Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for July 24, 1996 Date: Wed, 24 Jul 1996 12:34:41 -0700 nn nn AA

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Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for July 24, 1996 Date: Wed, 24 Jul 1996 12:34:41 -0700 From: Reply-To:, nnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn nnnnnnnnnn AANEWS nnnnnnnnnn #104 uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu7/24/96 In This Issue... * Atheists Excluded from Religious Equality Amendment Testimony * Report Says Vouchers Drain Public Schools * "Like A Virgin" ~~ JP2 Declares Mary Sex-Free * TheistWatch * About This List... HOUSE PRAYER AMENDMENT TESTIMONY WAS ''STACKED DECK'' Despite a flood of e-mail, faxes and personal phone calls, Atheists were excluded from yesterday's hearings on a proposed Religious Equality Amendment held by the Constitution Subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee. Instead, religious groups and affiliated members provided the opposition to the Amendment during a hearing that turned into a forum for its sponsor, Rep. Henry Hyde (R., Ill). Hyde declared: "Our problem is not with the Constitution itself, but with courts that interpret the First Amendment in a way that undermines rather than protects religious freedom." He added that "Public school teachers, who accept reports on witches, forbid students from writing reports on Jesus...Religious charitable institutions are forbidden from acting like religious charitable institutions when public welfare funds flow through their books." Supporting the Hyde Amendment was the Christian Coalition, which yesterday released a statment insisting that "Religious speech should be no less valued by our public institutions than any other form of free speech." Despite efforts by American Atheists and supporters, the only officially-recognized opposition during the hearings came from clergy affiliated with an interfaith religious coalition. It was essentially a replay of last summer's public hearings, where the legal counsel for the House Democrats on the Judiciary Committee refused to permit testimony from Atheists. On Monday, several church leaders held a press conference in front of the Supreme Court building, led by Rev. James Dunn of the Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs. Describing himself as a "born again, Bible-bred, Texas-born Baptist preacher," he declared: "That's precise why I oppose any government meddling in religion." Mark Pelavin of the Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism told reporters that the Hyde proposal "demeans religion, threatens our most precious rights and distracts America from addressing its most pressing problems." In testifying before the Constitution Subcommittee, though, religious spokesmen put a peculiar twist on what otherwise would have been a state-church separation debate. Rev. Oliver Thomas of the National Council of Churches warned that the Hyde Amendment "could take away some of the exemptions religions enjoy today" (Associated Press), although he did warn that aid to religious schools could be "the largest unfunded mandate in history." Meanwhile, Rep. Hyde denounced the restrictions on government aid to religious organizations, and cited the Department of Housing and Urban Development for allegedly asking a religious group -- the St. Vincent de Paul Shelter -- to change its name since it was receiving federal money for blankets and cots for use in a homeless shelter. But critics note that many social services operated by church groups often include religious proselytizing as part of their outreach, a policy Hyde and his supporters seem to have little problem with. ****** (AANEWS will have further information on yesterday Subcommittee hearing) *** OHIO SCHOOL CRISIS IS WARNING AGAINST DOLE VOUCHER SCHEME Education advocates who warn that voucher proposals and other schemes for government aid to private -- often religious -- schools gut the public education system picked up more ammunition yesterday in a report issued by the Akron (Ohio) Beacon Journal. It found that Ohio is spending more tax dollars per student to support private schools than any other state, and during a time when public schools are in crisis. Taxpayers shoved out over $186,000,000 last year on the private institutions, enough money to have met the need for state emergency loans required by public schools. The report underscored the corrosive effects of voucher schemes, a pet project of Gov. George Voinovich, who was branded "the worst education governor ever" by the superintendent of one of the state's school districts. But last weekend, presumed GOP-presidential nominee Bob Dole was stumping in Ohio, and praised Voinovich's new voucher plans. Dole also unveiled a scheme of his own, which would begin with a $2.5 billion federal program for scholarships in 15 states which could be used for private school tuition. The Ohio Federation of Teachers is challenging the latest Voinovich voucher program, saying that it violates state-church separation and would end up diverting millions of dollars from financially-strapped public schools. The Beacon Journal report tended to confirm this latter fear. The paper cited a 1990 Ohio Department of Education study that found $3.2 billion was needed to correct structural and safety problems in the state's public schools. From 1990-1995, the state appropriated $209 million for repairs, but spent a whopping $509 million in private school aid. Among other findings: * According to the General Accounting Office, Ohio's school buildings are the worst maintained in the nation and students are more likely to attend classes in unsafe buildings than those in other states. The GAO study cited bad electrical wiring, asbestos, structural problems in buildings and other hazards. * Ohio is spending an average of $599 per private school student, at least $197 more than any other state. The sum has grown to 3% of the total education budget. * State aid to private, often private religious schools, is being challenged in court by more than 500 of the 611 state school districts. * Aid to private schools has upped the tax burden, especially when the financial support is shifted from public schools. Case in point -- the Perry School District in Start County, Ohio. Taxpayers were funding transportation costs of students going to and from private schools, including one described as "exclusive", during a time when the local public school district was having financial problems and had to discontinue transportation for its own students. It required a huge tax boost ($579 a year in new taxes for the owner of a $100,000 home) to restore services for the public schools. The Akron Beacon Journal report seems to confirm the worst fears and charges of school voucher critics. Education costs rise with the voucher schemes; and public schools are driven to desperate measures, while private, religious schools thrive. ************* POPE AGAIN DECLARES MARY WAS BIOLOGICAL VIRGIN We're not talking mythology or folk legend here, ladies and gentlemen. This is the real thing, and you had better believe it if you're a Roman Catholic. The woman really WAS a virgin, and managed to have a kid to boot! So says Pope John Paul II, who has again declared in a general audience held July 10 at Vatican City, that Mary was indeed a biological virgin. According to Catholic News Service, the pontiff all-knowingly proclaimed: "The Gospels contain the explicit affirmation of a virginal conception of a biological order, brought about by the Holy Spirit, and this truth has been accepted by the Church from the time of the first formulations of the faith." The statement was made in response to those who suggested that the virgin birth was an artifact of "pagan mythological legend," or that it was understood "not in a physical or biological sense but merely in a symbolic or metaphorical sense." CNS added that : "He (the Pope) said while the Church's teachings authority doesn't define the term 'virgin', the normal meaning should be assumed: voluntary abstention from sexual acts and preservation of physical wholeness." JP-2 declared that "Mary wanted a virginal life, because she was animated by the desire to give her whole heart to God." A Folk Legend, Indeed! But the "Mystery" of the Virgin Birth -- one of several given such a status by Catholic ecclesiastical authority, along with other improbably events like the Resurrection, Ascension and Transubstantiation -- is indeed rooted in an earlier, pagan ethos. Many artifacts of Catholic belief which are given the Vatican "seal of approval" have little or no basis even in biblical tradition, and are fabrications of clerical councils and individual popes. Mary was not even declared the "mother of god" until the Council of Ephesus in 431 c.e. and it was left to Pope Pius IX in 1854 to declare the validity of the immaculate conception. although a "cult of the Virgin" has existed since the time of the Nicean Creed. In "Pagan Origins of the Christ Myth," historian and Atheist writer John Jackson elaborated on the many god-men messiahs who have been worshipped throughout history by the world's assorted religious systems, including those said to have been born of a virgin. He wrote: "Another great pagan christ was Krishna of India. In the sacred books of India it is recorded that Krishna was born of the virgin Devaki, that his nativity was heralded by a star, and that through of royal lineage, he was born in a cave..." Jackson adds that "Osiris, the father of Horus, was another virgin-born god of ancient Egypt" and that "Buddha was born of a virgin named Maya, (Maia) or Mary. His birthday was celebrated on December 25..." There is likewise controversy over the biblical texts which describe Mary as a "virgin." The first reference of a "virgin birth" comes from Isaiah 7:14 which declares: "...Behold a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel." This old testament verse was later affirmed in Mathew. But these translations come from a Greek text using the word "parthenon," or virgin. In the earlier Hebrew, though, the word "almah" was used, and could be translated as simply meaning a young women. In his annotations to Thomas Paine's "Age of Reason," linguist Frank Zindler notes the early discrepencies involving the sloppy use of the term "virgin," and observes that "It thus appears that the surviving Septuagint text has been doctored by Christian make it accord with a Matthaean reading." Interestingly, some influential Americans doubted the mystery of the virgin birth, including Thomas Jefferson, a deist. He wrote: "The day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus by the supreme being as his father in the womb of a virgin will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter." And Thomas Paine doubted not only the virginity of an alleged mother of Jesus, Mary, but the entire prophecy surrounding Jesus Christ. The affirmation that Mary was a literal virgin not only shores up Roman Catholic doctrine in an age of skepticism, but does so in a period when there is also a renaissance in goddess-lore expressed across a diverse spectrum of beliefs and practices. It comes during a time in history when apparitions of the Virgin are increasing in number, a phenomenon which in the past occured usally during periods of social disruption and anomie. And while the latest papal pronunciamento on the virginity of Mary does little to change the opinions of skeptics, it is, after all meant, designed for the consumption and belief of the faithful. *************** THEISTWATCH SHORT SHOTS Guess who the big winner is an emergent real estate shuffle in the Czech Republic? Under a new agreement between the Vatican and the government of Premier Vaclav Klauss, the Roman Catholic church will receive some 500 buildings and 432,250 acres of forest (7% of the nation's total forest acreage!) in "compensation" for assets taken by the old communist government. But while supporters think this is a great idea -- after all, it was stolen from the church, right? -- critics have a differing opinion. Much of the "expropriated" property allegedly owned by the Catholic Church was stolen back in the 17th century from Protestants. But it may work out for the best, at least on the accounting books. A spokesman for the Czech Bishop's Conference said "It doesn't look very profitable," noting that annual income from the forest lands would bring in about $1.85 million. In exchange for the land, the government will begin reducing its annual subsidies to the church, which now total over $12, 000,000 per year. ************* Well, for once we happen to agree with what some Catholic church authorities have said. In Glasgow, priests and other clergy will no longer be getting free admission to Celtic football club events. Father Tom Connelly told Britain's Electronic Telegraph: "We don't want any privileges...If we took them they might expect extra prayer in return to help them win. The days of priests having no dough and relying on hand-outs are long gone. The few priests I know who still go can afford to buy season tickets." **** About This List... AANEWS is a free service from American Atheists, a nationwide movement founded by Madalyn Murray O'Hair for the advancement of Atheism, and the total, absolute separation of government and religion. For information about American Atheists, send mail to:, and include your name and postal address. 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