Subject: News of the Religious Date: Thu, 22 Jun 1995 23:06:55 GMT NOTE: The following is

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From: (Theistwatch-l) Newsgroups: alt.atheism Subject: News of the Religious Date: Thu, 22 Jun 1995 23:06:55 GMT Message-ID: <> Organization: American Atheists, Inc. NOTE: The following is the June 22 installment of "TheistWatch," a mailing list sponsored by American Atheists, Inc. which surveys the religious left, right, and center. To subscribe to TheistWatch, email with the subject "subscribe." For more information about American Atheists, just email [Note: see updated contact information] THEISTWATCH FOR JUNE 22, 1995 _______________ _______________ Washington, D.C.--SENATE VOTE KILLS FOSTER NOMINATION Paris--EU, IRAN MEETING MAY CALL OFF RUSHDIE DEATH THREAT United States--CHRISTOPHER WARNS OF EMBASSY MOVE IN ISRAEL World--THEISTWATCH SHORT SHOTS _______________ _______________ SENATE VOTE KILLS FOSTER NOMINATION As Demonstrators Clash Outside, The Senates Caves In To Pressure from the Religious Right by Conrad F. Goeringer JUNE 22 The United States Senate this afternoon refused to end a filibuster, and in a 57-43 vote all but killed the nomination of Dr. Henry Foster as the nation's next Surgeon General. The Clinton administration's choice for the job had been in hot water for the past four months over his admission that he had performed abortions; anti-choice organizations quickly targeted Dr. Foster and vowed to make any vote on his confirmation a political litmus test in subsequent elections. The vote was a procedural roll call. Senate Majority Leader Robert Dole (R-Kan.) said that a "no" vote would result in Foster's nomination not being brought before the legislative body. Early reports on the Senate action say that today's vote "kills" Foster's chances of confirmation, and may result in the post of Surgeon General remaining vacant or possibly being abolished. In either case, it was a significant win for anti-abortionists who pressured Congress heavily to turn down Foster. Sen. Robert Smith (R-NH) led the Senate fight against the Nashville obstetrician, displaying dolls and vivid photos of so-called "partial birth abortions." Known also as D&X ("dilation and extraction"), these late term abortions while rare allegedly involve crushing the head of a fetus and extracting the body material. D & X abortions received extensive attention in the recent "Contract With The American Family" proposals of the Christian Coalition, and several states are now considering a ban on the procedure. Foster had never performed a late-term abortion. Critics see the furor over D&X as a canard and first step in banning all abortion services. President Clinton decried today's Senate vote, accusing Foster's opponents of "political correctness" and lack of fairness. Foster supporters in the Senate meanwhile charged that the Republicans had caved-in to right wing religious fundamentalists and were "playing politics." Religious Groups Kept Up Pressure As the Senate debated the Foster nomination yesterday, a meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention overwhelmingly endorsed a resolution opposing his appointment. The resolution originated in the SBC Christian Life Commission and urged Senators to "oppose the nomination and to support any filibuster which may be waged against the nomination." Baptist Press reported that some 95 percent of the SBC delegates endorsed the resolution. There was some debate over whether the resolution had racial overtones, since Foster is Black and the SBC voted earlier in the week to officially condemn its historical support of slavery. But Gary Frost, a vice president within the Southern Baptist Convention, insisted that "There is a clear distinction between racial and moral issues. . . . The issue is abortion, which is an abomination before God." One Baptist from Atlanta, Georgia, said that the resolution on Foster was "a violation of the separation of church and state." Following the vote, the resolution was immediately transmitted to Senator Phil Gramm. Both Gramm and Senator Dole are vying for the GOP Presidential nomination, and both have been fighting to shore up their credentials with the religious right. Outside of the Capitol today, pro-choice and anti- abortion demonstrators clashed. Randall Terry of Operation Rescue fame gloated that "you'll (pro-choice individuals) will have to support Foster back in Tennessee now!" Republicans Still Beholden to Christian Right It had been hoped that several GOP Senators would "break ranks" in the face of the anti-choice pressure on Congress and support a vote on Foster's nomination. It didn't happen, though. Anti-abortionists succeeded in portraying Foster as a man who had done something wrong by merely performing abortions; that coupled with the doctor's support of condom distribution made abortion the issue in the Foster debate, not his qualifications for the job. While technically still the nominee, it appears that Henry Foster along with American women have lost an important round in the battle for civil liberties. --30-- EU, IRAN MEETING MAY CALL OFF RUSHDIE DEATH THREAT "Like Turning A Giant Ship Around," Says Supporter by Conrad F. Goeringer Economics and religious ideology are again colliding, as representatives of the European Union and Iran met on Thursday, June 22 in Paris to discuss the death sentence against novelist Salman Rushdie. It was six years ago that the late Ayatollah Khomeini called for a $6 million murder contract on the writer for his controversial novel, "The Satanic Verses." Although the book was initially quite popular throughout the Middle East, Muslim fundamentalists began demonstrating and rioting, claiming that Rushdie had blasphemed the prophet Mohammed by allegedly portraying his multiple wives as harlots. Rushdie "is and always has been a political tool," according to Carmel Bedford of the International Rushdie Defense Committee. Observers say that the fatwa, a religious dictate calling upon Muslims everywhere to kill Salman Rushdie, was originally designed to distract attention from problems inside of Iran and unite followers of Islam in exporting that country's fundamentalist revolution. Since the publication of "The Satanic Verses," Rushdie has lived in hiding. He is currently believed to be in Britain, where an estimated $1.5 million per year is spent on his protection. Viking Press, the publishing house which brought out the book, spent several millions of dollars on security following Islamic threats to bomb their offices and kill Viking employees. Bookstores throughout Europe and United States were threatened with retaliation for carrying "The Satanic Verses," and at least two bombings took place in the United States, both aimed at merchants who sold the novel. In addition, the Japanese translator of the work was stabbed to death, and William Nygaard Norwegian publisher of "The Satanic Verses" was shot and severely injured. The book became the focus of major civil liberties battles throughout the world. Religious leaders ranging from New York's Cardinal O'Connor to the Chief Orthodox Rabbi in Jerusalem condemned Rushdie and his book as an "attack on religious belief." In Great Britain, Christians closed ranks with Muslims, insisting that all religions be included under the notorious "Blasphemy Law," which at present protects only the Church of England. Civil libertarians criticized the proposal, noting that such a move would effectively outlaw any criticism of organized religion and religious belief. While most booksellers in the United States carried "The Satanic Verses", numerous civic and religious leaders criticized Rushdie for "insulting" Muslims or religion in general. Today's meeting, though, suggests that at least some government officials in Teheran want to put the Rushdie matter behind them and start dealing with a staggering $30 billion debt with European nations. A rapprochement would help in balancing the U.S. economic boycott of Iran, which the Clinton administration has accused of supporting international terrorism and building nuclear weapons. And Europe would like to open up a the market of 6.2 million new customers. Can Fundamentalists Be Controlled? But even a government policy lifting the death sentence on Salman Rushdie may not stop Islamic terrorist groups or individual Muslims from executing the writer. Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati has said that agents will not be sent after Rushdie, but that policy did not void Khomeini's fatwa. The daily Iranian hard-line paper "Jomhuri Eslami" has charged that government officials are acting outside their powers in trying to lift the sentence on Rushdie: "If Iranian officials speak out or write statements against the order (fatwa) . . . not only will this not weaken the execution order . . . but rather the public will reprimand them." Carmel Bedford told USA TODAY that abolishing the death sentence would be "like turning a giant ship around." Complicating matters is the fatwa itself. Some Islamic mullahs insist that a fatwa can be lifted only by the religious leader who originally pronounced it, in this case the late Ayatollah Khomeini. Others say that it can be altered only if mullahs issue a new edict, which is unlikely considering the strong fundamentalist presence in the current Iranian regime. Despite the high economic stakes for both Europe and Iran, it is unlikely that the death sentence against Salman Rushdie can be overturned in the near future. Nothing short of a secular revolution in the Islamic theocracy of Iran will stop fundamentalist terrorism and ensure the life of one of the world's leading literary figures. --30-- CHRISTOPHER WARNS OF EMBASSY MOVE IN ISRAEL by Conrad Goeringer Relocating the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem could damage the already shaky peace process in the Mideast, Secretary of State Warren Christopher warned yesterday, June 21. "There is no issue related to the Arab-Israeli negotiations that is more sensitive than Jerusalem," he said in a letter addressed to Senate Majority Leader Robert Dole and House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Dole, courting support from American Jews and fundamentalist Christians, has introduced legislation that would move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Christopher went on to warn that the sensitivity of the proposal is "the reason that any effort by Congress to bring it to the forefront is ill-advised and potentially very damaging to the success of the peace process." Jews, Muslims and Christians have long argued over who should "control" the "sacred city." Fundamentalist Christians believe the full establishment of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel fulfills Bible prophesy and marks the beginning of the so-called "last days" leading to the return of the messiah. Muslims believe that the site of the Temple Mount is holy since the prophet Mohammed supposedly flew off to heaven on a horse from that location. Jews want control of the real estate, in part, because of the presence of King David's Temple. But such religious superstition threatens to jeopardize the negotiations between Israel and Palestinians, slated to begin in May 1996 and conclude three years later. Secularists in both Israel and the PLO-organized free zone insist that Jerusalem should be an "open city" or that some agreement must be reached which acknowledges Palestinian rights in the area. Critics insist that Israel already has its own borders and defacto capital in Tel Aviv and that moving the U.S. Embassy is simply catering to right-wing fundamentalists such as the Likud Party and other orthodox elements. A breakdown in talks would also strengthen the hand of Islamic fundamentalists in their battle against the PLO. Although President Clinton has supported relocation of the embassy, he has said that he will take no action which threatens the Mideast peace process. Christopher noted that Dole's bill, however, would "unmistakably have that consequence." --30-- THEISTWATCH SHORT SHOTS by Conrad Goeringer An Anglican bishop is attracting lots of controversy for his claim that there is a genetic basis for promiscuity. The Most Rev. Richard Holloway told British and American news services recently that "God has given us our promiscuous genes, so I think it would be wrong for the church to condemn people who have followed their instincts." The Most Reverend's remarks were made at the start of a series of seminars on "Christianity and the Sexual Revolution"; Holloway is head of the Scottish Episcopal Church. THEISTWATCH will let readers draw their own conclusions on this one, but kudos to the great British newspaper, The Guardian, for its headline "Bishop tells audience to sow seed and scatter." We can do one better, though: "With my rod and staff shall I comfort ye." ******************** The Colorado Supreme Court has ruled that a monument listing the so-called "Ten Commandments" with the legend "I AM THE LORD THY GOD" above them can remain in a state park across from the State Capitol. According to the 4-3 majority, the monument is one of many which supposedly constitute "a cornucopia of different cultural events and experiences that make up the history of our nation and reflect upon a history that is also Colorado." Justices claimed, though, that had the monument been standing ALONE, it may have violated the First Amendment prohibition against the establishment of religion. Ironically, the monument is one of many which owes its status to Cecil B. DeMille and his movie "The Ten Commandments." Before he was with the National Rifle Association (NRA), Charlton Heston was climbing Mount Sinai to get The Word from Jehovah, while his followers partied down below before the graven image of a golden calf. Attorney General Gale Norton told the Denver Post last week (6/13) that the Colorado monument had nothing to do with religion it was a promotional stunt for the movie, one of dozens of like stone-billboards erected across the country thanks to the efforts of DeMille and an unidentified juvenile court judge from Minnesota. THEY considered it to be a religious icon, though, aimed at the nation's youth and enunciating "one of mankind's earliest codes of conduct." The Supreme Court, however, noted that "He (the judge) made clear . . . that such exposure was not to be religious instruction of any kind." Which raises a good question. When IS a religious statement just that, a "religious" declaration? Apparently, not when it's in Colorado. ******************** Last week THEISTWATCH told readers about the religious conflict in Salt Lake City, Utah, where religious songs were performed at a high school graduation ceremony despite warnings that they violated the First Amendment rights of students who did not wish to participate. Now a "public interest" law firm based in Washington has entered the picture. The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty is intervening on behalf of select parents and students to "defend the choir's right to represent its full musical repertoire." This potentially expensive and time-consuming litigation is a case in point of what happens when sectarian religion is introduced into the school. Besides, THEISTWATCH will wager that the Becket Fund wouldn't be so enthused about "defending its full musical repertoire" if the choir's program consisted of rap or other controversial art forms. ******************** With everyone from Bob Dole to Mother Theresa unloading on teen sexuality, it's refreshing to see a new report from the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States, that target of conservative religious wrath known as SIECUS. Forty-eight organizations ranging from family planning groups to the American Medical Association have signed a statement declaring "responsible adolescent intimate relationships" to be "consensual, non-exploitative, honest, pleasurable and protected" against possible disease or unwanted pregnancy. According to USA TODAY (June 22), the report also notes that adult preoccupation (okay, let's call it "obsession") with teen sex gives adolescents little support and is totally unrealistic. Report editor Debra Haffner is quoted as observing that most adult relationships don't meet the above criteria for a healthy sexual encounter. The report drew criticism from the Family Research Council and Beverly LeHaye, director of Concerned Women for America. She insisted that groups like hers don't promote fear and shame, but such reactions "loom up within children when they know what they are doing is not right." Not always, Bev. There's this thing called repressed Christian guilt. ******************** Now, with all of this babble about "taking the Bible literally" to justify everything from banning abortion and free speech to establishing a Christian theocracy, HERE'S something with which rabid fundamentalists may want to occupy idle hours. . . . A Colorado correspondent for THEISTWATCH has sent in a clipping from a paper there with an article titled "SNAKES IN THE PULPIT" about the travelling preachers of modern-day snake handling churches. In case you aren't up to speed on this, some Christians take literally the bible admonition to "take up serpents" and go into paroxysms while handling poisonous snakes. One prayer service described a musical repertoire of electric guitars, drums, tambourines and loud singing rock 'n roll meeting the Tabernacle Choir. Poisonous copperheads are the stars of the show, and participants often go into trances and fits of ecstasy and "speaking in tongues," or glossolalia. There are 3,000 hard- core snake handlers according to the story, mostly "in plain out-of-the-way churches, defying mainstream church tradition, skepticism and ridicule, legal crackdowns and death itself to prove their faith." One devotee says that he's been bitten 118 times since he started this bizarre practice in 1960. Sometimes victims refuse medical treatment. Not surprisingly, the ranks of snake-handling fundamentalists seems to be declining. Now, if only we could interest creationists and other Bible literalists in this alleged "experience with God." ******************** More kudos to that car ad on television which has a stern- faced preacher asking a prospective bride if she chooses to "Honor and OOOBBEEEEYY!" her new husband. She then hits the road in a sporty convertible, tossing a "Just married" sign to the wind. Seems that a recent USA TODAY poll asked about the traditional marital phrase "to honor and obey" being used in marriage ceremonies; 52 percent of guys said they'd recite the pledge, but only 39 percent of the women declared themselves willing to tie the knot under such circumstances. If you're one of the 61 percent, ladies, be sure and tell that "traditional male" where he can get off! --30-- * WCE 2.0/2394 * American Atheists is a non-prophet organization! ----------------------------------------------------------- THEISTWATCH An educational service provided by American Atheists, P O Box 140195, Austin, TX 78714-0195, Telephone (512) 458-1244, FAX: (512) 467-9525, BBS: (512) 302-0223, Fidonet 1:382/1006. 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