THEISTWATCH FOR MAY 16, 1995 UNITED STATES - School Prayer/+quot;Religious Equality+quot;
THEISTWATCH FOR MAY 16, 1995
UNITED STATES--School Prayer/"Religious Equality" Amendment in
GEORGIA--Anti-Abortion Agenda Gets Short Billing at GOP Fest
UNITED STATES--Buchanan: No Plans for Third Party Bid
WASHINGTON--Proposed Embassy Move Has Serious Theo-political
WORLD--TheistWatch Short Shots
SCHOOL PRAYER/"RELIGIOUS EQUALITY" AMENDMENT IN TROUBLE
School Prayer Advocates Are Trying to Win Their Case With a
"Religious Equality" Amendment to the Constitution. But
Language is Proving to be a Difficult Problem.
by Conrad F. Goeringer
TW(5/16) -- On the eve of the Christian Coalition's
unveiling of its "Contract With the American Family," a key
piece of the group's social agenda -- getting prayer and
religious instruction back into the public schools -- has
encountered new obstacles.
Originally, everyone from the Coalition and its allies
in Congress like House Majority Newt Gingrich were aiming for
a July 4, 1995, deadline in their timing for a constitutional
amendment. Gingrich turned the logistics and details over to
Rep. Eugene Istook (R-Okla.), who met with a number of
Christian evangelical groups in March.
Realizing that a simple legislative bill to return
prayer to the public schools probably would not pass
constitutional review by the Supreme Court even if it cleared
Congress, the group decided on a broader strategy. School
prayer is now part of a larger constitutional amendment still
being crafted, which would attempt to deal with other issues
concerning "religious equality." But there are problems in
crafting such an amendment. Jay Sekulow of the American
Center for Law and Justice -- a group founded by TV
evangelist Pat Robertson, and one of the participants in the
March get-together with Istook -- told USA TODAY (May 15)
that "this is an amendment to the Constitution, and it needs
to be done properly." Gary Bauer of the Family Research
Council was a bit more forthright though; "If you get 10
legal scholars in a room to talk about this, you get 11
Now some observers believe that even Speaker Gingrich
admits that the amendment will not be ready for the original
July 4 deadline. Amendment supporters are desperately trying
to find language which will not offend social and political
moderates, but still achieve the goal of allowing a broad
range of religious activities in the school.
One version would have required government not to "deny
benefits or otherwise discriminate against" anyone on
religious grounds. While a number of forms of discrimination
based on religious bias are prohibited by national, state and
local laws, critics say that this specific wording opened the
door for school voucher schemes. That version was dropped.
A Potential Ambush?
By crafting the proposed amendment in terms of religious
expression and liberty, supporters of school prayer hope to
have legislation which appears more acceptable than previous
unsuccessful legislative efforts. President Clinton, for
instance, says that he would support a "moment of silence,"
but opposes a prayer. Amendment boosters have also
apparently abandoned the notion of a "mandatory" prayer,
insisting that they do not seek to compel others to pray.
Some liberal denominations are finding this acceptable.
But supporters of state/church separation see a potential
ambush in any Religious Liberties Amendment. While Istook's
group wants to guarantee rights for religious students clubs
and similar activities, it must still confront the question
of coercion in the classroom. While students may not be
forced to pray, those who do not pray often experience
harassment, exclusion, other forms of peer group pressure and
even violence. And praying as a group in the classroom is
not the same as individual religious kids praying in the
cafeteria before lunch. Activities in the classroom are part
of the "official school day." It is difficult to see how a
teacher, or even a student, orchestrating a prayer does not
constitute the sanction of religious ritual.
There are other problems as well. Attempts to emphasize
religion as an integral part of American history raise
serious questions concerning the version of history which may
be taught. Just as different religious groups quarreled
over whose edition of the Bible was to be read in classes,
different groups can well have serious disagreements over
whose religious exploits shall be taught. Some critics ask
if even a "comparative religion" course can objectively be
presented by a person who is an advocate for religion.
Other parts of the school curriculum, such as those
dealing with "values" and ethics, may become potential
situations for religious indoctrination or proselytizing as
It remains to be seen whether school prayer legislation
in its new, dressed up format of a Religious Equality
Amendment can manage to get support from two-thirds of the
Congress and then be ratified by three-fourths of the
individual States. An Istook aide told USA TODAY "It's a
heck of a project. . . . We're going to have one good shot to
pass this. It has to be straightforward and has to have all
the intended consequences and none of the unintended
An Unnecessary Response
State/church separation advocates, though, insist that
there is freedom of and from religion, and that the First
Amendment has done a sufficient job for the most part in
guaranteeing both. Some point to the numerous listings which
can be found in just about any phone book yellow-pages under
the heading "Churches" -- or the "Religion" section of
newspapers -- to demonstrate that religious people have ample
opportunity and facility to exercise their beliefs and
rituals. They insist that trying to move religion into
public institutions, especially school classrooms, is more
than free exercise -- it amounts to an endorsement by the
government of religious belief. Critics also insist that the
need for a Religious Equality Amendment simply does not exist;
they say that youngsters in public schools are free to pray
on their own time, but that prayer and religious
indoctrination have no place in the public school system.
Charges that rights of religious students are being violated
are simply "bogus" and is simply an attempt to reinstate
prayer -- in some form -- into government.
But people on both sides of the school prayer issue will
be watching tomorrow, Wednesday, May 17, when the Christian
Coalition unveils its program. Director Ralph Reed insists
that "they (the points in the CC Contract) aren't the ten
commandments." But critics know that after the role groups
like his played in the November elections, the Coalition
points are items on a political bill which has come due.
ANTI-ABORTION AGENDA GETS SHORT BILLING AT GOP FEST
by Conrad F. Goeringer
In another indication that some Republicans are trying
to avoid hot topics like abortion, a GOP weekend get-together
in Georgia over the weekend of May 13 saw little mention of
the anti-choice agenda, even by some of the party standard-
bearers. Senate Republican Leader Bob Dole -- considered to
be the front-runner for the nomination in 1996 -- did not
mention abortion in his videotaped message to the gathering.
Nor did former Tennessee Gov. Lamar Alexander. Nor did Gov.
A few "Keep Our Platform Pro-Life" buttons were noticed,
but according to news reports the talk was about the need to
stress economic issues, and avoid the abortion debate.
Sen. Phil Gramm of Texas included only one reference to
the subject when he said "I want every child welcomed into
life and love." And about the only candidate who discussed
the subject was syndicated talk-show host and former State
Department official Alan Keyes. He blasted the Roe v. Wade
decision as "a constitutional principle that strikes at the
heart of our basic moral values." He continued: "None of us
has the right for our utilitarian purposes or our convenience
to take the life of another human being. . . . I'm spreading
the word that the Republican party cannot retreat from it."
Many Republicans, however, would like to retreat from the
abortion issue. Some observers say that it cost the GOP the
White House in the last election, when George Bush and Dan
Quayle decided to run on a platform of "family values." The
GOP strategy of stressing economic issues seemed to have
worked in the 1994 congressional elections, however, as the
party gained control of both the House of Representatives and
the U.S. Senate. The Georgia meeting underscores the un-
easiness of many GOP leaders on the abortion question and
related social issues such as school prayer and vouchers for
parochial schools. Both Dole and Gramm are "under pressure"
from conservative evangelicals to stress a right-wing,
fundamentalist social agenda -- a move that could cost either
candidate votes in a race against President Clinton.
BUCHANAN; NO PLANS FOR THIRD PARTY BID
by Conrad F. Goeringer
Conservative commentator and GOP presidential hopeful
Pat Buchanan said last Friday (5/12) that he will not launch
a third party bid if he is unsuccessful in winning the
Republican nomination. Buchanan made the remark while
appearing on John McLaughlin's "One on One" TV program.
In 1992, Buchanan ran against incumbent President George
Bush. Although Bush won the nomination handily, Buchanan's
candidacy drew the President out on a number of issues. To
keep the loyalty of the party's fundamentalist Christian
right wing, Bush and then Vice-President Dan Quayle pushed
their "family values" oriented campaign.
Despite Bush's enormous popularity stemming from the war
with Iraq (he had a record 79 percent approval rating in some
polls), Bill Clinton defeated the incumbent president. Some
attributed the GOP loss to the party platform's opposition to
legal abortion, and its stand on other social issues.
Buchanan's withdrawal from any third party bid means that
some social conservative groups will be out in the cold if
they do not succeed in shaping a GOP platform -- and having a
presidential candidate -- to their liking.
PROPOSED EMBASSY MOVE HAS SERIOUS THEO-POLITICAL CONSEQUENCES
A Bill Submitted by Sen. Robert Dole Would Move the U.S.
Embassy In Israel From Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Does This
Endanger the Peace Process?
by Conrad F. Goeringer
A bill introduced last Tuesday (May 9) by Sen. Robert
Dole to relocate the U.S. Embassy in Israel is seen as a
possible threat to the fragile peace process there attempting
to unite progressive elements on both sides. Dole's bill
called for construction of a new embassy building to begin by
next year, and for the move to be completed by May 1999.
Muslims in Jerusalem says that the land for the proposed
site belongs to them.The U.S. has leased the undeveloped 10-
acre plot since the late 1980s from the Israel Land
Authority. The Islamic Waqf, a bureau which oversees Muslim
"holy places" in Jerusalem and the West Bank, says that it
has owned the parcel for at least 200 years. The director of
the Waqf was quoted by the New York Times as insisting that
"There is no possibility for argument about this land because
God does not allow the transferring of Islamic property to
Dole's bill also drew immediate outrage from the Clinton
administration, which feels that such a move would only serve
to endanger the delicate peace negotiations going on between
Israelis and Palestinians.
A Religious Basis
The land is symbolically important to a number of
factions. Muslims see Jerusalem as their territory. A holy
site known as the Mount is supposedly the place from which
their prophet Mohammed flew off to heaven. Zionist Jews lay
claim to the same real estate insisting that King David, a
Hebrew oligarch, established Jerusalem as the capital for the
Jewish nation 3,000 years ago. And there is a bizarre appeal
in this for fundamentalist Christians as well, who see any
move declaring Jerusalem as a Jewish capital -- and the
possible rebuilding of King David's temple -- as signs that
events foretold in the Bible, including the return of the
Messiah, are coming to pass.
Is Dole Pandering to Jews, Christians?
From the viewpoint of the State Department, Dole's
proposed legislation couldn't come at a worse time. The long
road to some kind of a peace process has been a rocky one,
especially since the Six Day War in 1967. The Palestinian
Liberation Organization (PLO) is under pressure to disengage
from Israel from fundamentalist Islamic gangs like the Hamas.
And Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin finds himself under
attack as well from the right-wing Likud Party and other
fundamentalist groups critical of any negotiations with the
But the timing may be right for Sen. Dole who is running
for president. In the Saturday, May 13, New York Post,
columnist Richard Cohen noted "Every four years, the season
for pandering to the Jewish community by politicians of both
parties, usually coincides with the New York primary, but
this year it has come early." Cohen went on to criticize Dole
for "thinking more about San Diego and the Republican
convention than Jerusalem and the peace process."
Not surprisingly, Dole boosted his "Jerusalem Embassy
Implementation Act of 1995" in a talk before the American-
Israeli Public Affairs Committee. Although Jews in that
audience applauded Dole's bill, even the Israeli government
is cool to it. While it would like to see the U.S. Embassy
move to Jerusalem, doing so now raises concerns over the
immediate consequences. Cohen also noted that the Likud Party
leaders "urged Dole and others to introduce their bill,"
referring to the Implementation Act.
The Dole bill also undercuts efforts by secular Israelis
and Palestinians to bridge the gap between their peoples and
construct non-religious institutions as the basis of a
lasting peace. Most Palestinians still support the
relatively-separationist vision of the moderate PLO, and
reject Muslim fundamentalism. A growing number of Israelis,
particularly youth, oppose their own restrictive and
superstitious theocracy, and worry about groups such as the
Likud Party and other right-wing movements. Neither of these
secular elements is getting any help from Senator Dole.
And there is a Christian agenda at work here as well. Both
Dole and Republican Senator Phil Gramm of Texas are in a race
for the GOP presidential nomination. Both are running hard to
establish their religious (specifically Christian)
fundamentalist credentials. Each has been speaking to
conservative Christian groups for the past several weeks,
including Jerry Falwell's Liberty University. Both need
support from Jewish and Christian groups, but especially the
latter. (More progressive, secular "Jews" seem to back
Senator Arlen Specter, who is rapidly establishing himself as
a civil libertarian and state/church separationist -- and an
alternative to the Dole/Gramm axis in the GOP).
Christian fundamentalists since the late 1970s have been
ardent supporters of the Israeli state for a number of
reasons. Israel was seen as a U.S. ally and bastion in the
Mid East against Communism -- a perception dating back to the
1950s when Egypt's General Nasser tried to form a Pan-Arab
movement, and gradually drifted into a loose working alliance
with the Soviet Union. The defeat by Israel of combined Arab armies
using Soviet weaponry confirmed this perception in the minds of many.
But concern for Jews or Israelis as a people, per se,
is not the main reason for Christian evangelical interest in
that area. Certain Christians see Jews as "chosen" people,
but only in a certain way: the consolidation of the Jewish
state in the modern era, the use of Jerusalem as its capitol,
and finally the rebuilding of the Temple are all crucial
signs in Christian eschatology. Groups in the United States
such as the Washington, D.C based "Christian Embassy"
maintain 'round-the-clock prayer vigils on behalf of the
rebuilding of the Temple. The Israeli government itself is
aware of the strange alliance between some fundamentalist
Jews and U.S. Christians who actually stockpile materials for
such a project and have plans for its rapid implementation.
Having the "politically correct" line on issues such as
Israel's role in the return of the Christian messiah only
shores up the social conservative perception of Robert Dole,
candidate. In his AIPAC talk last week, Dole mentioned that
1996 will mark "the 3,000th anniversary of King David's
establishment of Jerusalem as the Capital of Israel" -- a
remark laden with political and theological implications.
Richard Cohen also noted that Dole himself once opposed
relocating the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv. "Dole
acknowledged that in his speech", said Cohen. "He went on to
say, however, that much has changed since the old days. . . .
What he did not mention is the critical change . . . in his
own status. He is now a Presidential candidate."
Should Jerusalem be the Israeli capital? That assumes
that the individuals calling themselves "Jews" --
specifically "Israeli Jews" -- have some sort of magical
claim to a piece of desert real estate inhabited thousands of
years ago by people from whom they insist they descended. Arabs,
Jews and Christians have battled over the "holy city" for
centuries. And today, officials in Jerusalem continue to
seize land; in fact, they now want to seize hundreds of acres
beyond the 134 acres whose planned confiscation was announced
two weeks ago.
Secular Institutions the Only Clear, Lasting Answer
So long as politics in the Middle East (and elsewhere)
is driven by religious doctrines, there may well be no
meaningful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian dilemma -- or,
for that matter, to Israel's precarious relations with a
variety of authoritarian, semi-feudal Arab states. There are
indications, however, that many young people, workers and
intellectuals on both sides of the dividing line -- Arab and
"Jew" -- seek a solution different from that of religious
In the meantime, Dole's "Jerusalem Embassy
Implementation Act of 1995" is designed more to affect voters
at home than people thousands of miles away who are
desperately seeking peace.
(A Brief Note on Terminology)
Some experts have insisted that those individuals
identified as "Palestinians" are not "Arabs," and that this
latter group does not include "Egyptians." I use the term
"Palestinian" to refer to those who have lived in that area
for several generations; their problems are unique to them,
and in many respects the Palestinians really have little in
common with the reactionary Arab satraps and dictatorships
which claim to support them. A similar problem exists in the
use of the term "Jew." Is it a race? A culture? A religion?
I don't promise to have an answer to that; but there are
Israeli's who some might describe as "Jews" who are
secularists and oppose many of that government's actions and
I hope that the numbers of "Palestinians" and Israelis
("Jews") struggling for separation of government and
religion, and the establishment of secular institutions,
continues to grow. It is with them that the best chances for
peace and progress in that troubled part of the world will
someday be found.
On Thursday, May 11, Iranian television broadcast the
1979 movie "Running" starring Michael Douglas. But seventy
minutes into the film, it was suddenly replaced with a dead
screen, followed by nature shots accompanied by violin music.
An exciting program about polio vaccinations came on after
that, and finally an announcer who declared: "Good evening,
dear compatriots, we regret we are unable to proceed with our
feature film due to a problem in broadcasting it."
Seems that "Running" featured people doing just that,
but they happened to be wearing shorts and sleeveless tops
and some of the runners were female. Turns out that exposed
female limbs are against Islamic fundamentalist mores, which
explains the notorious "wearing of the veil." Don't look for
"Deadly Intentions" on Iranian TV anytime soon.
A recent article in Harper's (3/95) titled "Reactionary
Chic" lists a disturbing quote by popular conservative-
religionist Cal Thomas whose column appears in hundreds of
newspapers throughout the country. Says Thomas: "If we will
not be constrained from within by the power of God, we must
be constrained from without by the power of the State, acting
as God's agent." 'nuff said.
In the entire Middle East, only two countries are known
to permit M-TV on the airwaves Iraq and Israel. What does
that say about politics in that part of the world, Butthead?
An attempt at Atheist humor: What do you get when you
cross an Atheist with a Jehovah's Witness? Someone who knocks
on your door for absolutely no reason.
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