Date: Wed, 21 Aug 1996 17:06:29 -0700 Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for August 21, 1996 (Night
Date: Wed, 21 Aug 1996 17:06:29 -0700
Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for August 21, 1996 (Nightowl Edition)
Reply-To: email@example.com, AMERICAN.ATHEISTS@listserv.direct.net
nnnnnnnnnn AANEWS nnnnnnnnnn
#136 uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu 8/21/96 (Nightowl Edition)
In This Issue...
* Federal Court Strikes Down Crosses On Public Land!
* Media Ignores "Christian" Night Riders
* TheistWatch: Today's "Cult", Tomorrow's "Religion"
* About This List...
COURT DECLARES PUBLIC CROSS VIOLATES FIRST AMENDMENT
Ninth Circuit Renders A Significant State-Church Separation Verdict
In a major blow to public-financing and display of religious symbols, the
Ninth Circuit Court yesterday ruled that a 51-foot high cross in Eugene
Oregon which sits on public property violates the Establishment Clause of the
First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The ruling of the three-judge
panel was unanimous; city officials in Eugene must now decide whether they
wish to appeal to the case to the U.S. Supreme Court, or dismantle the cross.
The case was brought by a state affiliate of Americans United for Separation
of Church and State, and two local residents. It was also the third case
concerning the landmark religious symbols, which sits conspicuously atop the
city's Skinner Butte. In April of 1991, U.S. District Court Judge Michael
Hogan ruled that the cross could stay, but that decision was promptly
appealed to the Ninth Circuit.
Dave Kong, a California representative of American Atheists, was overjoyed
with the decision, and noted that the Circuit Court's ruling also applies to
the 103-foot tall cross which sits on public land on Mount Davidson in San
In its brief, the Court noted the long history of First Amendment abuse on
public lands in Eugene beginning in the late 1930's when "private individuals
erected a succession of wooden crosses in the park, one replacing another as
they deteriorated." The present cross -- 51-feet tall and constructed of
concrete with inset neon tubing -- was erected in 1964.
"The parties who erected the cross did not seek the City's permission to
do so beforehand; however, they subsequently applied for and received from
the City a building permit and an electrical permit."
Beginning in 1970, Eugene city government illuminated the cross for
fifteen days out of the year; seven during the Christmas season, five days
for Thanksgiving, and on Independence Day, Memorial Day and Veteran's Day.
In 1969, the Oregon Supreme Court ruled that the cross violated both state
and federal constitutions, in that it was a clear endorsement of
Christianity. In May, 1970, Eugene Oregon sponsored a charter amendment
election; voters approved an amendment to the city charter which then
designated the cross as a "war memorial." A bronze plaque was placed at the
foot of the cross, and the local Charter then amendment to read that the
"concrete cross on the south slope of the butte shall remain at that location
and in that form as property of the city and is hereby dedicated as a
memorial to the veterans of all wars in which the United States has
Oyez! Oyez! No Way!
In its decision, the Ninth Circuit ruled that "The fifty-one foot Latin
cross located in a public park on Skinner's Butte clearly represents
governmental endorsement of Christianity," and cited the "maintenance of the
cross in a public park" as providing "official approval of one religious
faith over others." The court also cited the Establishment Clause, observing:
"Whatever else the Establishment Clause may mean (and we have held it to
mean no official preference even for religion over nonreligion...it certainly
means at the very least that government may not demonstrate a preference for
one particular sect or creed (including a preference for Christianity over
Judges also disputed the City's claims that "the cross is no longer a
religious symbol but a war memorial," by referring to the case of Grand
Rapids School District v. Ball (1985). In that ruling, the U.S. Supreme
"It follows than an important concern of the effects test is whether the
symbolic union of church and state effected by the challenged governmental
action is sufficiently likely to be perceived by adherents of the controlling
denominations as an endorsement, and by the nonadherents as a disapproval, of
their individual religious choices."
The Court reviewing the Eugene, Oregon case closed its decision by
"There is no question that the Latin cross is a symbol of Christianity,
and that its placement on public land by the City of Eugene violates the
Establishment Clause. Because the cross may reasonably be perceived as
governmental endorsement of Christianity, the City of Eugene has
impermissibly breached the First Amendment's 'wall of separation' between
church and state."
(Thanks to Margie Wait and Kevin Courcey for information on this ruling.)
IS MEDIA BIASED ABOUT ''RELIGION'' IN CHURCH BURNINGS?
While much of the media and government hooplah about an alleged string
of church-related "arsons" has died down, there also seems to be considerable
bias in how information in the cases is being reported. One example is last
week's plea in federal court by two members of an organization known as
Christian Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. Timothy Welch, 24 and Gary Cox, 22
both pleaded guilty to torching two black churches in South Carolina in 1995.
Those fires involved the 90-year-old Mount Zion African Methodist Episcopal
Church in Greeleyville, S.C. and the 100-year-old Macedonia Baptist Church in
Bloomville. Welch and Cox also pleaded guilty to a state charge of beating
and stabbing a black man.
Media coverage about the pleas, though, left out an interesting and
over-looked point in the whole "church arson" scenario. Both Welch and Cox
were members of the Christian Knights of the Ku Klux Klan; but in media
coverage monitored by AANEWS, including major newspaper accounts, the only
reference to the men's association is simply their affiliation with "the Ku
What's Going On?
Despite arguments from religious leaders and many politicians that recent
church arsons were "connected" or involved "a conspiracy," there has been
little concrete evidence to support those claims. Even so, religious
representatives of groups ranging from the liberal National Council of
Churches to the Christian Coalition, have been insisting that the fires were
part of what Ralph Reed of the CC termed a conspiracy "against religion."
That sentiment was echoed by the head of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission.
But a variety of government and media probes have failed to support that
contention. An exhaustive probe conducted by USA TODAY revealed that there
was "no evidence of an overall conspiracy," Indeed, some of the fires in
black churches were set by blacks (in one case an individual associated with
the church, and many of the fires involved racially- mixed congregations, or
even white churches. Representatives of the insurance industry noted that
the "church arson epidemic" which had become a buzz-phrase in the newsmedia
and in political speeches, was not supported by statistical evidence.
When the "church arson epidemic" hysteria peaked in June and July, AANEWS
observed that most of the cases which had been solved by arson investigators
involved lone firebugs, disturbed teens, or were attributed to petty
vandalism. Even so, millions of dollars have been donated by a variety of
different religious groups, and once-shabby church buildings have been
replaced by modern structures. The National Council of Churches has poured
in $8,660,000, Kenneth Copeland Ministries donated $400,000, and the
patriarchal Promise Keepers raised $300,000. Southern Baptist Convention
took time from its boycott of Walt Disney to contribute $300,000, and the
Christian Coalition contributed $200,000. That figure is low, considering
that the Coalition declared two Sunday's as fund-raising events for its
affiliated churches; AANEWS observed that since CC insists that its "voters
guides" will be distributed at some 100,000 participating churches, that
figure works out to a miserly $2.00 per congregation.
THEISTWATCH SHORT SHOTS...
Our story about the "Ghost Month" in Korea and China brought an
interesting comment from a Chicago AANEWS reader. "My wife went on a busness
trip to Korea recently, selling nursing supplies to various medical offices.
In some of the obstetrics offices she noticed signs 'We deliver after
midnight.' Since anyone in that business must have a 24-hour service she
asked what this really meant.
"It seems a lot of Koreans believe very seriously in astrology and want
their children born on auspicious days. These doctors are willing to advance
or retard delivery a few days to hit a desired date. These aren't ignorant
peasants; by any standard Koreans are more educated than Americans."
Unfortunately, skepticism and critical thinking do not always correlate
with educational levels. Teaching critical thinking skills -- and getting
people to question preposterous, or at the least oustanding claims -- should
remain a major social objective for Atheists.
Priorities, priorities. Even if for some reason you happened to dislike
homosexuals, if you were a member of the California Assembly couldn't you
find better things to do with taxpayer time and money than fret over an issue
like "gay marriage"? Try driving on some California freeways, or breathing
the air in LaLaLand. Hey, what about unemployment and the slump in the
aerospace industry? There are plenty of problems crying out for attention,
but solons in the Golden Bear State are just determined to make sure that
gays -- those Sodomite types the Bible warns about -- can't have equal
rights. On Tuesday, the California assembly narrowly approved a state Senate
bill that denies recognition to gay men and women who want to marry. It's
the fad thing, you know, bashing gays -- especially with election time coming
up. Supporters of the bill say that wish to deny recognition to any gay
marriages both in-and-out of California.
Bad news for Ralph Reed and any politicians who insist that America is a
"religious nation" populated with bug-eyed, credulous, church going fools. A
recent survey conducted by the Barna Research Group reveals that while most
Americans think Christianity "has had a positive impact on society," fewer
people are bothering to attend church. Nearly 85% of those adults polled
expressed approval of Christianity, but only 58% had similar sentiments for
the older religious belief on the creed-block, Judaism. Approval was only
40% for Islam, and 45% for Buddhism. According to the Denver Post, "Most
non-christians, including atheists, also gave higher positive ratings to
non-Christian groups than Christians did."
Barba surveys indicated that 37% said that they attended church in a given
week -- that's the fifth consecutive year for a decline in that figure, and
represents an 11-year low. As for those "baby boomers" that some believe are
just flocking to church, well, attendance has dropped the most for that
We're gettin' there folks!
40 Months and Counting...
Is it just a coincidence that popular culture is swimming in books,
discussions and movies which have a distinctly millennialist, even
apocalyptic theme? Maybe not. Everyone from Christian fundamentalists to
the Roman Catholic Church and blissed-out new agers are getting stoked for
The Millennium which (depending on your personal scenario) could usher in
Apocalypse, a World Church, or a landing by the Mother Ship. Or maybe the
landscape will end-up as just so much dystopian rubble, populated by the
sorts of charactes in John Carpenter's new thriller, "Escape From Los
In Britain, the rumblings about doomsday are being taken seriously, at
least in a report titled "The Prophets of Doom: The Security of Religious
Cults," published by the Institute for European Defense and Strategic
Studies, an independent think-tank. The Institute warns that there are now
over 500 cults operating in Britain, some of which are "so unpredictable that
they are potentially more dangerous than terrorist groups," noted The London
Times. The reports author, Martin Hubback, says that as the year 2000
approaches, cult activity is likely to intensify. He notes: "It is the
combination of individuals belonging to a group without rational ends, who
are not in a bargaining relationship with the authorities, who are reckless
as to their own survival and who possess the ability and inclination to use
hithertoo taboo methods of destruction, which makes cults such a serious
threat to society."
That strikes a mixed-chord with us, however. After all, "cults" is just
another polite term in describing a religion which hasn't yet hit the
big-time and taken over the culture. You can characterize groups like
Scientology and the Branch Davidians as cults, but the respectable, accepted
mainstream religions are equally irrational and absurd. The only difference
is, for now, the size of the bank accounts and the numbers of followers. Who
knows? Today's "cult" is tomorrow's "religion"!
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