Date: Mon, 9 Sep 1996 12:25:24 -0700 Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for September 9, 1996 A M E

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Date: Mon, 9 Sep 1996 12:25:24 -0700 from: Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for September 9, 1996 Reply-To:, A M E R I C A N A T H E I S T S nnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn nnnnnnnnnn AANEWS nnnnnnnnnn #152 uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu 9/9/96 In This Issue... * NYC Continues Assault On Public Schools, First Amendment * "Rally for Revivial" Flops in London * Supporters Urged To Oppose Religious Plaque At Statue Of Liberty * TheistWatch: Condoms In Iran, Briefs in England? * About This List... NY MAYOR WANTS CHURCH TO EDUCATE PUBLIC STUDENTS New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani announced his support yesterday for a controversial plan which would "farm out" an initial group of 1,000 students from the city's cash-strapped educational system to Roman Catholic parochial schools. The Mayor was responding to the latest offer from Church authorities, one that has been proposed since 1991 in one form or another by Cardinal John O'Connor. "I think this is worth doing," said the Mayor, discussing the Church's proposal with the New York Times. "His (O'Connor's) offer essentially is to take some number of children that are in the bottom 5 percent in terms of performance and take them for a period of time that will be agreed upon and get them up to reading level, math level and educate them throughout." But as the Times noted, "the proposal itself raised serious questions about the separation of church and state, the control that public school officials would have over the teaching standards and curriculums in parochial schools and the ability of those schools to be sensitive to a religiolusly diverse group of public school children." The Mayor's scheme drew an immediate response from Ellen Johnson, President of American Atheists. "This is clearly unconstitutional, and the idea that the Mayor would even propose such an arrangement is disturbing," said Johnson. "If you can't send teachers from public schools to teach in the parochial system, you shouldn't be sending public schooll students to Catholic schools. The solution is to improve the educational system, not hand kids over the church." Johnson added that the Mayor is showing a clear lack of commitment to the public education system. "Remember, parochial schools are extensions of churches," warned Ms. Johnson. According to reports, this latest proposal has been in the planning stage for some time -- at least from the viewpoint of church authorities. The Mayor said that he became aware of this offer last week; and he promptly discussed the matter with New York Cardinal John O'Connor. Under the Church plan, Catholics schools in Manhattan, the Bronx and Staten Island, Queens and Brooklyn would take in an initial lot of 1,000 students. There are considerable obstacles, though, and skepticism on the School Board which would have to approve this plan. O'Connor has even proposed another scheme -- one where empty parochial classroom space is turned over to the city in exchange for "modest fees." Schools Chancellor Rudy Crew expressed "reservations," and warned "I think that we've got to be a little bit careful about the sort of glitz of all of this." And Sandra Lerner, the only Jewish member of the Education Board, expressed worry of whether students sent to those Catholic schools would receive appropriate education on matters such as birth control. She also wondered if the scheme was simply not a form of voucher system. The O'Connor-Giuliani plan comes at a time of crisis not only for New York City schools, but in the midst of possible litigation concerning First Amendment state-church separation questions. * The New York School system is in considerable financial crisis. Schools opened last week to what the Times described as "the worst overcrowding in decades," with more than one million students in the system without seats. The initial lot of 1,000 students would do little to address the deeper causes of that problem, and amounts to one-tenth-of-one-percent of that total; even so, it would be highly symbolic of a growing, working relationship between the Parochial school system, and the (secular) City educational system. First Amendment separationists see a myriad of possible legal problems here. * The City of New York is already involved in "excessive entanglement" with religion, warn critics. Last week, officials in Yonkers announced yet another agreement to provide bus service for nearly 1,000 students in the local parochial school system. Yonkers had earlier yanked that subsidy, which amounts to $970,000 per year, following massive cut-backs announced by the state. Local priests quickly organized a protest, and the "free ride" policy was re-instated. * The City already provides remedial services to more than 22,000 students in 250 private and religious schools, at an annual cost of over $14 million. Last week, a group of Roman Catholic parents filed suit, protesting a policy whereby students must leave the building and go outside and into one of the 14 special trailers the City uses for the program. This is a challenge to the 1985 ruling, Aguilar v. Fenton, which found that public school teachers may not enter private, religious schools for purposes of giving instruction; judges ruled that doing so would constitute "entanglement" between government and religion. * There are constant howls from ethnic and religious group demanding that the city establish "special" public schools to meet the alleged "needs" of certain students based on race, religious indoctrination, and -- more lately -- sex. A "girls only" school has opened, and is being challenged with a lawsuit. For the Giuliani-O'Connor plan to work, though, church and city officials must find a way to avoid the appearance of religious indoctrination in the program. Critics charge that any accomodation with religious schools -- including voucher schemes and reassignment of students -- simply avoids dealing with the root problems faced by many public school systems. ** MUSLIM ''RALLY FOR REVIVAL'' A BUST AS GAY RIGHTS ACTIVISTS APPEAR It was supposed to have been a huge conference of militant, fundamentalist Islamic theocrats; but Sunday's gathering in London ended up drawing only a few dozen true-believers, as well as a group of over a dozen gay rights activists who protested the bigotry and intolerance of the event. Police announced a last-minute cancellation of the "Rally for Revival." in Lodon't dock area. While some of the world's leading terrorist spokesmen were supposed to be there for the Muslim schmooze-fest, about the only bomb was the event itself. A speech by Sheik Bakri of the Muhajjiroun movement to 50 of the faithful was drowned out by 15 gay rights supporters, who disagreed with the Muslim leaders call for homosexuals to throw themselves from the top of the Big Ben clocktower in repentance for their sins. Unfortunately, the police took their own big brother attitude, and seized propaganda being circulated by Saudi dissident Muhammed al-Masari including a tract titled "Muslim vs. Judaism." Masari, while critical of the corrupt ruling House of Saud, has called for the extermination of Jews and feels that the Saudi theocracy is not sufficiently "pure." The affair was criticized by Jews in Britain, as well as a number of Arab governments. Representatives of major Islamic terrorist groups were planning to send either spokesmen or taped greetings to the conference, and a turnout of over 14,000 was anticipated. * THEISTWATCH SHORT SHOTS It's amazing how religious doctrine, in the hands of a sufficient oily religious divine can be used to justify anything you want. When Muslim theocrats took control of Iran in 1979, Islamic clerics told their followers to follow their Christian counterparts, and "be fruitful and multiply," in hopes of creating a hoard of superstitious religionists who would sweep over the earth. Since then, Iran's population has soared to move than 60 million people, from a figure of 35 million just 17 years ago. As a result, 45% of the population is under the age of 17, and the legal age of marriage has been dropped to -- get this -- 9. Now, this ain't the backwoods of some rural outpost in the movie "Deliverance." All of this has forced the Islamic clerics to re-evaluate what is happening in Iran, a country plagued by unemployment, stagnant economic prospects, and -- this, the most dangerous of all -- a huge population of youth who may well seek to overthrow the sclerotic and oppressive leadership of their bearded elders. As a result, Iran now has one of the world's most aggressive programs to encourage smaller families, a new policy that sent clerics and "religious scholars" not only backtracking on earlier statements, but frantically rumaging through texts like the Koran for an ideological justification. Iran's Minister of Health says "There was always some question whether family planning was approved by the religious leadership or not," so the ministry "quietly" maintained pre-Islamic Revolution policies like distribution of condoms. In 1988, with the population soaring, the Iranian cabinet approved a birth control program by only one vote, although the decision was not even announced for fear of offending religious hardliners. The prophet Mohammed is said to have declared that he approved of large families, and looked forward to the day (as do most other religious leaders as well) when the numbers of his believers would outnumber and overwhelm all others. Iran was well on its way; but major changes started to take place in 1993, when subsidized health insurance and food coupons for any child after the third were ended. American religious and political leaders, please take note! Even so, with an annual growth rate of 2.5%, Iran will still have nearly 100,000,000 Muslims by the end of the century, unless the young people decide to get uppity, cause some major disruptions, and boot their clerical elders out of Tehran. We wish them every success. In the meantime, do use a condom! ** ATHEISTS CALL FOR ACTION TO REMOVE RELIGIOUS PLAQUE American Atheists is preparing a series of letters and press releases, and is urging supporters to contact public officials and demand the removal of a recently-installed religious plaque at the Statue of Liberty. Yesterday, AANEWS carried a story concerning a brass "Peace Blossom" plaque which had been erected in the lobby at the Statue of Liberty by the National Park Service and followers of the Hindu religious leader Sri Chinmoy. Later today, American Atheists is expected to issue public statements condemning the plaque, and urging officials to dismantle the bronze marker as a clear violation of First Amendment state-church separation. Those wishing to comment on this matter should contact Marie Rust, the Field Director of the National Park Service for that area. She may be reached by fax at 215-597-7013, or by mail through the U.S. Customs House, 200 Chesnut St., Room 306, Philadelphia, Penna. 19106. An evening edition of AANEWS will carry subsequent reports on this matter, and a transcript of the American Atheists press release. *** No, you don't have to go to Iran to see the plasticity (when it is convenient) and sloppiness of religious "thinking." Jus think Iowa, I-O-W-A. A pastor in that state is trying to form a "safety prayer net" which involves having thousands of people praying to protect Iowa's farmers during a busy, often dangerous harvest season. The Rev. Karl Goodfellow of the Guttenburg United Methodist Church has already conducted a "pilot prayer project" in the Northeast part of the state, and now hopes to enlist over 10,000 of the faithful. The idea is to have people praying, in hopes that god won't allow any farmers to be injured or killed during stressful, often demanding harvest activities. If this sounds credulous, foolish and something out of the Medieval times, well, it certainly is. Why does "god" need to be reminded of things like this? If he is all-good, why would he permit some or all of the terrible accidents which take place during the harvest season? Even so, Rev. Goodfellow says "I do believe that the prayer will cut the number of accidents. I don't have an iota's worth of feeling that won't happen." "Prayer nets" and other bizarre divices are something you'd expect from a crank television evangelist howling into the microphone..."Lay your hands on the teee-veee set and be HEALED!" But this foolishness has even caught the attention of one LaMar Grafft, identified as a "rural health and safety specialist" for the University of Iowa's Institute for Rural and Environmental Health. According to a report carried by Associated Press from the Waterloo Courier, "Grafft is pursuing grant money to study Goodfellow's prayer project." "We hope to be able to document some kind of change in the number of injuries in the farmers being prayed for," Grafft said. Supposedly, people who are aware they are being prayed for feel less stress -- a kind of mental placebo which can "make the farmer slow down and use more caution." Hey, wait a second. You don't begin an objective, scientific study gushing with the "hope" of documenting your claim. And there could be any number of reasons why the injury rate for farmers, or any other group, might fall in a given year -- including greater awareness of accidents, or other initializing conditions. No doubt, just about any result will be used to demonstrate the alleged efficacy of the "prayer net." ** In California, a legal battle over a variety of related issues -- including whether or not students should be compelled to buy insurance -- has been resolved in a federal appeals court. In 1992, Gred Goehring and five other students objected to the use of registration fees at the University of California which covered, in part, insurance which could be used for abortion services. The students argued that the subsidy indirectly paid for abortions, and thus violated their religious views. Last week, a federal appeals court ruled that there was not a substantial burden on religious rights. Goehring was supported in his suit by the Rutherford Institute. Ironically, the students may have a point; and perhaps the best way to resolve disputes of this nature is to permit individuals to be able to choose from different insurance plans, some of which may offer abortion service coverage. But that won't stop the religious right's war on abortion; they will find yet another excuse to try and outlaw the procedure. After all, women going into an abortion clinic usually do so at their own expense. The bible zealots outside should remember that fact. ** The concern that children might catch a fleeting glance (gasp!) of a nude human form has reached epidemic and self-righteous proportions. Just how far will we go to "protect children" in puritanical fashion, fostering an aura of taboo -- and ultimately repressed desire -- around the notion of the human form? Look at the case of an art exhibition in Durham Cathedral in England which opened over the weekend. A video image projected onto a 20-foot screen and titled "The Messenger" is being blocked off and moved to a corner of the church, lest children happen to catch a glance of the naked man in the presentation. The video is the work of California artist Bill Viola, and was even commissioned by a church-run charitable organization known as the Chaplaincy to the Arts and Recreation. The video shows Chad Walker, an American diver who is capable of holding his breath for up to four minutes; Walker gradually floats into sight of the camera, breaks the surface and releases a muffled road. The slow motion presentation comes complete with underwater sound effects, and not surprisingly has been termed a "great work of art." Viola stresses that the work is a "metaphor for the human condition," but police and local bluenoses don't see it that way. The video was orignally to have been presented beside the cathedral's great side door, but now has been relocated out of the way and behind a curtain. Viola said that he wanted "The Messenger" to be something comparable to the 'great monumental religious paintings and frescoes of the past," but they too would be considered obscene by some contemporary puritans. We're waiting for the day when we hear calls to airbrush some of the figures in the Sistine Chapel, or perhaps have Michaelangelo's "David" sporting a jockstrap or pair of Haines briefs for men. ** 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 more information about American Atheists, send mail to and include your name and postal address. Or, check out our cool new web site at You may post, forward or quote from this dispatch, provided that appropriate credit is given to American Atheists and the aanews. For subscribe/unsubscribe information, send mail to and put "info aanews" (minus quotation marks, please) in the message body. Edited and written by Conrad F. Goeringer, The LISTMASTER. Internet Representative for American Atheists is Margie Wait,


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