Date: Mon, 26 Aug 1996 14:28:53 -0700 Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for August 26, 1996 n nn A

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Date: Mon, 26 Aug 1996 14:28:53 -0700 from: Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for August 26, 1996 Reply-To:, nnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn nnnnnnnnnn AANEWS nnnnnnnnn #139 uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu 8/26/96 In This Issue... * San Jose Case -- "Selective Separationism"? * Religious Groups Scramble to Save S.F. Cross * School District Can't Operate "Believers-Only" Class * A Special Offer ~ About This List... CITY DIDN'T VIOLATE FIRST AMENDMENT WITH AZTEC STATUE Suit May Indicate Trend Of "Selective Separationism" A 10-ton sculpture of the Aztec serpent god, Quetzalcoatl is not a violation of the First Amendment, a federal appeals court in San Francisco ruled last Friday. According to Judge Thomas Nelson, the unanimous finding was based upon the fact that "While there was no question that Quetzalcoatl was at one time a religious figure, the parties agreed that...a symbol must have current religious adherents to be considered religion." But a conservative group known as the United States Justice Foundation claimed that the serpent deity is allegedly a religious symbol in the Mormon faith, as well as new age movements and what Associated Press termed a "growing spiritual movement among Zapatista revolutionaries in southern Mexico." In a 3-0 ruling, judges ruled that the Foundation had not made its case, and demonstrated a clear, actionable connection. The statue was commissioned by the City of San Jose to commemorate Mexican and Spanish contributions to the area's cultural heritage; the artist was Robert Graham. The foundation filed suit in November, 1994, prior before the official dedication of the Quetzalcoatl sculpture at Plaza de Cesar Chavez. "Selective Separationism" According to media reports, the United States Justice Foundation is not planning an appeal of the case -- a development which some First Amendment activist see as unusual, considering recent court rulings on behalf of state-church separation. Last week, for instance, a panel in the same court ruled that the 103-foot cross on San Francisco's Mount Davidson is a clear violation of the California Constitution's declaration of state-church separation and official neutrality toward religious belief. Unlike the Serpent God statue, the cross is widely acknowledged as a symbol of a widely practiced religion. Some organizations, like San Jose's Christian Center see a contradiction. Garland Covington, a minister, told media: "It's strange that they decided in favor (of the sculpture) but rule against the Mount Davidson corss. The issue was watched very closely by the city's Christian community. It seems that government wants to put down anything having to do with Christianity, but promote every other religion. But whatever merits the San Jose case might have, the more revealing message may have to do with certain groups promoting "religion-specific" First Amendment cases. The United States Justice Foundation may be an example. The group is registered with the City of Escondido, and headed by Gary E. Keep. In 1994, the Foundation was active in efforts to stop California schools from using the California Learning Assessment System test, which some parents had charged asked students invasive questions. That initiative attracted support from a number of religious activists, including members of Phyllis Schlafley's Eagle Forum. The Foundation head is an unlikely person for the role of First Amendment activist -- political operative Gary Kreep. In addition to being Executive Director of USJF, he is affiliated with "numerous California-based Republican organizations" and was on the National Board of Directors of Young Americans for Freedom, a group which has endorsed school prayer efforts. He is also affiliated with CPAC'96, a conservative political action committee. In February, Mr. Kreep participated in a series of meetings sponsored by CPAC, which featured Bill Bennett of Empower America, Christian Coalition Director Ralph Reed, Gary Bauer of Family Research Council, Iran-Contra crook Ollie North, and even L. Brent Bozell, in-law of William F. Buckleyand a "Catholic fundamentalist" who headed the anti-abortion "Sons of Thunder" movement. Mr. Kreep acted as chairman of one of the CPAC meeting panels titled "Do You Want the Clintons Raising Your Children," which featured an address by "family values" and school prayer maven Phyllis Schlafly. This isn't the first time that a questionable state-church separation case has been initiated by groups and individuals of suspect First Amendment credentials. In June, US District Judge William Downes ruled against a National Park Service ban on commercially guided climbs of "Devil's Tower," a striking landmark which had been featured in the popular movie "Close Encounters of the Third Kind." The suit was filed on behalf of tour guides by a group known as Mountain States Legal Foundation, a conservative group based in Denver with ties to the wealthy Coors family. That case was interpreted by some as less a defense of state-church separation, and a selective attack on the American Indian Freedom of Religion Act. One attorney for the Foundation compared the ban on climbing during a month considered "sacred" by Indians to Baptists wanting to close the Mississippi River for commercial boating. What is interesting about both the Wyoming and San Jose suits is that they concerned the possible involvement of distinctly "minority" religions, and involve organizations linked to individuals or movements who -- rather than being active in separationism -- are, in fact, linked to prayer-in-school groups. Even so, there may be merits to both cases despite their identification with certain partisan individuals. The San Jose case may even be a "trojan horse," in that it actually affirms arguments which are popular with prayer-in-school advocates and other "Religious Liberty" defenders, who often present their case by insisting that religious displays and symbols in public are defensible since they represent "cultural" or "historical" themes. Indeed, San Jose City Attorney Joan Gallo, according to Associated Press, "said she harbored no doubts that the court would reach the decision that it ultimately did." Gallo stated that the justices "analyzed all the claims and rejected them...This was strictly a matter of art and culture, not religion." ** RELIGIOUS GROUPS SCRAMBLE TO PRESERVE SAN FRANCISCO CROSS A newly formed group of Christian religious leaders is scrambling to save a 103-foot cross which overlooks San Francisco from the wrecking ball. They want the city to sell them the land on which the 62-year old religion symbol sits -- this after a U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that the structure violates the California Constitution and undermines state-church separation. The so-called "Mount Davidson cross" was built by the city in 1932, and continued a long tradition of planting Christian religious symbols around the area on public lands. . The mountain is the highest peak in the city, and was also the site for an annual Easter sunrise service; it has also had four wooden crosses erected there prior to the extant concrete structure. City Supervisor Amos Brown wants to have San Francisco sell the property on which the cross site to a religious "interfaith" group at the land-office price of $1 -- a disingenuous move which itself may be grounds for a court challenge. Brown is pastor of a local Baptist congregation. And the San Francisco Chronicle reports that a Mount Davidson Support Foundation is "waiting in the wings," according to Rev. P.T. Mammen of the San Francisco Association of Evangelicals. Mammen told the paper that while the group is "not formally incorporated," it hopes to "step in" and purchase the property. The ad-hoc group reportedly includes Catholics, Pentacostals, Orthodox Christians and Protestants. "Serious questions remain, however, as to whether the city can sell the land containing the cross," notes The Chronicle, "and if it does, whether it could give preference to a church group, or ensure that the 103-foot concrete and steel cross is preserved by a private owner." ** From The Editor ~ Look for a detailed analysis of the Mt. Davidson ruling in our next issue of AANEWS... *** COURT STRIKES DOWN RELIGIOUS SCHOOL, PUBLIC FUNDING A Federal Discourt Court as declared that a public school district in Minnesota may not operate a special school exclusively for members of a religious sect. The case involves the Wabasso Area School District in Vesta, Minnesota, which used taxpayer monies to run a one-room facility for children who belonged to a group known as the Brethren. In September, 1993, the district began holding classes in a building which had been purchased by one Lloyd Paskewitz, a member of the Brethren church, which he "leased back" to the district free of charge. According to a statement by American Civil Liberties Union, "As part of the agreement, the school district agreed to eliminate technology and media such as computers, television, radio, movies or films from the classroom because of the Brethren's religious objections." Other objections by the religious group included having their children not eat in the presence of non-church members, or receive any instruction in health, music or physical education. Even though the District operated the special school, "no non-Brethren children attended..." The ruling, handed down last Thursday by Judge Michael Davis, found that the school -- operated by a public district -- was in violation of the First Amendment. Davis noted that "the School District...create(d) an impermissible identification of its powers and duties with the religious beliefs of the Brethren by agreeing to open the Vesta school in a building owned by a Brethren members, and in a manner expressed by the Brethren. The fact that no religion is taught in the school does not affect the constitutional violation of this case." ACLU noted that the court rejected the school district's argument that it was merely accomodating religious belief, stating that "accomodation is not a principle without limits." The court ruled: "At some point, an accomodation may devolve into an unlawful fostering of religion." Ironically, the school district's legal defense was provided by a little-known but influence group known as The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, an organization headed by attorney Kevin Hasson. A letter sent to supporters in May, 1995 by bible-discipline guru James Dobson of Focus on the Family mentioned The Becket Fund as one of 11 religious groups that Focus was joining in an effort to promote a Religious Equality Amendment which would legalize prayer in public schools. The Fund also provided testimony before the House Judiciary Committee when the "Istook version" of the Amendment was under consideration and public comment; other groups working with the Fund included Family Research Council, National Association of Evangelicals, and the Traditional Values Coalition. In addition, the Becket Fund cosponsored a conference with the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Culture in Rome earlier this year. Mr. Hasson remarked at that gathering that the banning of nativity scenes and other religious displays from public had resulted in a condition where religion "becomes something which pornography used to be: You can do it only in private, in your own home." The suit against the school district was co-sponsored by ACLU and Americans United for Separation of Church and State. ** 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 Atheism, send mail to, and include your name and postal address. There is a 50% discount through September 30, 1996 for individual or family membership in American Atheists. Individual membership is marked down to $25, and families may join for $37.50. You may mail your membership to: American Atheists, PO Box 140195, Austin, Texas 78714 -- be sure to mention aanews, and provide your e-mail address. For subscribe/unsubscribe information, send mail to:, and put "info aanews" (minus the quotation marks, please!) in the message body. You may forward, post or quote from this dispatch, provided that appropriate credit is given to aanews and American Atheists. Edited and written by Conrad F. Goeringer, The LISTMASTER.


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