWATCH ____________________ ____________________ HEARINGS BEGIN ON RELIGIOUS EQUALITY AMENDMENT by Conrad Goeringer JUNE 8 -- The House Judiciary Committee began hearings on a proposed constitutional amendment which critics say would entangle government and religious doctrine. The proceedings are described as "laying the groundwork" for a Republican-orchestrated Religious Equality Amendment which would mandate greater government accommodation to religious exercise, especially in schools and other public institutions. The amendment is the centerpiece in the Christian Coalition's "Contract With the American Family" presented last month. Citing alleged "hostility of public institutions toward religious exercise," the Coalition and its allies called for "voluntary, student and citizen-initiated free speech in non-compulsory settings such as courthouse lawns, high school graduation ceremonies and sports events." Working with the Christian Coalition on the Amendment is the American Center for Law and Justice. Both organizations were founded by television evangelist and Christian media- mogul Pat Robertson. Yesterday, Jay Sekulow, ACLJ director, claimed that the hearings are "an important moment in the ongoing struggle for religious liberty." Critics, however, charge that the hearings are just part of a political strategy by the Republican congress to "pay the bill" for evangelical fundamentalists who helped sweep the GOP into power in last November's congressional elections. The first 100 days of the new Congress witnessed the implementation of much of the GOP "Contract With America" economic agenda. Since then, a number of conservative religious leaders have expressed worry that social issues like abortion, school prayer and efforts to combat pornography, are being ignored. Strategists for GOP presidential candidates Sen. Bob Dole and Sen. Phil Gramm have much to worry about as well; they don't want to repeat the 1992 election debacle where George Bush lost votes because of doctrinaire religious stances on the abortion question. While many Americans favor GOP tax cuts and other economic strategies, they are deeply divided over social issues advanced by groups like the Christian Coalition. Although a number of liberal religious groups have expressed support for the idea of teaching religion as history in schools, many still oppose a Religious Equality Amendment. Professor Norman Redlich, former Dean of the New York University Law School, told the House Subcommittee on the Constitution that any amendment would erode the wall of separation between government and religion. "A constitutional amendment is no panacea," said Redlich, who is also co-chair of the American Jewish Congress Commission on Law and Social Action. "It would create a new and untested legal standard of uncertain meaning, and it would raise almost as many questions as it would answer old ones. "And of course, it would leave in doubt the status of dozens of Supreme Court and hundreds of lower court cases. Nothing on the horizon remotely justified such a wholesale revision of the First Amendment." Critics have also charged that Amendment backers really want to negate cases such as Lemon v. Kurtzman, which established guidelines in determining how government may act in regard to religious belief. The "Lemon test" enjoins the state from taking any action which has the primary effect of advancing religion, favoring one religion over another, or results in "excessive" entanglement between government and religion. First Amendment supporters maintain that Lemon and other cases protect the rights of nonbelievers, and even those in religious minorities, from rituals and practices of dominant religious groups. Other critics maintain that the Religious Equality Amendment is attempting to circumvent the "school prayer" issue and introduce religion into public schools under the guise of academic instruction. In 1963, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the famous Murray v. Curlett case that mandatory prayer and Bible recitation in public schools was unconstitutional. One of the litigants in that case was the prominent American Atheist, Madalyn Murray O'Hair. Critics charge that the amendment, though, while advocating "voluntary" prayer, is really a smokescreen to introduce religious belief in history and sociology classes. Others worry that it may even be a foundation for promoting so- called "scientific creationism" in biology classes. "Scientific creationism" is a belief used to counter evolutionary explanations of how life arose and developed, using instead a literal interpretation of the Bible as found in the book of Genesis. Scientists, educators, and others have denounced creationism as poor science and inappropriate for classroom settings and charge that alleged "proofs" of creationism are bogus. The exact wording for the proposed amendment has not yet been formulated. Last March, representatives from several Christian fundamentalists groups including Focus on the Family, Christian Coalition, and ACLJ met with Rep. John Istook whose task is getting any amendment through the elaborate hearing and ratification process. Reports since the March gathering suggest that amendment supporters are having difficulty in crafting precise wording that would pass House and Senate scrutiny, as well as ratification by individual states. THE CULTURE WAR: RAPPERS BLAST BACK WHILE NEWT BACKS DOWN TO DOLE by Conrad F. Goeringer Not everyone is ganging up on Hollywood and the rest of the entertainment industry, despite charges by GOP presidential hopeful Sen. Robert Dole. Last week Dole grabbed headlines by claiming that violence, sex and profanity in the entertainment world was leading the United States down the road to ruin. Critics saw Dole's "culture war" offensive as pandering to the evangelical Christian right, whose support he may need in clinching the Republican nomination next year and in running against Bill Clinton. One of Dole's targets was Time Warner, Inc. which happens to own 50 percent of Interscope, a distributor of major rap music artists such as 2Pac (Tupac Shakur), Dr. Dre and Snoop Doggy Dog. 2Pac has been imprisoned on sexual assault charges, and the Dr. and the Dog face murder counts. A lot of White social actions groups -- and even some Black organizations -- don't like the "gangsta' rap" message of Interscope artists, and some of the other rap labels. On Thursday, June 8, representatives of the Recording Industry Association of America met in Washington, D.C., to "discuss the current scrutiny of music lyrics." RIAA has supported the parental "warning labels" on CDs, but skeptics note that the presence of such labels merely helps their sales. When a 2 Live Crew album drew criticism for its lusty lyrics and cover art of bare bottoms, two editions were produced. The "sanitized" version, though, accounted for only about 10 percent of sales. Some rappers are now beginning to take on the 71-year-old Kansas senator. Pudgee the Phat Bastard told USA TODAY that Dole "is a politicians who's brown-nosing the conservative community." "And why isn't (Dole) addressing how the World Trade Center got attacked?", asked Bushwick Billy, insisting that Bosnia was a more important issue than rap lyrics, and claiming that rappers are "easy targets." Meanwhile, the executive producer of the soundtrack for "Tales From the Hood" said that more attention needs to be paid to the conditions which motivate rap music. "Why do rappers have to live where drive-by shootings are high and educational opportunities are low?", asked Larry Robinson. Dole's statement that Hollywood and the rest of the entertainment world was "mainstreaming deviancy" seems to have drawn support even from liberals. They seemed to have more courage back in 1992 when Vice President Dan Quayle attacked the television character Murphy Brown for being an unwed mom. But that was before last year's Congressional elections, when the GOP -- supported with large contributions of money and volunteer help from the Christian evangelical right -- swept the elections and gained control of both the House and Senate for the first time in four decades. Critics charge many liberals with "backpeddling" on the sex-violence issue. Dole's cultural cleansing campaign dovetails with efforts of evangelical groups which for years have worked for tougher laws to regulate violence, sex, profanity, and even criticism of religion and religious "values" in the media. Dole told an anti-pornography group last week that his motivation in taking on the entertainment industry had nothing to do with politics, but critics charge the Senate Majority Leader with trying to exaggerate the problems and ignore other issues. Indeed, a USA TODAY poll showed that 67 percent of those questions believed that "candidates are just playing politics" in criticizing violence and sex in media. Newt Waffles Over the weekend, Dole also blasted fellow Republican, House Speaker Newt Gingrich, for some of the racier paragraphs in his soon-to-be-released action book, "1945." Due in July, Gingrich's thriller tells the story of a presidential aide seduced by a German intelligence agent, Erica von Strasse, who at times is described as a seductive "sex kitten." While it's tame stuff for the best-seller market, Dole still found fault with Gingrich -- and today it was learned that whole phrases are now being chopped from "1945." Among the luke-warm paragraphs: "even though it had been only minutes since their last lovemaking" and "shameless pleasures." Unfortunately, while Erica remains a "sex kitten," she will no longer sit "athwart his chest . . . poised . . . like delicious doom above him", or threaten to make him (the presidential assistant) "do terrible things." While "1945" isn't exactly graphic and steamy, the fact that the New York Times syndicate which has the rights to the novel would alter copy seemingly in response to Dole's attack, demonstrates just how far the literary community might cave in to public pressure. And while 65 percent of the USA TODAY respondents agreed that the entertainment industry is "seriously out of touch" with the values of the country, they continue to watch action thrillers, steamy television (even if it consists of shows like "Melrose Place" or "Baywatch"), or read the sex-obsessed magazines at the check-out counter. We may as a country talk about purity, but we're worried about bust size, tight buns, sexual potency, and driving a car which -- say some -- is the ultimate sex statement. But maybe guys like Dole have a chauffeur. ORTHODOX, EVANGELICALS SLUG IT OUT IN ETHIOPIA by Conrad F. Goeringer Feeling that they must take the "word of (their) god" to other countries, evangelical Christians have been mounting an intense effort to win converts throughout Europe and even the Islamic-dominated Middle East. Many of these efforts have met with official opposition, and even violence from other religious groups. A recent case in point is the recent organized by California evangelist Reinhard Bonnke, slated for Meskel Square in Addis Ababa. Orthodox Christians poured out of their local church last April and charged police lines surrounding the crusade. Three truckloads of the rioters were carted away to jail. According to Christianity Today magazine, newspapers which support the Ethiopian Orthodox church had warned of "heretics" and the "antichrist" at the Bonnke rally. Orthodox fanatics also had tried to disrupt a Billy Graham video crusade and rally there in March. The riot prompted police to revoke permission for the crusade due to fears of violence. In 1993, Bonnke had to cancel a campaign scheduled in Mali due to fears of disruptions. His group has had repeated clashes in other predominantly Muslim, African countries, according to Christianity Today. Muslim and Orthodox groups are often wary of European and especially American evangelicals as agents of political or cultural "imperialism." They also do not want the competition for followers; in many countries, established religions have enjoyed a special relationship with governments in power, and see Protestant or even militant Catholic movements as upstarts. But events like the Bonnke crusade show that world religious unity, of even limited ecumenism for Christians, while a goal of the Vatican and major Protestant bodies still remains elusive. Entrenched religions must contend with the modern tools which "upstart" religions often employ, including satellite broadcasts, media ads, cassette tapes and movies. Evangelizing is no longer seen as a way to garner "souls," but to win the numbers game in an ongoing religious turf war. QUESTION FROM A READER OF THEISTWATCH From: To: Date: Wed, 7 Jun 1995 22:24:06 -0400 Subject: Re: TW: June 7, 1995 Hello!: Just a short note to say "great job!!" I love what you're doing here. You're doing a great service by exposing the insanity of religious ideas and practices throughout the world. By the way, who is Conrad Goeringer? I really like his analysis and writing style. Sincerely, Ed Malenka MODERATOR'S RESPONSE: Thank you! There's a lot of news to sift through, but we try to do it as speedily, accurately, and often as possible. Conrad Goeringer has been an activist with American Atheists for almost two decades, starting as the director of its Tucson Chapter in the late 1970s and then later becoming its Outreach Director. Currently, he serves on the board of the American Atheist Library. Professionally, he is an antiquarian book dealer and freelance writer living in the cape of New Jersey. Mr. Goeringer took over the primary writing responsibilities for TheistWatch in April, after it was made available on the Internet. --R. Murray-O'Hair, Moderator, TheistWatch *********************************************************************** * * * 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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