Date: Sat, 3 Aug 1996 13:59:29 -0700 Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for August 3, 1996 nn nn AA

Master Index Current Directory Index Go to SkepticTank Go to Human Rights activist Keith Henson Go to Scientology cult

Skeptic Tank!

Date: Sat, 3 Aug 1996 13:59:29 -0700 from: Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for August 3, 1996 Reply-To:, nnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn nnnnnnnnnn AANEWS nnnnnnnnnn #119 uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu8/3/96 In This Issue... * News Media Still Ignores Separation Problem * European Controversy Over Fetal Material * TheistWatch: An Official Day Huntin' For Porn * AACHAT * 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 will sign. 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 life." 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 affairs. 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 system. 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 boxes! 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 ( 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. *** AACHAT is our moderated discussion forum for members of American Atheists. If you are interested in participating in the stimulating newsgroup, contact our Internet Representative, Margie Wait at Be sure to include your name and postal address. ** AANEWS is a free service of 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:, or check out our cool new web site at 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:, and put "info aanews" (minus the quotation marks, please!) in the message body. Edited and written by Conrad F. Goeringer, The LISTMASTER


E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank