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THEISTWATCH FOR JUNE 12, 1995 Contents: United States--JEWISH GROUPS TO ACCEPT CHRISTIAN COALITION? Utah- -RELIGIOUS LYRICS DIVIDE SALT LAKE CITY SCHOOL New York--RELIGIOUS KULTUR-GURU WANTS TAX ON "SLASHER'' FILMS Washington, D.C.--CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT TO PUSH "CREATIONISM" IN PUBLIC SCHOOLS? (Part 2 of 2) World--THEISTWATCH SHORT SHOTS __________________ __________________ JEWISH GROUPS TO ACCEPT CHRISTIAN COALITION? The American Jewish Committee Is Warned That "Jews Are on The Wrong Side of The Coming Culture Wars." by Conrad Goeringer Religious conservative Marshall Breger told a meeting of the American Jewish Committee last week that "The rise of the Christian right poses fundamental questions for Jews" and that they must begin to "reach out" to groups like the Christian Coalition. Failing to join in the nation's shift toward religious conservatism would render Jews "marginalized and irrelevant" politically, he said. Breger, a senior fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation, was a stand-in for Christian Coalition director Ralph Reed who had been scheduled as the keynote speaker, but canceled. He criticized what the Philadelphia Inquirer termed the "high Jewish involvement" in groups such as the National Organization for Women, NAACP, and ACLU, saying that too many Jews had "substituted liberal secularism for Jewish values." Other speakers, while not siding with Breger, were not anxious to challenge some basic assumptions. Rabbi A. James Rudin remarked that "America has lost its moral compass. It seems adrift. But we have an obligation as Jews to ask: Where will it point?" Rudin asserted that America has "never been a secular country, and it never will be," and that religious beliefs "have always shaped the public dialogue." Rudin, the director of interreligious affairs for the AJC, predicted that the Christian right would be a political force for some time, and asked Jews to determine what the role of religion was in society. "How high is the wall of separation between church and state?'', he asked. "What is the role and place of minorities in the majoritarian society." AJC attorney Samuel Rabinove compared remarks by Christian Coalition founder, TV evangelist Pat Robertson, to the slicker, toned-down statements of Ralph Reed. He noted a Robertson assertion that "only Christians and Jews should be entitled to hold public office," contrasting it with Reed's remark that the Coalition was not concerned with a political candidate's religion. "Which is it?" asked Rabinove. Murray Friedman, executive director of the American Jewish Committee's Philadelphia chapter, tried to distinguish between an older generation of evangelists typified by Robertson and the new batch of religious conservatives like the 33-year-old Reed. "They're not hillbillies," declared Friedman. "Many of them (the new evangelicals) are middle class, or upper middle class. They are educated. They don't fit easy formulas, they're here to stay and they're in tune with a large number of Americans." Traditionally, the AJC has been taken liberal, progressive stances on a range of social issues including abortion, women's rights, and the prayer in the schools. Just last week, an AJC representative testified before the U.S. House Judiciary Committee against a proposed "Religious Equality Amendment," a centerpiece in the Christian Coalition's "Contract With the American Family." Jews and Jewish organizations in the U.S. have also been wary of the longtime link between right-wing Christian evangelicals and racist anti-Semitism. Pat Robertson's best selling book "The New World Order," for instance, has made many Jews skeptical because of its use of classic anti-Semitic hate sources and references to "International Bankers," a code-phrase for "International Jews." But the debate going on inside Jewish groups like the AJC is testimony to the success of the Christian Coalition in convincing many that it has tapped into some vague American consensus on values and politics. That perception may be encouraging some Jews to place the objective of what Breger termed being "at home in America" over fighting for social justice. The debate also ignores those millions of Americans who are NOT "Judeo-Christians." Even if Jews were included in a "religious test" for holding office or exercising other rights, millions of Americans are in other religions or more likely have no religious belief. What about them? In the meantime, if last week's AJC meeting is any indication, Ralph Reed and the Christian Coalition are making inroads in the effort to "reach out" to otherwise-liberal or progressive groups. The Coalition has indeed offered the hand of friendship; the skeptical might ask, though, if the other hand isn't holding a club. RELIGIOUS LYRICS DIVIDE SALT LAKE CITY SCHOOL Chaos Erupts After Students Insist on Religious Carols During Graduation Ceremony. Others Are Insulted. by Conrad F. Goeringer Last Wednesday's (June 7) graduation ceremony for West High in Salt Lake City was disrupted when a faction of students insisted on singing religious carols despite a federal court order. On June 1, a West High student, sophomore Rachel Bauchman sued the school district, objecting to songs which were part of the a cappella choir's program, such as "Friends" and "The Lord Bless You and Keep You," due to their religious overtones. A federal judge initially refused to ban the songs, but then the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the ruling and ordered the choir not to sing the numbers. Last Wednesday night, however, numerous students followed the lead of William Badger, a student who is not in the a cappella choir, who moved to the podium during graduation ceremonies and urged the audience to sing one of the court-banned pieces. Allegedly, copies of the lyrics to the songs had been distributed throughout the audience. Badger insisted that the piece known as "Friends" was a West High commencement tradition "for more than half a decade." The incidents highlights the growing conflict over the role of religion in public schools. The Deseret News, in an opinion column last Friday, declared that "Banning student prayers at graduation rites was bad enough, but to outlaw the words God and Lord as they occur in choral music sets a disturbing precedent that is tantamount to erasing even the smallest hint of religion of any kind and drastically shrinking the world of music in the process." Will Badger has hired attorney Jim McConkie to represent him, fearing possible legal repercussions over his actions. He told a press conference last Saturday that "I stand by what I said and did that (graduation ceremony) night because it is something I believe strongly in." He added that "Our country was intended to have freedom of religion, not freedom from religion." McConkie said that his client's actions were a form of free speech and not religious intolerance. Meanwhile, Rachel Bauchman has become a heroine for state/church separationists in Utah and a target of vilification for others. The Salt Lake City Tribune says that conspiracy theories about the Bauchman family are spreading, including one which claims that the family pulled "similar stunts" in Texas and New York where they once lived. "Some believe the Bauchmans are part of some well-funded Jewish conspiracy," noted the Tribune. And what about William Badger, the boy who encouraged the audience and fellow students to sing out? He said that "We should honor the traditions of both Judaism and Christianity, indeed all religions and broaden our minds." Critics, however, maintain that the recitation or singing of any religious verses has no place in a public school. Some used the term "mob" in describing the actions of those who did sing and lamented that the West High graduation ceremony became a platform for political controversy. Others pointed out that the incident overshadowed a remarkable academic record for the graduation class; half of the students had scored in the 90th percentile on their SAT's (Scholastic Aptitude Tests) and the school had won 40 percent of the first-place awards in local athletic contests. The West High incident, though, is another chapter in a long history of problems involving schools -- and indeed many other government institutions in Utah -- where problems of state/church separation have arose. And it suggests that religious belief, rather than unifying a community, often drives people apart. ****************** IT'S MORE THAN A TRADITION . . . The Words In the Controversial Song "Friends" Are Not Only Religious -- They've Religion-Specific. by Conrad F. Goeringer Words in a song which prompted last Wednesday's ruckus in a Salt Lake City high school graduation ceremony were called a "tradition" by one student organizer. But the song "Friends" is loaded with religious terms, some of which -- like "Lord" and "Father" -- suggest a distinctly Christian religion. We doubt that anything else would be permitted in Utah, a state which is the home base for the Church of Latter-Day Saints, or Mormons, and which has seen more than its fair share of state/church litigation in recent years. So, you decide for yourself. THEISTWATCH picked up the lyrics from Sunday's (June 11) edition of the Salt Lake Tribune. "Friends" was written by Michael W. Smith and Deborah Smith. Copyright 1982, Reunion and Geffen Records: "Packing up the dreams God planted In the fertile soil of you Can't believe the hope He's granted Means a chapter in your life is through. But we'll keep you close as always. It won't even seem you've gone 'Cause our hearts in big and small ways Will keep the love that keeps us strong. (Chorus) And friends are friends forever If the Lord's the Lord of them And a friend will not say "never" 'Cause the welcome will not end Though it's hard to let you go In the Father's hands we know That a lifetime's not too long To live as friends. With the faith and love God's given Springing from the hope we know We will pray the joy you'll live in Is the strength that now you show. But we'll keep you close as always It won't even seem you've gone 'Cause our hearts in big and small ways Will keep the love that keeps us strong. RELIGIOUS KULTUR-GURU WANTS TAX ON "SLASHER'' FILMS by Conrad F. Goeringer How far will "family values" advocates go to make sure that Hollywood and television pump out only the type of entertainment they wish others to see? With Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole finding the film industry an easier target to discuss than Bosnia or trade agreements, religious conservatives are becoming increasingly bolder in their battle against an entertainment industry they charge is peddling sex, violence, profanity and blasphemy. And perhaps the most dangerous proposal yet comes from right-wing film critic Michael Medved, ironically the co-host on "Sneak Previews," whose book "Hollywood vs. America" did much to reignite a nationwide debate over censorship. Medved, who also serves as chief film critic for the New York Post, proposed in his latest nationally syndicated column that certain film makers be forced to pay what he termed a "slasher" tax to benefit the victims of crimes. Of course Medved, and most "anti-obscenity" crusaders, inevitably begin their diatribes insisting that they oppose government censorship or that their particular nostrum is anything BUT censorious. In fact, it's called the "BUT Argument." "I'm not for censorship," declare the cleanliness zealots, "BUT . . ." In Medved's case, he suggests that "Government (at the federal or state level) could encourage greater responsibility from creators and consumers without denying anyone's right to free expression." He then goes on to say that since certain movies having violent or sexual overtones are addicting (another cooptation of pop-psych lingo by the conservative right), there are "precedents" for taxing such movies -- such as warning labels on cigarettes or stiff levies on booze. "The slasher tax would send a powerful message that society disapproves and recognizes the long-term costs of these brutal diversions." And who decides whether the proposed 50-cents or $1 per ticket tax gets placed on a particular movie? Medved proposes "a panel of media and psychological experts, similar to the film board already established in federal legislation regarding selection of 'national treasures' film for special protection and preservation." This panel of Kultur elites -- a flip-side of the elite Medved and other critics charges now run Hollywood --would have "clear, coherent guidelines." Right. Medved's first candidate for the "slasher tax" seems to be the box office smash "Johnny Mnemonic," starring Keanu Reeves, and written by cyber-punk godfather William Gibson. "Johnny Mnemonic" is hot celluloid right now with the online, computer crowd; Keanu plans a high-tech courier who has crucial information downloaded into his head. Gibson told the latest issue of "Wired" Magazine that the movie deals with the "politics of information" and that the film is "phrased as an action-chase piece, but our real agenda is a little more serious than that. We want to see him (Johnny) get the information for himself, escape, turn the tables on the bad guys. . . . But in the end he does something else and manages to become a human being in the process. I see it as a fable of the information age." Whatever the merits or faults of "Johnny Mnemonic," Medved calls the production "vile, hyper-violent, altogether irresponsible film" and suggests that nothing's wrong with slapping the "slasher tax" on it, so that the movie "A Little Princess" would be a better bargain at the box office. But if Medved sees "Johnny Mnemonic" as an orgy of violence, he says that movies such as "Schindler's List" are altogether a different story -- while violent, they should be exempt from the notorious tax. "Context is everything," says Medved. "The slasher tax should be reserved for those relatively rare releases than openly encourage simplemindedly bloody solutions to life's problems." Medved's proposal typifies the growing tendency of political advocates -- both right and left -- to turn to the government as the agency of choice in enforcing values, options and behaviors in the population. The "slasher tax" also demonstrates how far people will go in concocting schemes designed to technically circumvent free expression, while not saying so in public. Unfortunately, it is too late to argue over the civil liberties implications of warning labels and other "sin" taxes. The warning-label syndrome may someday be seen as a symptom of a society of complainers and whiners, a culture where it became the responsibility of government to "protect people from themselves." Even the placing of warning labels on records and CD's -- once considered extreme -- is now commonplace. But Medved bemoans the fact that Senator Dole, while firing the latest salvo against Hollywood and the rest of the entertainment industry, "offers no suggestions at all for governmental initiatives in response to media degradation. That's a shame, because justified fears of censorship -- and a healthy respect for the First Amendment -- need not altogether paralyze elected officials in the face of the worst extremes in entertainment." But it does. Contrary to Medved and others who would advance a religious or social agenda by tampering with the First Amendment, that amendment exists BECAUSE of "extremes." The First Amendment isn't needed to protect movies like "A Little Princess," "Hoop Dreams" or "family entertainment" so idolized by Medved. It's there to stop people like him from banning or trying to tax out of production films like Johnny Mnemonic, or even some cheesy remake of "Friday the 13th". Cable, videos and other technologies have created a veritable bazaar of entertainment options for all Americans. There are 24-hours-a-day "family viewing" networks, a Playboy Channel, Walt Disney movies, 'round the clock sports events for couch-jocks, even an oldies channel. There are abundant alternatives for everyone and every taste. But perhaps the real goal of those who propose the sneaky, "Censorship by the back door"-style of government control that Michael Medved wants, is raw, naked political and cultural power. Would the "slasher tax" even work? Medved has to admit that it wouldn't succeed "any more than 'sin taxes' on cigarettes and alcohol have eliminated our taste for tobacco or liquor." Then why have it? Why even propose it? Perhaps it is to see just how much Americans will tolerate in the dismantling of the Bill of Rights. In my book, that makes a guy like Michael Medved far more dangerous that Jason the chainsaw freak. CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT TO PUSH "CREATIONISM" IN PUBLIC SCHOOLS? (Part 2 of 2) Does "Teaching Religion" in Classes Threaten to Promote Pseudo- Science? by Conrad Goeringer Calls for a "Religious Equality Amendment" are being heard in Washington, especially by a Republican Congress which some say is largely beholden to the Christian evangelical right wing. For the first time in forty years, the GOP controls both the House and Senate. Pundits acknowledge that conservative religious groups such as the Christian Coalition played a major role in electing many young GOP freshmen -- and a number of incumbents -- to the 104th Congress. And as part of its "Contract With America," the Congress spent much of its first 100 days crafting major economic-reform legislation, covering the gamut from taxes to budget limits. That upset a number of Christian political activists, including Focus on the Family, Concerned Women for America and the anti- abortion groups. They see the new congressional session as "pay back" time to reward them for their grassroots efforts on behalf of the GOP, and its sweep of the November 1994 elections. The Christian Coalition late last month released its much- touted "Contract With the American Family," a sort of "friendly reminder" that the evangelical conservatives were determined to emphasize their own social agenda, even if issues such as censorship, abortion rights, gay rights and school prayer made some GOP officials nervous. The centerpiece for the Coalition and its allies is a "Religious Equality Amendment" which, they claim, would reverse a trend of alleged "government hostility" toward religious exercise in the schools and public square. Cited often are laws and Supreme Court decisions (such as the Murray v. Curlett case) which ended mandatory prayer and Bible recitation in public schools. A variety of social ills ranging from teen pregnancy to drug abuse are often blamed on the lack of religion in schools, at least by prayer advocates. Critics point out that prayer in schools was not universal even before the 1960s, was often cause for argument and discrimination, and is being used as a "magic bullet" in solving complex social problems. While the Christian Coalition "Contract" ostensibly rejects mandatory prayer in favor of "student initiated prayer," First Amendment and state/church separationists hold that even this practice tends to discriminate against children who, for whatever reason, do not choose to pray. And others worry that the prayer-in-school debate now overlooks an even greater problem, the use of "teaching religion" in history or social science classrooms. Critics charge that in addition to having a "Christian revisionist" history where religious stories are treated as historical facts -- the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, for instance -- bringing religion into classes also threatens accepted methods of presenting the physical sciences, including biology. They cite a growing trend toward so-called "Creationism." Creationists accept the inerrancy of the Bible and believe that the events described particularly in Genesis concerning the creation of the universe and the origin of life are to be taken literally. This requires that one accept notions such as all life forms -- dinosaurs, apes and humans -- being fashioned by a deity and existing simultaneously. Creationism's latest guise is "scientific creationism," promoted by a number of Christian evangelical groups and organizations such as the Institute for Creation Research in California. Whereas traditional creationists tried to ban the teaching of evolution outright -- as was the case leading to the famous "Monkey trial" in Tennessee -- today creationism is promoted under the guise of free speech, academic freedom, or being an "alternative" to evolutionary tenets. With a possible Religious Equality Amendment, "teaching religion" may give creationists the break they need to achieve major inroads into the public school educational system. Scientific organizations such as the American Association for the Advancement of Science have gone on record as opposing creationism, saying that it simply does not constitute a viable alternative to evolution. And courts have ruled that creationism is essentially a RELIGIOUS doctrine, not a scientific theory, and as such does not belong in school classrooms or labs dealing with biology and other physical sciences. But interpreting the distinction between creationism as religion and creationism as a scientific claim could well be perceived as "hostility" toward religious belief, especially with a Religious Equality Amendment. First Amendment advocates, worried about the threat to the separation of state and church, are increasingly concerned that any amendment would invite religion into the schools far beyond what even school prayer advocates envision. In addition to teaching religious myths and stories as historical fact, thus creating a kind of "Christian revisionism," religious bias may appear in course work involving the physical sciences. Educators already worry that American students get far too little instruction in basic sciences and math; indeed, total hours devoted to these areas in the course of the school year have been in decline for some time. American students also lag behind their counterparts throughout the world in the amount of school time devoted to sciences. "Hands-on" lab time has been cut back as well, in part due to budget constraints and even insurance costs. The long-term consequences of this widespread "scientific illiteracy" are alarming. But having religion intrude on the few hours per week devoted to hard sciences may be cause for more worry. A "Religious Equality Amendment" could likewise transform the whole mission of public education, making schools a forum for religious instruction rather than a place for the education of young minds. The start of the school day with a prayer may symbolize a vast change in how and what students learn. Indeed, "putting God back in school" may alter what is taught in classes, from history and social studies, to biology and chemistry. THEISTWATCH SHORT SHOTS by Conrad Goeringer A news conference is to be held today by those protesting a Washington, D.C. Board of Education decision to accept a ballot initiative on behalf of organized student prayer at all school events. American Civil Liberties Union and People for the American Way are going to court to reverse the Board's 2-1 decision voted on last May 16. While all board members went on record saying that the decision was blatantly unconstitutional, two suggested that the courts should rule on the matter. The suit charges that such religious ritual violates the D.C. Human Rights Act as well as the First Amendment. ****************** Here's something from USA TODAY that "family values" cheerleaders should look at. A study by Opinion Research Corporation found that 57 percent of those suffering from chronic heartburn were married, as opposed to 13 percent who never tied the knot. Seems that divorce clears up heartburn, too -- only 13 percent of divorcees have to chew antacids. The segment least affected were those individuals living in "sin" (2 percent) followed by those who were separated (3 percent). ****************** Remember the "Shouting Women"? THEISTWATCH covered the antics of Joan Sudwoj and Cynthia Balconi last April as they stormed into Roman Catholic churches around Greensburg, Pennsylvania, and shouted prayers. The pair managed to disrupt some church services, spook kids, and drown out a choir in the process. Not bad. They were cited for contempt of court on April 13 when they crashed church services at the Blessed Sacrament Cathedral. Seems that charges against the gals were dropped on June 2, since they toned things down and complied with court orders. The two belong to something called the Bayside Movement, and believe that the Virgin Mary appeared in 1970 in, of all places, Flushing, N.Y. and asked people to pray loudly to prevent worldwide disaster. God must be getting hard-of-hearing. ****************** Ecumenical Press reports that travel writer Arthur Frommer - - the guy that brings you the world on $5 a day -- is "horrified" about the town of Branson, Missouri. The country-music hot-spot has become a venue for what he calls "intensely political, extremely right-wing viewpoints," In his just-released book titled BRANSON1, he also charges entertainers with hypocrisy for singing gospel music while living lives that are anything BUT righteous. Seems to be an appropriate follow-up to comments a prof from Texas made several years ago about country-music lyrics. Listen up, Michael Medved and Tipper Gore! This "all-American music" form is filled with illiterate and ungrammatical phraseology, and themes of boozing, cheating, fighting, and . . . well, like we said, it's "all-American." ****************** Satanic panic almost struck New York recently, when officials found a mutilated bear which had a cross placed over it. Pundits suggested ritual murder by an elusive satanic coven -- did they run out of babies and cattle? Turns out that a 12- year-old found the carcass which had been shot by a hunter and gutted, then fashioned a cross from two sticks as a gesture of sympathy. ****************** 'Tis about time for some political and philosophical consistency in this world. A former prostitute in Florida who is identified in court records only as "Jane Roe II" (hearkening back to Roe. v. Wade) is arguing that if legal abortion means that women have absolute control over their own bodies, then prostitution should be legal. Her suit, now winding its way through Florida courts, also says that the right to privacy on which abortion is based should also cover consensual adult sex. ****************** And we have a bit of consistency from Rev. Jere Allen, executive director of the Southern Baptist Convention's Washington association. He wants the SBC to acknowledge at its upcoming annual meeting in Atlanta, George, that it was founded due to slavery. Seems that he's correct. Southern Baptist Convention was formed in 1845 when Baptists split over the debate of whether slave owners could also be missionaries of the Christian religion. Allen, a fifth-generation descendent of a North Carolina slave owner, says that an apology to all Blacks is needed. Others like Rev. Mark Coppinger are quoted in Ecumenical Press as questioning the importance of such a statement, and whether the church could meaningfully repent over "something done in 1845." Might be a start. *********************************************************************** * * * 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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