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THEISTWATCH for JULY 26 & 27, 1995 Contents: Colorado--CHAPLAINS TAKEN OFF STATE PAYROLL Utah--POWER SHIFTS IN THE MORMON CHURCH MAY RESULT FROM MISSIONARY WORK Rome--WORKING AT THE VATICAN United States--COURTS MOVE TO PROTECT ABORTION RIGHTS OF POOR World--THEISTWATCH SHORT SHOTS ____________________ ____________________ CHAPLAINS TAKEN OFF STATE PAYROLL Colorado Eliminates Prison Chaplain Program by Conrad Goeringer First Amendment supporters who defend the separation of government and religion have long been concerned over the use of state funding of so-called "prison chaplains." Proponents argued that inmates were entitled to "religious counselling" and rituals since they were deprived of access to regular churches, mosques and temples -- for obvious reasons; they were behind bars. The same "logic," of course, didn't carry over to OTHER rights such as voting, a privilege one looses if convicted of a felony. Critics of public funding for priests, ministers and rabbis insisted that "prison ministries" did more than just service the "spiritual needs" of incarcerated and religious inmates -- they proselytize everyone they possibly can, especially through notorious (and religion- based) 12-step programs and other outreaches. Now comes word that thanks in part to tight budget restrains, the State of Colorado has eliminated its prison chaplain program, which just three years ago had 12 ministers on the government payroll. According to the Colorado Springs Gazette Telegraph of July 8, it's a trend which is sweeping the country. Money isn't the only reason, though, why paid chaplains are getting the heave-ho. A Rev. Sheila Rollins told the paper that another reason was "growing resentment against criminals," which expresses itself in hardening public attitudes and a desire for punishment rather than rehabilitation. Experts are divided on the role played by religion in prisons and whether "jailhouse conversions" are sincere or even long-lasting. There is also some question of whether or not religious belief, in or out of prison, renders a person a better citizen. The percentage of Atheists in prison is apparently only about 1 percent, compared to 10 percent of the general population. Prisons have long been a target for various organizations and movements trying to recruit followers or believers. Prisoners yearn for contact with the outside world and frequently request complementary magazine subscriptions from organizations, or correspondence with people "outside the walls." Even without a squad of chaplains on the government payroll, however, religion will maintain a significant presence in the nation's growing number of prisons and jails. POWER SHIFTS IN THE MORMON CHURCH MAY RESULT FROM MISSIONARY WORK by Conrad Goeringer The burgeoning international outreach of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints -- known also as the Mormons -- may be draining church funds and pose a problem in the future for the identity and character of the church. Although Mormonism is a distinctly "American" religion which preaches that Jesus Christ visited "the New World" (North America) after his tour of Palestine and his crucifiction/death, nearly half of the movement's 9 million members live outside of the U.S. This is partly due to the aggressive missionary work of the church, including the policy of having Mormon youth proselytize "on the road" and often in foreign lands. In addition, Mormonism is one of the fastest growing religions in Latin and Central America, a fact not lost on the Roman Catholic church which is worried about LDC in-roads into its heretofore exclusive territory. The new president of the church, Gordon B. Hinckley, says that the LDS is "a multicultural organization," although the leadership -- known as the First Presidency and the Council of Twelve Apostles) -- is white, American, and aging. Hinckley is 85, but according to Jan Shipps, a professor of religious studies at Indiana University who watches the church and was quoted in the New York Times recently, there is a shift in power going on within the Mormon church. "It's moving more by consensus than by the prophetic voice," she remarked. "I see this as a response to what we call the gerontocracy problem." In addition, the growth of the LDS outside the bounds of the continental United States may result in schisms, leadership challenges, and demands by foreign congregations for more of a role in administering the Church. And at home, the Mormon establishment is being challenged by an emergent feminist or women's movement within the church, and a problem of keeping the lid on serious scholarship and dissent at church-operated academic institutions such as Brigham Young University in Utah. WORKING AT THE VATICAN; NEW CHURCH GUIDELINES FOR EMPLOYEES WOULD COVER THEIR PRIVATE LIVES by Conrad Goeringer The Mother Church is turning out be one mean, cranky muthah', especially if you happen to be an employee of Vatican City. And while the pope talks about the dignity of workers, women and others while barnstorming the globe in high-profile media events, those policies apparently don't translate into reality for the 2,300 laity or non- ecclesiastical employees working at Church headquarters in Rome. The Church is now demanding that all employees now sign a "statement of moral understanding" which, according to the New York Times, has the effect of "binding them -- under threat of automatic sanctions, including dismissal - - to observe the moral doctrines of the Catholic Church 'even in the private sphere'." The Times notes that divorce, birth control, abortion, even "associating with organization whose 'goals are incompatible with the doctrine and discipline of the church'," would be no-no's. So are "acts of public insubordination, or incitements to insubordination." (By this arbitrary standard, resistance to the Italian fascist regime of the late Benito Mussolini, or the former communist, anti-church government in Poland, would have been prohibited as well.) The Italian press is apparently having a field day with this latest display of Church authoritarianism (in spite of the public facade of ecumenism and "open dialogue"). Headlines have appeared saying "IN THE VATICAN, NO WORK FOR DIVORCEES," and "VATICAN; ONLY SUPER CATHOLICS NEED APPLY." The new rules and regulations occupy 95 clauses or paragraphs in a new code of conduct, replacing a rule book which had been written in 1969. In a classic example of Church new-speak, Rosalio Jose Cardinal Castillo Lara, head of the Pontifical Commission for the Vatican State, disingenuously declared that the new doctrines are designed "not to repress or restrict freedom, or to change people, but rather to help them to exercise that freedom in an appropriate way." There is an Association of Lay Dependents which unfortunately does not have the collective bargaining muscle and backing of a true labor union. And the Church runs its own "scab" excuse for a labor relations board which it calls the "Office of Labor of the Holy Apostolate," which the association charges as being nothing more than a sounding board and an "excuse for top Vatican officials to deflect complaints." "Talking to them is like talking to a rubber wall. . . . They say no, and that's it." Representatives of the association are likewise mystified by the new rules which essentially force employees to sign their own dismissal papers, and have been enacted in a "high-handed manner." "We just don't understand why," said a Laity representative, "These are the mysteries of the Holy See." COURTS MOVE TO PROTECT ABORTION RIGHTS OF POOR by Conrad Goeringer Under the tenure of former Governor William Carey, anti-abortionists enacted some of the toughest legislation in the nation, including a law that restricted the ability of poor women to use Medicaid to terminate pregnancy caused by rape or incest. Known as the Abortion Control Act of 1988, it was a model for other states intent on controlling female anatomy on behalf of government and religious agendas. There were exceptions in the law however; the woman had to see two doctors to "certify" her need for an abortion, and the woman had to report the rape and, if possible, identify the assailant. The law worked, at least in making sure that poor women -- unlike wealthier females -- couldn't get abortions. 409 Pennsylvania women received abortions in the ten months prior to the Control Act for pregnancies due to rape. Ten months AFTER the new law went into effect, that figure dropped down to 30 abortions. On Tuesday, July 25, a Third U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in a 2-1 ruling, upheld a lower court decision striking down the Abortion Control Act of 1988. Abortion supporters like Linda Wharton of the Women's Law Project were delighted: she told the Philadelphia Inquirer that the ruling "was long overdue." The decision noted that the act imposed an unfair burden on poor women who wanted an abortion, one not imposed on females who could afford such a procedure on their own. Pro-choice attorneys had argued that Pennsylvania's laws restricting abortion were unfair since they violated the Constitutional supremacy clause requiring that state rules be no more restrictive than similar federal laws. Pro-abortion activists received other good news yesterday, too: in St. Louis, a federal appeals court struck down similar laws that had been enacted in Arkansas and Nebraska, which sought to bar funding for abortion in cases of rape or incest. But all of this may be short lived. The GOP- dominated Congress is doing its best to ban the use of federal Medicaid funding for abortions and put a halt to monies for family-planning organizations which "promote and perform" abortion. Much of this legislation has already cleared the House Judiciary Committee or Appropriations Committee. While a full ban against all abortion seems unlikely as long as a Democrat occupies 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, anti-abortion forces are doing all they can to make sure that poor women suffer the most, confronted with either unwanted children or dangerous, "back alley" abortions. THEISTWATCH SHORT SHOTS by Conrad Goeringer Talk about an "easy fix" for the problems in Bosnia- Herzegovina. The Russian Space Agency has delivered the latest shipment of supplies to the Mir space station; included with the delivery of 2.64 tons of food, water and equipment were a couple of religious icons, paintings of St. Anastasia, "intended to encourage peace in the former Yugoslavia," according to USA TODAY (7/26). Orbital bombs and "Star Wars" weaponry are bad enough -- but prayers are now, literally, out of this world. *************** One of the ironies of free speech is that it is often used by the very people who would suppress it if given the power and opportunity. Take Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman, one of the defendants charged in a 1993 plot to blow up major buildings and transportation routes in New York City, including the U.N. building. The blind Muslim cleric is accused of conspiracy to organize an assassination plot against Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, who is also the target of a widespread Islamic terrorist movement operating out of the Sudan. Contradictory testimony is emerging at the Sheik's trial, with one government informant claiming that during a drive with Abdel-Rahman in 1991, he was urged to kill Mubarak. That claim, though, was later denied by a defense witness. But Sheik Rahman, who moved to the U.S. from Egypt five years ago, continues to advocate Islamic Revolution in Egypt to overthrow the secular society there. Rahman is just one of many Muslims settled here and throughout Europe who use the civil liberties of the west as a platform in their efforts to establish oppressive and authoritarian Islamic theocracies. The gladly use the very freedoms they seek one day to destroy. *************** A court in France has acquitted nine anti-abortion activists of charges that they blockaded access to an abortion clinics. The defendants had been arrested last November when they began singing religious hymns outside the clinic, and prevented women from entering. The verdict surprised many observers, especially since the judge declared that a fetus was "a future human being, already alive." There has been an immediate outcry against the verdict, which goes against precedents established for over two decades. The Minister of Justice for France has ordered a state prosecutor to appeal the decision. *************** Do religious conservatives just have dirty minds? That may be the case in the flap over a video for the popular song "Wynona," which happens to be showing in a theater chain alongside the new smash comedy, "Clueless." The song is the creation of the alternative-rock group Primus, and it tells the story of a woman who got a pet beaver and "stroked him all the time." According to USA TODAY, "The cartoonish visuals feature mock cowboys and an animated animal." The video is being shown on MTV, and along with the PG-13 film in theatres owned by the General Cinema chain. The song is actually called "Wynona's Big Brown Beaver," but was shortened for print ads, theater marquees, and television ads. Despite the garish colors, overstated costumes and mock country-drawl accents in the videos, Primus' "Wynona" is probably anything other than sexual. But Christian "family activist" and media watchdog Gary Gauer says that "General Cinema is showing incredibly bad judgment" and wants the movie theater conglomerate to pull the video. "There's obviously a double entendre to the (song) title, to the music," says the company's spokesperson, Ellen Aub, "but visually it is about a pet beaver. In context, it's fun." Aub also said that some parents had approved the video, and that younger children would not understand any of the alleged sexual connotations anyway. *************** Another company taking self-righteous flak is the Benetton clothing chain, which sells its own pricey line of sweaters and sportswear. It's also known for the use of striking photographic imagery in its advertising, images which often have little or no direct connection with the product being promoted. Benetton also owns a number of upper-end sports equipment brands including Prince, Nordica and Kastle, along with 50 percent of the popular Rollerblade. And its new $27 million ad campaign -- emphasizing the theme of "Do You Play" -- is already drawing some heat. "Do you play alone" is juxtaposed against a rendering of Jesus Christ hanging from a cross and promotes Asolo climbing gear. "When there is nothing between you and the mountain," says the outdoor billboard display Benetton is planning, "don't feel abandoned: You have something strong to believe in." Another ad depicts a sperm racing toward an egg and states "It's the first race in life." Creative directors at Benneton who are responsible for much of the company's advertising see these controversial themes as works of art. Previous ads have featured profiles of AIDS patients or groups of children in Third World countries. Religious groups have long been disturbed by the Benetton themes, however, and the company has been banned recently by a German court for ostensibly using "suffering for financial gain." As Benetton's new ad campaign kicks into high gear, there will probably be renewed calls for legal intervention against the firm by various religious organizations. A "Virgin Territory" motif depicting a statue of the Madonna is sure to attract attention. In the scramble for money and customers, "holy ground" is really the financial territory only of churches. *********************************************************************** * * * 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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