THEISTWATCH for JULY 26 + 27, 1995 Contents: Colorado - CHAPLAINS TAKEN OFF STATE PAYROLL
THEISTWATCH for JULY 26 & 27, 1995
Colorado--CHAPLAINS TAKEN OFF STATE PAYROLL
Utah--POWER SHIFTS IN THE MORMON CHURCH MAY RESULT FROM
Rome--WORKING AT THE VATICAN
United States--COURTS MOVE TO PROTECT ABORTION RIGHTS OF
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
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
"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
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
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
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
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