Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for July 24, 1996 (Special Supplement) Date: Wed, 24 Jul 1996 12

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Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for July 24, 1996 (Special Supplement) Date: Wed, 24 Jul 1996 12:47:09 -0700 From: AMERICAN.ATHEISTS@listserv.direct.net Reply-To: aanews@listserv.atheists.org, AMERICAN.ATHEISTS@listserv.direct.net nnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn nnnnnnnnnn AANEWS nnnnnnnnnn #105 uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu 7/24/96 (Special Supplement) In This Issue... * Testimony Presented On The Proposed Religious Equality Amendment (Editor's Note: The following is a statement mailed to members of the House Judiciary Committee, The Constitution Subcommittee today on behalf of American Atheists.) Committee on the Judiciary U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on the Constitution Att: Mr. Charles T. Canady, Chair Mr. Henry Hyde, Chair 2141 Rayburn HOB Washington, DC 20515 in re: Proposed Religious Freedom Amendment to the Constitution of the United States Messrs. Canady and Hyde: American Atheists, Inc. is a non-profit, non-political, educational organization founded by Dr. Madalyn Murray O'Hair as a "watchdog" for governmental state/church separation breaches which undermine the constitutionally protected right of freedom of conscience of those 10-13% of Americans who are Atheists and other freethinkers. These figures have been confirmed by The Heritage Foundation's Cultural Policy Studies Project, "Why Religion Matters"(Jan. 25, 1996). Time Magazine reported last year that more than 18% of all Americans do not belong to any of the hundreds of religious organizations that freely thrive within our society. These figures are consistent with every religious demographic study prepared over the last 20 years by both secular and religious sources. As Atheists, we are concerned at this time that the right to freely embrace or reject participation in specific religious rituals is being seriously undermined by forces that, based upon the wildest of speculation, have predetermined it to be in the best interests of all concerned, that we should sacrifice our intellectual freedom and submit our wills to that which those same forces have already freely submitted their own. This is not only a gross violation of basic human rights but an attempt at religious tyranny and intellectual blackmail through the use of the legislative process. This is one area where no law can induce conformity, nor should it. This is one area where we will not sacrifice the minds of our children. It is simply illegal and immoral for elected officials to require a statement of belief or unbelief as a condition of citizenship and equal accomodation under the law. I. In his book "The Supreme Court and Religion", author Richard E. Morgan observed: "The treatment of prayer proposals by Congress seems, as much as anything, a reflection of the state of the level of morale within the institution. If congressional morale is high and much is going on, little attention is paid to such hardy perennials. When, however, Congress begins to feel excluded and ineffectual, the bad penny of a prayer amendment seems to turn up and begins commanding attention again." It appears that this spectre of low morale and inffectiveness has now beset the United States Congress. Under the auspices of the Subcommittee on the Constitution of the House Judiciary Committee, hearings on such a "bad penny" as prayer are now being undertaken under the guise of "further protect(ing) religious freedom." It must be noted that such an amendment is the primary objective of the Ten Commandments handed down by the Christian Coalition's Ralph Reed to the members of Congress under the rubric of a "Contract with the American Family." As the premiere Atheist organization in the United States, we are not only deeply concerned, but decidedly alarmed with the wording and the motivation behind the discussion of such a "Religious Freedom Amendment" to our Constitution. The timing of its reintroduction in the House is also suspect, considering the current penchant for political grandstanding during an election year. II. Having carefully watched this charade, it is necesary that American Atheists make the following analysis and submit it for inclusion in the record of the hearing. Please construe this to be an educational effort on behalf of the persons affiliated with American Atheists. III. Of all state/church cases decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in recent decades, it seems none have created an uproar like the 1962 and 1963 rulings on prayer (Engle v Vitale and Schempp v Abington School DIstrict; Murray v Curlett). Both of these cases have been twisted and manipulated by the religious right so as to cause massive misreading and misunderstanding. American Atheists observes that a good deal of the confusion has been deliberately generated by those who want to gain political points by stirring up the public with emotional non-issues. More succinctly, this is a hunt for votes in an election year designed to keep incumbents in office. Additionally, the introduction of the proposed permissive legislation into both houses of Congress is based upon a currently theoretical premise that all public life must be either infused with or accomodated to religion. IV. It has long been established not only by the Supreme Court, but by courts across this great and free land, that organized, ritualistic prayer violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment in that it constitutes an establisment of religion. The debate surrounding prayer has always centered on the locus of the prayer, not the implications or the theological baggage associated with prayer. To hear the fundamentalists and other proponents of this measure, one would think that prayers are like jumping jacks.....or running in place. The assumption is that this is something we should all be doing. Prayers are like eating an apple every day to keep the doctor away. Well, prayers are not apples. The presuppositions associated with the act of prayer are as significant as they are varied. In 1859, John Stuart Mill, in his book "On Liberty", wrote: "Where there is tacit convention that principles are not to be disputed; where the discussion of the greatest questions which can occupy humanity is considered to be closed, we cannot hope to find that generally high scale of mental activity, which has made some periods of history so remarkable. The greatest orators have left it on record that one should always study his adversary's case with as great, if not with still greater, intensity than even his own. He who knows only his own side of the case, knows little of that." V. What is prayer? Prayer is the very breath of religion, its most quintessential, characteristic activity. Without prayer there would be no religion. Every religion is predicated upon such prayers. In fact, those who most fervently fight public school prayer themselves believe in the efficacy of such prayers, with the central argument being only the locus of prayer. What has been missing from this debate is the "why" of prayer, not the "where." Prayer is supplication to the unknown to remedy a felt inadequacy of the supplicant. It presupposes three primary ideas: 1) That there is a superintending, self-aware, conscious force in the universe personally concerned with governing not only the thoughts, but the ultimate fates of individual persons; 2) That each individual person, alone or through an intermediary such as a priest, rabbi, or mullah, can be in direct communication with that self-aware authority through the use of prayer; 3) That this outside, individual conscious force can, upon whim, grant or refuse certain supplications and, if need be, suspend the laws of nature to accomplish that which it would not have done otherwise, had it not been persuaded though the exercise of prayer. Atheism is the accepted lifstyle of those 25 million or more Americans who eschew these doctrines. Our rejection of these doctrines is based upon the grounds that such doctrines are firmly established upon nothing more that imaginative hearsay. It is unconscionable that our government sees fit to tamper with our constitutional right to individual opinion of such matters by attempting to legitimize such hearsay through the mechanism of the state. And as intellectually free, law-abiding Americans, we reject any legislation predicated on mere hearsay. This is clearly a biased attack on the right to be free of religion. VI. This amendment goes beyond the scope of simple prayer. This is part of a much larger agenda which includes the infusion of religion into as much of the school curriculum as possible. Even the proponents, in their literature, state that this amendment would "allow private religious expression in circumstances where nonreligious expression is allowed." Under this disguise, religious pseudoscience in the form of "biblical creationism" could be introduced as an "alternative theory" to evoution, bypassing the rigors of scientific scrutiny, simply because it would become protected "religious expression". Anything critical of religion and its role in human society, such as it promotion of the slave mentality, and its brutal treatment of dissent, could be suppressed into extinction. Religion could reserve for itself the right to censor bold, provocative, and challenging arguments it deemed inappropriate or damaging. It would not be an exaggeratin to point out the many acts perceived by individuals as positive "religious expression" which have resulted in harassment, violence, and death for thousands of innocent victims. The bombings in both the World Trade Center in New York City and the federal office building in Oklahoma have their roots in "religious expression." From the shores of Ireland to the sand of the Middle East, we continue to reap the fruits of "religious expression." VII. The tragic irony of these proceedings is that this amendment, while claiming that students can pray "without government sponsorship or compulsion", is IN FACT government sponsorship of prayer. Students, indeed all Americans, have always had the right to indulge in a wide spectrum of rituals, rites, and practices "without government sponsorship or compulsion." By allowing such uniquely Christian-endorsed, Christian-manipulated rituals to be determined by simple majority vote completely misinterprets our First Amendment and relegates non-believing American citizens and their families to "second class" status. Our Bill of Rights was created specifically to protect minority freedoms from simple majoritarian mob rule. This official sponsoring of religious ritual is a Trojan horse by means of which it's backers, once they have their way, could inject other components of their personal religious agenda into the law. As parents with children in the public schools, we find this attempt at back-door evangelization to be shocking, offensive, and irresponsible. A law is not needed to grant the free citizens of the United States a right they already have. This is redundant. This is flagrant political grandstanding that rings with personal aggrandizement, not genuine concern, and certainly it has no concern for Atheists and their families. VIII. We demand that our children be accorded equal accomodation and the same degree of respect accorded to children of "faith-based" households within the school environment. Litigation after litigation has dramatically demonstrated that the effect of even "student-initiated" or "student-led" prayer in the public school setting is coercive in nature, and damaging to the cohesion necessary to promote a civil environment for education. This also undermines the ability of teachers to maintain the type of control necessary for educational pursuits. In a majority of the litigations, it has been Christian or Jewish students who have refused to "go along with the crowd." And each one has suffered isolation. Each one has been harassed, ridiculed as "Satan-worshipers" or "Christ-killers." And, more shockingly, in many cases they have been publicly humiliated and physically attacked. My parents always advised me to never "go along with the crowd because the crowd was headed was usually nowhere but trouble." This small paradigm of parental wisdom has served me well. I have never, and do not now, and I suggest you do not now, take this piece of advice lightly. The passage of this amendment would not only place our government in the role of providing forums for religious rituals, but would further entangle government and religion until such time that the two would become indistinguishable, thus a state-sponsored religion. More tragic is that religion is not based upon democratic principles, and to use religion as a guideline for the governance of a free republic is the antithesis of what our Constitution stands for. This is the nightmare of all patriotic Americans who cherish the freedoms guaranteed in our Bill of Rights. It was Thomas Jefferson who declared that a society that sacrificed liberty for the sake of order, deserved neither, and would lose both. IX. Besides the prayer issue, a most troubling aspect of this amendment is that it will now become the government's role to provide us with a forum to "acknowledge and serve God according to the dictates of conscience." This subcommittee is comprised of elected officials. You are here because you have been chosen to be servants of the people. You are salaried handsomely with tax-payer dollars. You are in no position, nor do you have the right, nor do you have any compelling interest whatsoever to waste taxpayer time and money totaling in the millions of dollars, suggesting legislation requiring that we acknowledge or serve anything except the Constitution of the United States. I would suggest that, as public servants, it is you who should acknowledge and serve us - the citizens, the taxpayers - the people who struggle day after day providing for their families' health, education, and security. While the common taxpayer must meet the unavoidable demands of life on a week to week, and in too many cases, day to day basis, you should be vigorously addressing the very real problems which are characteristic of a free, and overwhelmingly complex society. As government officials it is simply not your place to instruct us to acknowledge, accept, or serve that which cannot be described any further than a figment of the collective religious mind. As Atheists and citizens, we refuse to acknowledge or serve anything other than the laws of this great and free nation and the families that make it great and free. As Atheists we are tired of riding in the "back of the bus" of American society. As Atheists we reject being the scapegoat of what religionists describe as a breakdown of morality in American. Discrimination in favor of evangelical Christianity denies equal protection under the law to other competing religions, as well as to no religion at all. We, as Americans and Atheists, are entitled to be free from religion and to have our children attend schools free from the anxiety induced by confusing, competing, and offensive religious dogma. As parents we have far more important things to attend to than wondering if our children are going to be proselytized behind our backs, without our permission, in areas upon which speculation, hearsay, and bizarre, cruel penalties for non-conformity abound. As Atheists, we prefer our children to think, not to beg through prayer. The argument put forth by this amendment's proponents, that the Establishment Clause "requires the government to censor the speech and conduct of religious citizens" is without merit. On the contrary, it is non-Christians who can be offended with impunity. On any Sunday, religionists can be found in the pulpits of tax-free buildings savaging Atheists, agnostics, and competing religions without the government being the least bit concerned about the feelings and sensitivities of the targets of those vitriolic tirades. Passage of this amendment would give special protections and special rights to the vague, varied, and often contentious issues surrounding "religious expression." Simply because a manner of expression cloaks itself in religiosity is no grounds for accommodation or agreement. In the free marketplace of ideas, religion should be treated like any other idea, given no special treatment, no special protections or advantages, subject to neither preference nor prejudice mandated by government. Rejection of an idea is as democratic as its acceptance. The attempt to litigate respect for "religious" ideas raises the question as to just how valid are these arguments if the arm of the state is to be employed to accomplish whole-scale conformity. We are again reminded of the words of Jefferson who wrote "It is error alone which needs the support of government. Truth can stand by itself."(Notes on Virginia, Query 17). And we would urge those asking for government intervention to remember the words of the Supreme Court in 1952: "It is not the business of government in our nation to suppress real or imagined attacks upon a particular religious doctrine." X. In closing, may I remind this esteemed gathering that since the public schools are built and maintained with taxpayer monies - not church money - it is disturbing that the opinions of those who pay no taxes are given preference over those who do. The public shools are for ALL AMERICAN CHILDREN, not for just a select few. Whatever our differences of personal opinion are regarding matters religious, you would, I trust, agree that the 10% of Americans we represent, a sizable portion of the taxpaying public - those who struggle daily to meet their civil obligations, who work day to day to provide a sound educational and ethical framework for our future citizens - deserve a place of equality at the table of the democratic process. Certainly our children and our "family values" demand equal accomodation under the law, and the same respect and opportunity in the public classroom as do those children who come from "faith-based" families. The defeat of this amendment is a guarantee that we will all be able to continue to enjoy complete freedom of conscience as affirmed and protected by the Bill of Rights of the greatest document ever conceived by man - The Constitution of the United States of America. "If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion, or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein." - Robert H. Jackson, Supreme Court opinion(West Virginia State Board of Education v Barnette, 319 U.S. 624{1943}) Thank you AMERICAN ATHEISTS, INC. Ms. Ellen Johnson, president ******** 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: info@atheists.org, and include your name and postal address. You may forward, post or quote from this dispatch, provided that appropriate credit is given to AANEWS and AMERICAN ATHEISTS. For subscribe/unsubscribe information, send mail to: aanews-request@listserv.atheists.org and put "info aanews" (minus the quotation marks, please) in the message body. Edited and written by Conrad F. Goeringer, The LISTMASTER. *********************************************************************** * * * American Atheists website: http://www.atheists.org * * PO Box 140195 FTP: ftp://ftp.atheists.org * * Austin, TX 78714-0195 * * Voice: (512) 458-1244 Dial-THE-ATHEIST: * * FAX: (512) 467-9525 (512) 458-5731 * * * * Atheist Viewpoint TV: avtv@atheists.org * * Info on American Atheists: info@atheists.org, * * & American Atheist Press include your name and mailing address * * AANEWS -Free subscription: aanews-request@listserv.atheists.org * * 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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