Date: Tue, 10 Sep 1996 10:09:42 -0700 Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for September 10, 1996 A M

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Date: Tue, 10 Sep 1996 10:09:42 -0700 from: Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for September 10, 1996 Reply-To:, A M E R I C A N A T H E I S T S nnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn 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! * TheistWatch * AACHAT * 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." Non-"Faith-Based" Programs 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, 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 programs. 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 *** 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 investigation.. 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 just cannot go on what organizations say they represent when it comes to giving an endorsement." 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 commemorative plaque. 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 Beauty's cosmos-fragrance-ride." 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 215-597-0815. 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 counterparts. 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 homosexuality. 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 breaks. ** 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 Science Monitor. 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 ! If you're interested in meeting other Atheists, why not join American Atheists and participate in our moderated discussion forum known as AACHAT? It's easy to do, and during the month of September, we'll even "sweeten the deal"! Through September 30, membership for individuals or families in American Atheists has been discounted 50%. But this offer is good only for readers of aanews. Interested? * If you are already a member of American Atheists, you can participate in the AACHAT newsgroup. Just drop a line to the Moderator, Margie Wait via Be sure to include your name and address. * If you would like to receive information about joining American Atheists, send e-mail to Be sure to include your name and mailing address. For aanews readers only, the membership has been discounted 50% for the rest of this month. You may select individual membership for $25, or family membership for just $37.50. Members receive the American Atheist Newsletter, American Atheist Magazine, special mailings and other benefits. *** 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. You may forward, post 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 the quotation marks, please) in the message body. Edited and written by Conrad F. 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