Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for July 21, 1996 Date: Sun, 21 Jul 1996 12:19:44 -0700 nn nn AA
Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for July 21, 1996
Date: Sun, 21 Jul 1996 12:19:44 -0700
Reply-To: firstname.lastname@example.org, AMERICAN.ATHEISTS@listserv.direct.net
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
* 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
* 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
* 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
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
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
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