Date: Tue, 10 Sep 1996 10:09:42 -0700 Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for September 10, 1996 A M
Date: Tue, 10 Sep 1996 10:09:42 -0700
Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for September 10, 1996
Reply-To: email@example.com, AMERICAN.ATHEISTS@listserv.direct.net
A M E R I C A N A T H E I S T S
nnnnnnnnnn AANEWS nnnnnnnnnn
# 153 uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu 9/10/96
In This Issue...
* Court Says Forced Religious ""Recovery" Program Unconstitutional
* Pressure Mounts To Remove Chinmoy Plaque
* Prayer Good For Illness? So Is DOOM!
* About This List...
COURT AGAIN STRIKES DOWN RELIGION-BASED ''RECOVERY'' PROGRAM
In Wisconsin, a federal appeals court has issued another blow to
mandatory, religion-based "recovery" programs aimed at prison inmates. The
recent action was filed by James Kerr, a former inmate at Wisconsin's Oakhill
Correctional Institution; Kerr maintained that any coerced participation in
the Narcotics Anonymous program violated religious freedom. Department of
Corrections officials admitted that NA is a so-called "12-step" program
similar to Alcoholics Anonymous. Addicts are told they must "turn over"
their lives and recognize a "higher power."
But often, participation in such programs becomes a condition of parole
or advancements within the prison system. That means that inmates who choose
not to participate for religious or non-belief reasons are victims of
discrimination; it also places the prison authorities, recovery workers and
the state or federal government in the role of bullying and coercing people
into religious rituals.
The Assistant Warden at the Oakhill facility told Associated Press that
participation in the program is "strictly voluntary." But the U.S. Circuit
Court of Appeals noted that Kerr and other inmates who might choose to not
participate in the Narcotics Anonymous regimen would be "subject to
significant penalties" including "classification to a higher security risk
category and adverse notation in his prison record that could affect his
chances for parole."
The First Amendment Behind Bars...
The Wisconsin ruling reflects a trend in the judicial system which is
taking a critical look at the use of religion-based "recovery" programs in
the nation's jails and prisons. With the prison population at an all-time
high (some 2,000,000 inmates), giving the United States the dubious
distinction of having the highest percentage of incarcerations in the world,
there is a flood of invasive schemes and quick-fix programs to "solve" the
problems of crime and recidivism.
Part of the "fix" is a slew of 12-step programs, including Alcoholics
Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous.
In July, New York's State Supreme Court ruled that prison officials acted
improperly when they penalized an inmate who stopped attending AA meetings
because he was an "atheist or agnostic." David Griffin, a former heroin
addict, said that he found the Alcoholics Anonymous meetings objectionable,
offensive, and a violation of his rights. And participation in AA "higher
power" meetings was not altogether voluntary: Griffin's eligibility for a
family reunion program was linked to his membership in the program.
The New York Court ruled that Alcoholics Anonymous was "unequivocally
religious," and added that "Adherence to the AA fellowship entails engagement
in religious activity and religious proselytization." As a finding-of-fact,
the Court noted that "god" is mentioned in five of the twelve steps that are
the "cornerstone" of the AA program, and that meetings of Alcoholics
Anonymous were "heavilly laced with at least general religious content."
Drug use, both "legal" and "illegal", is a complex phenomenon and the
basis of considerable argument and disagreement for social scientists,
politicians, behavioral experts and law enforcement officials. Many
non-believers find the emphasis on a "higher power" and other religious
trapping of AA and related programs to be invasive, insulting and unworkable.
For these individuals, there are alternatives. Rational Recovery hosts a web
site at http://rational.org/recovery, and publishes a "Journal of Rational
Recovery." While RR says that it is "a friend of organized religion
worlwide" and that its technique "dovetails with any theology or religious
education program," it opposes forced participation in religion-based
Rational Recovery adds that "Publicly-funded agencies that require or
offer only spiritual/religious programs violate Constitutional rights..."
Another information source is Cliff Walker of the Center for Rational
Thought, Inc. His page may be found at http://rogue.northwest.com/~crt.
CALLS GROW FOR PARK SERVICE TO REMOVE RELIGIOUS PLAQUE
Cult-Awareness Rep Warns Of "Nebulous Phrases"
A so-called "Peace Blossom" plaque erected at the Statue of Liberty by
cult followers of Hindu religious guru Sri Chinmoy is encountering growing
opposition, as First Amendment activists call for its removal.
As reported earlier this week in AANEWS, the National Park Service held a
special commemoration ceremony on August 27 to dedicate a bronze marker
placed there by Chinmoy's groupies. The Service also presented a birthday
cake for the guru. News reports noted that during the ceremony, Sri Chinmoy
was cautiously referred to as a "student of peace" (rather than a recognized
Hindu religious figure), ostensibly "to avoid unpleasant implications."
Yesterday, American Atheists released a statement to the press calling for
the removal of the plaque . AA President Ellen Johnson denounced the
so-called "Peace Blossom" as a "disingenuous tactic to gain legitimacy for a
religious cult-sect." Ron Barrier, the National Media Coordinator for
American Atheists, referred to a news article about the dedication and
question the efficacy of the review process at the Statue of Liberty for
groups wishing to erect memorials.
Throughout the night, the AA FaxNet transmitted the organization's
statement to Members of Congress as well, and called for an immediate
Meanwhile, the Sri Chinmoy incident has attracted attention of
cult-awareness groups who are familiar with the Queens, N.Y.-based guru.
Cynthia Kisser, former executive director of Cult Awareness Network told
Newsday that it was "wrong" for the Park Service to approve the plaque, and
added "Just what a group says it stands for is not enough...you just cannot
go on what organizations say they represent when it comes to giving an
Kisser said that there was "practically no information in the public
domain on (Sir Chinmoy's) group." Indeed, the Superintendent for the Statue
of Liberty site, Diane H. Dayson, told The New York Times that
representatives of the cult showed her a video about Sri Chinmoy. Part of
the presentation allegedly depicted the guru lifting several thousand pounds
of heavy weights; while she was a bit skeptical of that claim, however,
Dayson considered the theme of peace to be "universal" and approved the
A Scam For Official Recognition?
But state-church separationists argue that not only is Sri Chinmoy's group
clearly a religious organization, but that it's "Peace Blossom" campaign is,
in fact, a ploy for recongition and publicity. Members of the organization
have established a number of "world records" in their thirst for public
notoriety, including underwater pogo-stick jumping and continuous
hand-clapping (fifty hours). The group also promotes marathon events
throughout the world which attract thousands of athletes.
The "Peace Blossom" campaign involves erecting commemorative plaques,
usually at popular tourist sites and sometimes on government property. The
plaques can be found throughout the world at over 900 locations, including
Victorial Falls, Australia's Great Barrier Reef, Mount McKinley, Grand Coulee
Dan, and now the Statue of Liberty. The Statue of Liberty plaque includes a
poem by Chinmoy which refers to "Earth-heart's pinnacle-Divinity" and "Her
Associated Press yesterday quoted a National Park Service official who
declared that "the group's religious overtones and reputation for oddball
stunts shouldn't preclude them from having a presence at America's foremost
symbol of freedom." But American Atheists President Ellen Johnson disagrees.
Earlier today, she told AANEWS: "A 'presence' is not a problem, but a
permanent fixture like a plaque is. It's a clear breach of the separation of
church and state, since it involves official recognition and sanction by the
United States government."
The Statue of Liberty is one of Americas's premier monuments. The
152-foot high copper statue was a gift of the French people in 1886 to
commemorate the alliance of the two nations through the American Revolution.
The Statue became, and still remains an icon symbolizing freedom for
immigrants; it was designed by Frederick Bartholdi.
Those AANEWS readers who wish to comment on this state-church separation
case may fax their concerns to Ms. Marie Rust, the Field Director for the
National Park Service. She can be reached at U.S. Customs House, 200
Chestnut St., Room 306, Philadelphia, PA 19106. The fax-number is
Members of the AACHAT news group can check their e-mail for copies of
letters which AA members have already sent to Director Rust.
''PRAYER HELPS COMBAT ILLNESS''? SO DOES DOOM !
What Atheist and skeptic hasn't heard the latest religious rage -- that
prayer, meditation and other spiritual rigmarole helps to combat illness?
A new study, though, suggests that a variety of activities, including
playing computer games such as DOOM, can boost the body's immune response and
resistance to infection.
That news comes from research conducted by Professor Phil Evans,
Department of Psychology at the University of Westminster, England. Evans
and his team discovered that levels of infection-fighting Immunoglobulin A
antibodies rose for up to half-an-hour in individuals who played DOOM, a
computer game which pits users against virtual armed opponents. He told
today's Electronic Telegraph: "The psychological challenge of the task was
confirmed by rises in arterial blood pressure, and their immune system was
responding positively to the challenge."
Dr. Evan's findings are being presented at the annual conference of the
British Association for the Advancement of Science.
There's a very non-religious explanation for all of this, adds Evans, one
which is rooted in biology.
"It shows that because of the evolutionary process, we are well adapted to
short term psychological challenges, provided we feel we are in control of
it, but long term stress can affect our health."
All of this doesn't mean that DOOM or other computer games can cure a
variety of ills, though, a claim which many prayer and "meditation" boosters
often hint at or make outright.
"Our research shows that the stress of playing computer games is not bad
for you as we previously though," noted Prof. Evans. "But it's also not good
for your health. It means our bodies can cope well with the stresses of
playing computer games but within an hour of the stress the immune system
will return to its normal state."
A number of questionable, often un-proven claims have been made concerning
the alleged benefits of prayer and religious-spiritual exercise.
THEISTWATCH SHORT SHOTS
A Judge in Hawaii will be deciding today whether gay, same-sex marriages
are legal in that state. Either way, the decision is sure to ignite a
political firestorm, and again divide the country over religious lines.
Gay's -- which as a group represent about the same percentage of the
general population that Atheists and non-believers do -- have become a
convenient foil for many religious groups, pro and con. That may sound a bit
strange, but consider the religious response to the issue of homosexuality.
It is pretty clear that in the bible, gay men and women ("Sodomites") are
unwholesome vermin who end up being punished by a cranky and vengeful
Jehovah. Christian fundamentalists understand that quite well, and at least
on this particular issue, are more consistent and "right" than their liberal
But in some corners of the religious mainstream and "left", gays have been
incorporated into a larger evangelical agenda which sees them as "lost sheep"
who must be "reached" and amalgamated into the faith. It takes incredible
doctrinal double-flips and ideological somersaults, but certain religious
leaders have, incredible, insisted that the bible DOESN'T condemn
We disagree, of course. The bible is pretty clear on the issue, and the
disingenuous claim that that at least the Old Testament does not condemn gay
men and women suggests that contemporary liberal religionists are "in denial"
over their own corrupt, evil and anti-human theology.
The late Don Sanders who founded American Gay & Lesbian Atheists was
adamant on this point -- religion is, ultimately, no friend of homosexuals.
It seeks either to burn them at the stake, or coopt them into a trendy, hip
and more respectable form of religious superstition.
As long as we have the institution of marriage -- something which has
interesting historical and cultural loots of its own, incidentally -- there's
no reason why gays shouldn't enjoy all of the benefits, privileges and
responsibilities. Like heterosexuals, they should have the option of whether
or not to marry.
We find it a bit hypocritical for churches to be speaking on this issue
one way or another, especially on the economic aspect of gay marriage.
Someday, it may give gay men and women equal insurance and tax benefits.
And why shouldn't they have them? The churches already have sufficient tax
We recently covered Pope John Paul II's barnstorming trip through Hungary,
where a planned meeting with the Metropolitan of the Russian Orthodox Church
failed to materialize. One reason for the papal visit, though, involves the
efforts of the Roman Catholic Church to rebuild its power bases after four
decades of Communist rule.
As usual, taxpayers in Hungary will be stuck with an enormous bill to
"compensate" the Church for lost property. In Hungary there are more than
7,000 buildings which must be either returned to religious denominations, or
purchased. The bill so far has come to the equivalent of $1,350,000,000. In
the neighboring Czech Republic, Church authorities are demanding $1.5 billion
just to "restore" church buildings and monasteries; and Ma' Church wants over
430,000 acres of forest in order to make money from lumber sales. (And YOU'RE
worried about the depletion of the rain forest?)
How did all of this come about? By hook and crook, the Church accumulated
huge wealth in the old eastern Europe, often by aligning itself with
monarchies. In Hungary alone, the Roman Catholic Church operated 3,000
schools, a parochial system which included half of the nation's children.
The end of Communism saw a profound in shift in the nation's political
realignment, and the fortunes of the Vatican. Still, it isn't enough for
church fathers; they now have regained 120 of Hungary's schools (3% of the
children) and want more. But Peter Tibor Nagy, a sociologist with the
Hungarian Institute for Educational Research notes that most people think
that is sufficient. "They're not antichurch, but realize that the
reprivatization process is simply too expense," Nagy told the Christian
So far, Hungary has been described in the media as a "heavilly-Catholic"
country, a label that was used widely during the pope's recent vicit. But
surveys show that only about 15% of Hungarians describe themselves as
"followers" of any one church or religion. Notes the Monitor, "Simply put, a
church-run education is not as appealing as it once was." Even Bishop Laszlo
Lukacs of the Hungarian Bishop's Conference admits as much: "One thing is
very clear to us. The church will never again be part of the political power
or a rich church. We are living in a pluralistic society....and you cannot
turn back the wheel of history."
Amen to that, brother!
WANT TO MEET OTHER ATHEISTS? GET ON YOUR KEYBOARD !
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