THEISTWATCH FOR JUNE 12, 1995 Contents: United States - JEWISH GROUPS TO ACCEPT CHRISTIAN
THEISTWATCH FOR JUNE 12, 1995
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
"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
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
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
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
"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.
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
"The slasher tax would send a powerful message that society
disapproves and recognizes the long-term costs of these brutal
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."
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
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
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-
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
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
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
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
'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
Might be a start.
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