Date: Wed, 28 Aug 1996 11:15:22 -0700 Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for August 28, 1996 nn nn

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Date: Wed, 28 Aug 1996 11:15:22 -0700 from: Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for August 28, 1996 Reply-To:, nnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn nnnnnnnnnn AANEWS nnnnnnnnnn #141 uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu 8/28/96 In This Issue... * "Salvation By The Slice": Kids Abducted For Baptisms? * Israeli Fundamentalists Attack Supreme Court * Selective Indigation: The Revolt Against Modernity * Ohio Vouchers -- Taxpayers Fund Private School Taxis * TheistWatch: "Prince of Wails"? * About This List... PIZZA FOR BAPTISM: CHURES LURED KIDS IN ''BAIT & SWITCH" SALVATION Officials are expanding their probe into the activies of a Woburn, Mass. fundamentalist church which allegedly lured youngsters into bizarre, immersion-style baptisms with disingenuous offers of pizza and a good time. The case has now gone to a local District Attorney's office for possible criminal prosecution. The "bait and switch" scheme purportedly involves the Anchor Baptist Church, and its pastor, Rev. Chris Pledger. Members of the church would distribute flyers in local housing projects offering children basketball games, pizza and even a treasure hunt; the youngsters were then herded onto buses and transported to the church. Once there, they were told to strip and don special robes, and were dunked in a "small pool or tub of water," according to the Boston Globe as part of the cult's baptism rite. So far, authorities have found that upwards of 200 children were involved in the disingenuous operation in July. An attorney with the Cambridge Housing Authority reported that "Tenants were approached to see if they would like to send their children on the bus, promising games." Children from at least two housing developments were targeted by the church; the director of one development told the Globe: "It's quite a bizarre thing." There are other reports that church members, often dressed in costumes like "pirate outfits," roamed the housing complexes and used candy "to entice children to come to services and activities at the church." One tenent said that church members informed her that while her children could attend the activities for free, she was required to pay $25. "She also said church members promised her son a bicycle if he invited more friends than any other child to become a member of the church." Referring to the visiting church proselytizers, a parent said: "All the kids were following those guys like they were the Pied Piper...What kind of church walks around with candy for little kids?" Meanwhile, the state Department of Social Services has entered the case, and determined that at least one 8-year-old youngster was "emotionally harmed" by the incident; a therapist noted that the boy was "in an emotionally neglecful situation." Most concerning are the questions surrounding the baptism ceremonies. One parent told the Globe: "The kids were told to undress and put on robes. Some kept their trousers on, other kids were totally naked under the robe." ** ISRAELI FUNDAMENTALISTS BATTLE SUPREME COURT Erosion of Religious Support for Netanyahu ? Resentment against secular Israeli institutions, including that nation's Supreme Court, has flared anew as religious movements step up their attacks, calling the court's leading jurist a "dangerous enemy." This latest outburst signals possible erosion of support for the coalition government of new Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from fundamentalist religious parties like United Torah Judaism and the Shas movement. In recent elections, Netanyahu won a slim victory over the incumbent, Shimon Peres; religious groups played a pivotal role in that contest and won a record number of seats in the Israeli parliament, or Knesset. They have also been awarded powerful ministry posts for their role in helping to cobble together a coalition government with Netanyahu's Likud Party. But fundamentalists -- mostly the "haredim," or strict Orthodox community -- want total control over how the so-called Basic Laws which govern the country are to be interpreted. In recent years, the Supreme Court has become increasingly active in interpreting law concerning religious conversion, civil rights and marriages. Resentment from Orthodox leaders has now reached fever-pitch, and like their religious counterparts in the United States and elsewhere, Israeli fundamentalist see the inroads of secularism as an attack on religion. Rabbi Avraham Ravitz of United Torah told the New York Times: "We are on the defensive these days because of what happened. The battle declared by many politicians, especially the frustrated opposition, is moire to attack us than defend the court." According to the Times and other sources, one "trigger" for the fundamentalist resentment is the battle being fought over Bar-Ilan street, a major traffic artery in Jerusalem. For several weeks, huge confrontations and riots have taken place as swarms of fundamentalists pour on to Bar-Ilan in an effort to shut the street down for the Jewish sabbath period. Resisting the Orthodox, who often hurl rocks and soiled baby diapers at passing motorists, are secular activists, especially members of the progressive Meretz Party. Some streets which run through heavilly Orthodox-populated neighborhoods are already closed; and civil libertarians in Israel see Bar-Ilan as "just another step" in a larger fundamentalist agenda which would shut down movie houses, bars, cafes and other activities during religious holy periods. Much of the Orthodox wrath seems to be directed against Justice Aharon Barak. One religious newspaper attacked the jurist as "the driving force behind a sophisticated campaign against Jewish life in israel," and accused him of leading a "judicial revolution." Last week, the daily paper owned by the Shas religious party published a fictional tale describing life after the country had been taken over by the Supreme Court. ; it included scenarios where judges order the army to take up positions in Orthodox communities. ***** The Fundamentalist Reaction... SELECTIVE INDIGNATION AND OTHER PARALLELS In many respects, the outrage being expressed by Israel's religious orthodox resembles a chorus of complaints voiced in the United States by Christian fundamentalists and evangelicals. The role of the Supreme Court -- in both countries -- is a case in point. In the two nations, those bodies have been described as "judicial activist" in promoting the sorts of changes which religious groups sometimes oppose. In the United States, the watershed of resentment against the Court stems from famous rulings like MURRAY v. CURLETT (1963) which helped end mandatory prayer and bible recitation in public schools, to ROE v. WADE (1973) which guaranteed abortion rights for women. The spread of doctrines perceived as being contrary or dangerous to religious teachings, coupled with at least the preception of "blind neutrality" in respect to religion, caused many group to believe that the country had "drifted away from god." The complaint that "religion is under attack" is heard frequently in political debate today; the phrase is conjured just about any time a law is either struck down, or not passed, which would in some way promote belief and doctrinal teachings. Indeed, from Prohibition to the abolition of notorious "Sunday blue laws," religion has experienced some erosion of its former power and official recognition in the society. The Israeli religious daily Hashavua charged that Justice Barak and the Supreme Court were fostering a "judicial revolution". Curiously, that same pejorative term has been used against the U.S. Supreme Court, and former Chief Justice Earl Warren, beginning with the MURRAY v. CURLETT decision. Rulings which have upheld state-church separation or extended protections found in the Bill of Rights, have characteristically been described as evidence of "judicial revolution" or "activism. More conservative jurists, including Chief Justice William Rhenquist, Clarence Thomas and failed judicial nominee Robert Bork have also used in the phrase in connection with court decisions on school prayer, abortion, free speech, and even rights for defendants. The dystopian scenario portrayed by the Shas Party newspaper, Yom l'Yom, also has remarkable parallels in the American fundamentalist culture; much of this has to do with the problematic, even ambivalent view which many religious have toward the institution of the government, the state. In the Shas depiction, the Supreme Court runs amok and assumes total political power, and dispatches army trooops into religious neighborhoods. Some American scenarios are equally menacing. Pat Robertson's "700 Club," for instance, has included a brief video-vignette depicting government commandos raiding underground cells of religious believers whose only transgression appears to be reading verses from the Bible. "Some think that America is headed in that direction," the avuncular Robertson warns his viewers. But religious fundamentalists, while uneasy over any possibility that government could work against their doctrinal interests, appear quite willing to employ the state apparatus when it suits their purposes. In Israel, religious strictures have usually been enforced by government troops, police and courts against non-believers, transgressors, and other segments of society. In the United States, "conservative" religionists put themselves in the position of being a bible-based "Big Brother" when it comes to enforcing laws on behalf of censorship, some form of ritualized prayer, a ban on abortion or other components of the religious agenda. Finally, there is the more general "revolt against modernity" which characterizes a spectrum of contemporary religious-nationalist groups, from Muslim extremists in the middle east, to Hindu zealots in India and Christian fundamentalists in America. The worldwide religious fundamentalist revival is often accompanied by other expressions of discontent with modernity -- everything from quasi-communist nostalgia in the former Soviet Union, to ethnic jingoism and tribalism in South Africa, Bosnia, the Philippines and elsewhere. Such movements are fuelded by a battery of causes well-known to social scientists and historians, including frenzied economic development, dislocation, and social disruption. As old institutions give way or are challenged by newly emerging cultural-economic forces -- even so basic a phenomena as the internet -- there is likewise the reaction which crystalizes around political loyalties, ethnic ties, cultural traditions and religious belief. ** OHIO VOUCHERS BEGIN PUBLIC FUNDING OF RELIGIOUS SCHOOLS With the Labor Day weekend approaching, schools across the country are already starting their fall terms. And in Ohio, taxpayers are now funding religious schools thanks to an expensive new voucher program while, say critics, the state's public schools go under-funded. In Cleveland, parents of more than 6,000 students have reportedly applied for vouchers, each worth up to $2,500. It is estimated that 2,000 of those students are already attending private schools, but under the new voucher program, parents will only have to pay between 10% and 25% of the tuition costs. Of the 49 participating schools, tuition fees range from $710 to as high as $3,640 per year. The Ohio plan is the brainchild of Governor George Voinovich, who was labeled by one school district official as "the worst education governor ever." Critics charge that the voucher scheme caters to private and religious schools at the expense of a cash-strapped and neglected public school system. The Cleveland public school system, for instance, carries a staggering debt of nearly $200 million; parents complain about deteriorating conditions, including decaying buildings and a potential strike next week by the 5,000-member teachers' union. Statewide, the situation is getting bad as well. Twenty school districts had to borrow $87.1 million from the government emergency loan fund during the last school year in order to meet operating expenses. Critics pointed out that meanwhile, the state paid out $136 million for support of private schools, picking up the tab for everything from transportation of private-school students ($15 million) to "auxiliary services" ($85 million) to cover textbooks, equipment and salaries. In addition, the Akron Beacon Journal reported that Ohio's subsidy of $599 per private school student was $197 more than the figures in any other state. Studies indicate that the biggest single beneficiary of the Ohio voucher scheme will be the state's enormous Parochial (Catholic) school system, which could gobble up to 60% of all appropriations. There is no provision in the Ohio Constitution which stipulates that the state is obligated to subsidize private or private religious schools. But while the voucher scheme now goes into effect, the state's formula for funding school districts is being challenged in court by more than 500 of the 611 school districts in Ohio. In the voucher battle, though, it is ultimately the parents and children who are caught in the middle. Press accounts in local and national media indicate that many parents, including those who live in the inner city, are concerned about the deteriorating environment of public schools, citing everything from dangerous structures (the roof of one school collapsed last year) to crime and other issues. But Ron Merec, president of the Ohio Federation of Teachers, told the New York Times that voucher schemes and "private school flight" "allows them to escape the problem, but it doesn't solve the problem for 70,000 other kids." Others point to skewed priorities, including a new $300,000,000 professional sports center. With all of the hype on behalf of vouchers, the supply of qualified schools cannot meet the demand. As of Monday, at least 5 private "schools" were not open; at anyother voucher school, administrators were given money from the public school transportation budget in order to hire taxis to transport nearly 1,000 students to and from school. ** THEISTWATCH SHORT SHOTS One great benefit of liberalized divorce laws -- at least in Britain -- is that we won't have to listen to the virtual torrent of giddy media claptrap about Prince Charles, Lady Camilla Parker-Bowles, Princess Di and the rest of the Winsor love triangle-square, pentagram or however many sides it has. Right? Not necessarily. The divorce decree has been "made absolute," the ink is dry on the settlement, and now there is outrage over whether Prince Chalres is so fallen a human being because of divorce, that he should not someday become king. It appears that even in a country like Britain which enjoys a relatively sterling reputation for tolerance, regular churchgoers believe that Charles should not wear the crown. The Gallup organization conducted a poll of 1,000 clergy and 840 "lay" people, regular church attendees, on behalf of the Protestant Reformation Society. Fifty-four percent of the laity (defined as those who had attended church during the previous month) opposed succession to the coveted titled as Head of the Church of England by the philadering Prince of Wales -- or it Prince of Wails? -- and they were supported by fifty-one percent of retired clergy. Should Charles be permitted to become King? Fifty two percent of bishops said no way, as did 56% of full-time clergy and 70% of the retired clergy. There could be a doctrinal split within Church of England ranks over the succession question. It is significant that the Protestant Reformation Society commissioned and publicized the poll; that group was established in 1827 "to safeguard the doctrine and theology of the English Reformation," according to The Times of London. *** 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 about American Atheists, send mail to, and include your name and postal address, or visit our cool new site on the web at You may forward, post or quote from this dispatch, provided that appropriate credit is given to AANEWS and American Atheists. 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