Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for July 21, 1996 Date: Sun, 21 Jul 1996 12:19:44 -0700 nn nn AA

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Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for July 21, 1996 Date: Sun, 21 Jul 1996 12:19:44 -0700 From: Reply-To:, nnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn nnnnnnnnnn AANEWS nnnnnnnnnn #102 uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu 7/21/96 (Special Edition) RELIGIOUS EQUALITY AMENDMENT ~ Hearings Slated for Tuesday This Tuesday, July 23, The Constitution Subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on the so-called "Hyde version" of a proposed Religious Equality Amendment. Efforts continue to urge Subcommittee Representatives to hear testimony from Atheists, including Ellen Johnson, the President of American Atheists. As with similar pieces of legislation, much of the testimony against the Amendment is expected to come from a Washington "golden rolodex" of witnesses, including clergy and religious leaders who happen to oppose prayer in public schools. When American Atheists attempted to testify at public hearings last summer about the Religious Equality Amendment, we were flatly informed that there was "no way" an Atheist would ever be permitted to speak on this subject. Propriety and respectability appear to demand the exclusion of 10% of the American population who has no religious beliefs. Even so, we are encourage by the influx of telegrams, faxes, e-mail and calls that Atheists throughout the country have made to Subcommittee members about this important Amendment to the Constitution. We still hope that these public officials will find the courage to allow Ms. Johnson to testify against this invasive legislation. **************** Why We DON'T Need A "Religious Equality Amendment" to the Constitution * SCHOOL PRAYER LEGISLATION IS UNCONSTITUTIONAL. A slew of court cases such as Murray v. Curlett, Engel v. Vitale, and Lee v. Weisman have established that prayer in public schools violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, in that it constitutes an "establishment" of religion. Religious groups that want prayer in public schools finally realize that their chance of having laws to this effect pass judicial muster are slim indeed. An Amendment to our Constitution and Bill of Rights is seen by school prayer strategists as their best bet. They've tried every scheme and ruse they can think of -- the "moment of silence," so-called "voluntary prayer," even attempts to compose "non-denominational prayers" that would allegedly offend no one. * THE RELIGIOUS EQUALITY AMMENDMENT GOES BEYOND THE SCOPE OF SCHOOL PRAYER. Politically active fundamentalists and evangelicals admit that school prayer is just PART of a larger agenda, which includes the infusion of religion into as much of the class curriculum as possible. Under the excuse of "religious equality," religious pseudoscience in the form of bogus "creationism" programs could be introduced as an "alternative theory" to evolution. Christian "puff" history could be included in texts; anything critical of religion and its role in human society, such as its promotion of the slave mentality or warfare, could be challenged and excluded. * PRAYER EXERCISE IN SCHOOLS IS DIVISIVE AND OFFENSIVE TO MANY. Students can already pray on their own time, even in school during the school day, if they so choose. The decision to pray, or not pray, should be a personal and private matter. But the extensive body of litigation surrounding school prayer, indeed the presence of just about any religious ritual in schools, shows that it is often divisive. In an increasingly pluralistic society, many students and parents can be offended by the content of prayer, even if the lame excuse that it is "student initiated" is used. Who picks the prayer? Can there be a prayer that is so vague and evanescent that it offends no one? Besides, students who lead or initiate prayer should be aware of the sensitivities of others; just because THEY happen to want to make a public display of religiosity does not mean that their fellow students wish to do so as well. * GOVERNMENT BECOMES A ''PRAYER BULLY." Even though lipserve is now given to not forcing religious exercise on students, the effect of even student-initiated prayer in the school setting is still coercive in nature. Students who may choose to not pray are often isolated and harassed. Is that right? And government provides a forum for this religious ritual, and thus still plays the role of being a "prayer bully," albeit a bully who is assisted by certain religious students. * A RELIGIOUS EQUALITY AMENDMENT VIOLATES THE RIGHTS OF ATHEISTS and other non-believers. While we can agree that orchestrated prayer of any kind as part of the "official" school program may violate the rights of "minority religion" students, it is also offensive to Atheist students and their parents. About 10% of the American population -- some 25,000,000 people -- consider themselves Atheists or non-believers of some kind. Tens of millions more are labeled with the pejorative term "unchurched," meaning that they do not regularly attend religious services. What about OUR rights? Since we are not religious, for us the Religious Equality Amendment is not so much a violation of our "religious rights" as it is a clear attempt to breech the wall of separation between government and religion." * A RELIGIOUS EQUALITY AMENDMENT IS UNNECESSARY. Freedom of religion enjoys more protection in the United States than in most countries of the world. In many other societies, official and established State religions often use the Government Prayer Bully to suppress rival religious groups. In the former Soviet Union, for instance, the Russian Orthodox Church is trying to outlaw its own competition -- from Mormons and Scientology, to the Roman Catholics. In many Latin American nations, the Vatican often refers to rival faiths as "sects," and does what it can to retain its privileged status. Throughout the Islamic world, non-Muslim religions are usually banned outright..(Amusingly, this suddenly has a number of Christian missionary groups and their allies babbling about free expression and civil liberties, something they are not enthused about when it comes to content they happen to dislike or disapprove of!) That is the sort of travesty that occurs when there is not state-church separation. What guarantees most the freedom of individuals to believe in foolish religious doctrines and engage in spiritual practices IS the "wall of Separation" between government and religion espoused by Thomas Jefferson and other Founders of the Republic. Often, what partisans describe as "religious rights" are adequately addressed by our Constitution and Bill of Rights. Religious exercise is guaranteed, along with freedom of speech for religious people. We are also guaranteed freedom from religion, and the rite to criticize religious ideas and beliefs. * THIS AMENDMENT DOES NOT ''TOLERATE'' RELIGION -- IT PROMOTES IT. The First Amendment -- curiously, a target of religious groups who object to what others happen to be printing, writing, saying, singing or broadcasting -- protects the free speech of all, and enjoins the state from interfering in or establishing religious exercise. In cases like Lemon and Lee v. Weisman, the courts have ruled that government can engage in no behavior which has as its primary objective the promotion of religion, may not favor one religion over another, and may engage in no activity which involves "excessive entanglement" between government and religion. Frankly, this has served religious groups quite well. Pick up a local yellow pages directory, and thumb through the section under "churches." If you live in a metropolitan area, you will find perhaps dozens of pages with listings . There are over 300,000 churches, mosques, temples and other venues for religious worship in the United States. There are religious newspapers, magazines, prayer meetings, radion and TV networks, even universities and schools. Religious believers have adequate and abundant opportunity to go to a church, temple, chapel or "house of worship" to pray, sing, gyrate, murmur, genuflect, sing, shake, kneel, bow, and do whatever else they require in an attempt to placate the god or gods of their choice. In fact, freedom of religion has created an atmopshere where there is so much religiosity that these groups often quibble and fight among themselves. They have countless interpretations of different holy books, and can't even agree on issues like gay rights, abortion, eating pork, dancing, or whether it's the Pope or the head of the Mormon Church who has a direct link to the Almighty! The demand that prayer (often the Judeo-Christian flavor) be legitimized in government assemblies and public schools, though, has nothing to do with the "freedom to pray."as much as it is a greedy quest for official recognition of religion and its ritual. Not content with their tax exempt status and other privileges, some religious leaders and groups demand even more recognition by government. * FROM AN ATHEIST PERSPECTIVE, A RELIGIOUS EQUALITY AMENDMENT FOSTERS AND PROMOTES SUPERSTITION. Ultimately, it matters very little whether the individual praying is a student, the teacher, or the pope. Who is listening? To which deity or deities is the prayer directed to? Atheists maintain that prayer is an exercise directed at entities which have been invented by the human imagination. If religious people wish to flock to their churches, mosques and temples on their own time and at their own expense to engage in such ritual, well, that's their business. The rest of us should not be compelled to endure such behavior, especially in public institutions and schools. * PUBLIC SCHOOLS -- INDEED, ANY SCHOOL WHICH SEEKS TO IMPART ACCURATE KNOWLEDGE -- SHOULD NOT BE FORUMS FOR RELIGION. Supporters of the Religious Equality Amendment readilly admit that they wish to go far, far beyond simple prayer at the opening of the school day, or during a graduation ceremony, or before a school athletic game. On the agenda: "religion friendly" texts dealing with history and culture; "religion sensitive" cirriculums which are free from any hint of sex-education (except chastity); pseudoscience and crank anthropology, history and biology in the form of so-called "scientific creationism," which teaches the alleged truth found in literal accounts in Genesis. * THE RELIGIOUS EQUALITY AMENDMENT CAN RESULT IN SQUABBLING AMONG CHURCH GROUPS, LAWSUITS FOR SCHOOL DISTRICTS. Many of the groups leading the charge for school prayer and the Religious Equality Amendment represent fundamentalist and evangelical Chirstian denominations. But what happens when OTHER religious groups "want in" on the "student led" prayer action? What will happen when Muslims, Hindus or Scientologists start to demand "equal time" for their peculiar version of prayer? In a society which is becoming increasingly pluralistic, there is a virtual faith-smorgasbord for believers. What if a Satanist wishes to give the graduation invocation? Wouldn't you just love to see how the local Christian Coalition crowd reacts to that particular exercise of "religious liberty"? This Amendment has already been called a "full employment act for lawyers." Not only will school districts be spending considerable resources litigating and defending themselves in court, but religious movements will be encouraged to demand "recognition" for their respective followers. ******************** There's Still Time to Demand That Atheists Be Heard On This Issue! On Tuesday, July 23, The Constitution Subcommittee will be meeting at the capitol to hear testimony on this proposed legislation. We are urging Atheists and non-believers -- even those of you who call yourselves agnostics, skeptics, rationalists and humanists -- to voice your opinion on this important issue. Fax a letter to the membership of The Constitution Subcommittee. Ask that Ellen Johnson, the President of American Atheists, be given an opportunity to address the subcommittee about the "Hyde-version" of the proposed Religious Equality Amendment. Express your own opinions about this invasive and dangerous Amendment which would eviscerate the Establishment Clause. Together, we can defeat the Religious Equality Amendment. FAX numbers to contact ~ House Constitution Subcommittee (Democrats) Rep. Barney Frank (Mass.) 202-225-0182 Rep. Melvin Watt (N.C.) 202-225-1512 Rep. John Conyers (Mich.) 202-225-0072 Rep. Pat Schroeder (Colo.) 202-225-5842 (Republicans) Rep. Charles Canady (Fl.) 202-225-2279 Rep. Henry Hyde (Ill.) 202-225-1166 Rep. Bob Inglis (S.C.) 202-226-1177 Rep. Michael Patrick Flanagan (Ill.) 202-225-3190 Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner (Wis.) 202-225-3190 Rep. Martin R. Hoke (Ohio) 216-356-2010 Rep. Lamar Smith (Ex.) 202-225-8628 ************************* *********************************************************************** * * * 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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