Date: Wed, 21 Aug 1996 17:06:29 -0700 Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for August 21, 1996 (Night

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Date: Wed, 21 Aug 1996 17:06:29 -0700 from: Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for August 21, 1996 (Nightowl Edition) Reply-To:, nnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn 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 Francisco. 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 participated." 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 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 other religions..." 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 Court observed: "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 stating: "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 Klux Klan." 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 demographic category. 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 Angeles." 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"! *** 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 on American Atheists, send mail to:, 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: and put "info aanews" (minus the quotation marks, please) in the messsage body. Edited and written by Conrad F. 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