Date: Sat, 3 Aug 1996 13:59:29 -0700 Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for August 3, 1996 nn nn AA
Date: Sat, 3 Aug 1996 13:59:29 -0700
Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for August 3, 1996
Reply-To: firstname.lastname@example.org, AMERICAN.ATHEISTS@listserv.direct.net
nnnnnnnnnn AANEWS nnnnnnnnnn
In This Issue...
* News Media Still Ignores Separation Problem
* European Controversy Over Fetal Material
* TheistWatch: An Official Day Huntin' For Porn
* About This List...
WELFARE DEBATE COVERAGE IGNORES FIRST AMENDMENT ANGLE
With President Clinton ready to sign new legislation which would overhaul
the country's welfare system, First Amendment aspects of the pending law are
still not receiving much exposure in the national news media. On Wednesday,
the Senate approved the welfare reform package by a 78-21vote margin
following several hours of heated debate. The bill would implement major
changes in the way welfare benefits are administered, and the time periods
people would be eligible for payments. But an amendment to the legislation
has been a red flag for state-church separationists; it loosens restrictions
on awarding block grants and other government monies to religious
organizations. Critics fear that the new rules will make it easier for
churches to obtain government monies in order to administer social welfare
problems. While a growing percentage of religious "chairity" depends on
various state grants, they can be used (in theory) only for non-sectarian
programs which do not carry a religious message.
That could change under the new welfare law, which Mr. Clinton says he
One thrust in the welfare reform package will be an effort to shift the
administrative burden for programs to states and local communities. But the
Ashcroft Amendment provides a greater role for "churches, community groups
and fraternal organizations" in running the welfare system. One fear is that
the social service outreach can easilly become mixed with a religious
message. Critics also charge that it will result in "excessive
entanglement" between government and religion, and place churches in the
dubious role of administering social programs which should have a distinctly
secular purpose. The Amendment states that in awarding grants and other
monies, the government may not "discriminate'' against religious
organizations, and that being a non-secular group should not be an obstacle
in receiving grant monies.
''FETUS WARS'', ABORTION CONTROVERSY SPREADS IN EUROPE
If you thought that the United States was the only country plagued with
anti-abortion factionalism, you were wrong. From Germany and Italy to the
British Isles, abortion has become a high-profile issue which is rapidly
taking on the emotional pitch of the debate being waged in America.
In Germany, legislators in Bavaria last week began tightening restrictions
on abortion access, and placing the Catholic-dominated state in conflict with
that country's Federal legislation. It mandates that doctors may receive
only 25% of their annual income from abortion services, and that women
seeking the procedure must give a reason for why they want to terminate their
pregnancy. During debate on the measure, an anti-abortion legislator called
a gynecologist who was in the public gallery a "mass murderer of unborn
According to reports, including Thursday's edition of the New York Times,
opposition groups charged that the law was unconstitutional and said "it
resulted from disproportionate Roman Catholic Church influence in Bavaria."
It would not be the first time that Bavaria has come into conflict with
the government in Bonn over a religious issue. Last year, a court ruling
that banned the official display of crucifixes in classrooms was widely
defied. In addition, this latest measure again divides German society over
the abortion question, an issue which has been widely debated since
reunification. In the old East Germany, abortion was widely available, and
many Germans resent the intrusion of the new government in their personal
In Britain, the "fetus war" has reached feaver pitch after a decision to
destroy over 3,000 unclaimed human embryos. The action was ordered under the
Human Fertilization and Embryology Act which established a five year limit on
the period for when embryos may be stored. The Vatican condemned the action,
and the church quickly organized an international campaign to persuade women
to "adopt" the clumps of genetic material. The Church referred to the
destruction of the embryos as "a prenatal massacre," and anti-abortion
groups in Britain attempted to organize a "Day of National Shame." In
London, the Catholic Herald newspaper denounced the move, although some
Catholic officials also demanded "a proper funeral" for each fertilized egg,
saying that the embryos "shouldn't be flushed down the toilet."
A Problematic Technology
Since the development of in vitro fertilization methods, religious
ethicists have remained hesitant and divided over the religious
ramifications. Some praised the new biotechnology, which permitted infertile
women to bear children; but because the in vitro technique has only a 5-10%
success rate, fertilized eggs must be "warehoused", thus raising new
questions about their fate. Catholics and some Protestant groups consider
human life to begin at the moment of conception when the fertilized egg is
somehow given a "soul." Cardinal Basil Hume of Westminster told reporters
last week that "The fertilized ovum should be given the unconditional respect
which is morally due to the human being."
While some of the debate in England focused on why couples who had
undergone the in vitro procedure did not respond to inquiries of what they
wanted done with the excess embryos, the more fundamental questions of when
life begins, and what constitutes human life, remain unresolved. For many
anti-abortionists on both sides of the Atlantic, the fate of clumps of
genetic material and tissue will a serious moral and religious issue.
THEISTWATCH SHORT SHOTS
Time was when a phrase like "civil rights" often pertained to a struggle
on behalf of freedom and liberty, often from the tyrannical grasp of
government, ignorance and bigotry. No longer. The term has now been
appropriated by those pushing a religious agenda, especially when it comes to
trashing whatever is left of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment,
which requires the separation of church and state.
On Thursday, for example, AANEWS reported that a court in Ohio had uphyeld
that state's new policy of providing funds to parents who wanted to send
their kids to private, even religious schools. The brainchild of Gov. George
Voinovich, it establishes a pilot program affecting some 2,000 students. And
no wonder that the legislation has such a wide range of opposition, including
the state Educational Association which notes that the biggest recipient of
the scheme would be Ohio's enormous Roman Catholic or parochial school
Now, you've probably heard that the parochial schools are "better" than
their public school counterparts, supposedly because they teach differently,
or often make students wear uniforms, or enforce "discipline." And while
it's true that the academic performance of these private schools is often
ahead of the public schools, there are any number of reasons why. Private
schools are not required to serve everyone; they can pick and choose who they
wish to accept, and keep. Besides, the problems which teachers in public
school classrooms face may reflect wider problems in the society at large.
Now, candidate Bob Dole has decided to appropriate the language of the
civil rights era, especially in acting out his role as a "grocery boy" for
Ralph Reed & Co. at the Christian Coalition. During a campaign sweep through
Ohio last week, Dole praised the Voinovich voucher scheme, and then announced
his own $5 billion-a-year government aid slush-fund for private and religious
schools. (Hey, whatever happened to lower taxes, Senator Bob?) He then
pompously declared that the drive for "school choice' was really "a civil
rights movement of the 1990's."
We shouldn't lose sight of one important factor in the
public-versus-private school debate though -- and that's the students. Read
the literature of the "school-choice movement," look at who the leaders are,
and you'll quickly see that the REAL objective of voucher schemes and other
government aid proposals is to increase the number of schools which have as a
major part of their goal the religious indoctrination and training of
youngsters. It's shocking as well to see some of the texts which certain
religious groups want included (or excluded) from their curriculums. Bob
Jones University publishes a number of classroom texts which teach
creationism -- the doctrine that the universe and life began when god
presumably became bored and decided to "create" everything, for purposes
which leading philosophers and even theologians cannot seem to agree upon --
and re-write American history from a more "Christian" perspective.
Of course, all of that may just backfire. Go to any schmooze-fest of
Atheists, and you will inevitably encounter a few firebrands who began to
distrust and question religious doctrine simply as a result of being so
immersed in it. They KNOW first hand that the wine doesn't turn into blood
during the mass!
It's good to know that the Christian Coalition can't cover all the bases,
even with its enormous political and social resources. In Durham, N.C. gays
are still reportedly rubbing their eyes in amazement ("Is this really
happening? Am I awake?") because the annual Gay & Lesbian Film Festival at
the Carolina Theater is on track, with a slew of new cinematic offerings.
Last year, well, things were a bit rougher. Irate telephone calls poured
into the offices of local newsmedia and government honchos, and the Durham
City Council spent a full day "screening the films, looking for pornography,"
according to the regional newspaper. (Yeah, a full day "looking for
pornography." Right.) The difference seems to be that the local Christian
Coalition is either on vacation, or has its hands full with other, more
pressing matters Victorial Peterson, who last year was vigorously opposing
the Festival, says that the Coalition and other groups are too busy; "There's
only so many battles that we can fight at one time. It's not that we're not
concerned. We are."
The implication here is that exercising basic civil liberties -- such as
showing movies to an audience of consenting adults -- is problematic and
conditional, depending on -- in part -- the aesthetic judgments of local
solons, and the activities calendar of groups like the Ralph Reed
Cheerleading Society. Ah, if only the Coalition would STAY this busy,
perhaps the rest of us could get on with our lives.
A note to AANEWS readers. Last week, we encountered some minor problems
with our listserv platform, and as a result the day's AANEWS dispatch was
sent twice to all subscribers. We apologize for cluttering up your e-mail
And Mr. Spike Tyson, the office manager at the American Atheist center,
asks that those of you who have requested either book catalogues or
membership information please be patient. Response from both AANEWS and our
new site on the world wide web (http://www.atheists.org) has been
overwhelming, and frankly, Mr. Tyson is having to reprint considerable
quantities of literature, including our book catalogue. Now, that's the kind
of shortage we like to see!
Some of you have pointed out that the website is slow. Next week, our
provider will shutting down for several hours to install new and faster
equipment which should go a long way in improving the service and time it
takes to download material. We appreciate the many kind comments and helpful
suggestions people have made. Now that the site is up, our next goal will be
to post regular news reports and updates on the FLASHLINE segment. Look for
that addition soon.
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