Date: Mon, 16 Sep 1996 12:25:24 -0700 Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for September 16, 1996 (Ni
Date: Mon, 16 Sep 1996 12:25:24 -0700
Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for September 16, 1996 (Nightowl Edition)
Reply-To: firstname.lastname@example.org, AMERICAN.ATHEISTS@listserv.direct.net
A M E R I C A N A T H E I S T S
nnnnnnnnnn AANEWS nnnnnnnnnn
#159 uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu 9/16/96 (Nightowl Edition)
In This Issue...
* First Amendment Wins -- Park Service Removes Chinmoy Plaque!
* A Word Of Thanks From AANEWS...
* About This List...
RELIGIOUS PLAQUE AT STATUE OF LIBERTY REMOVED BY PARK SERVICE!
"A Victory For State-Church Separation," Says American Atheist Prez
The National Park Service has removed a religious plaque at the Statue of
Liberty associated with the Hindu cult of Sri Chinmoy. The action comes after
nearly two weeks of protests, including letters, faxes and public media
releases by American Atheists and concerned First Amendment allies. Ellen
Johnson, President of AA, praised the action, and said "This is an important
victory for state-church separation; it re-affirms the principle that
religious markers, facilities or graffiti have no place on public property,
especially at an important monument like the Statue of Liberty."
Johnson added that "while the sign may seem innocuous to some people,
the organization behind it is religious. It's a publicity stunt using a
national monument to gain notoriety and promote their religious agenda and
the quackery of Sri Chinmoy."
Johnson also expressed skepticism that the "Peace Blossom" really had
anything to do with peace. ''You can put up 10,000 peace plaques around the
country, but how is this going to really make the world a better place? We
know that this self-promotion for Sri Chinmoy has nothing to do with peace."
The controversy began in early July when followers of Hindu religious guru
Sri Chinmoy approached the Superintendent of the Statue of Liberty, asking
that a so-called "Peace Blossom" plaque be erected at the monument. A
National Park Service official, Diane Dayson, then viewed a promotional
video about Sri Chinmoy, which included a segment purporting to show him
lifting over 7,000 pounds with one arm. Followers of the avatar boast of
their leader's athletic prowess and alleged other abilities as a poet,
artist, musician and philosopher.
According to reports in the New York Times, while Dayson was "skeptical"
about Chinmoy's fantastic weight lifting feat, she decided to authorize the
plaque, considering its theme of "peace" to be universal.
On August 27, the National Park Service held an official dedication
ceremony at the Statue of Liberty, which included followers of Sri Chinmoy.
It was agreed that during this event, Sri Chinmoy would be referred to only
as a "student of peace" rather than a quack, religious leader, or cult figure
"in order to avoid unpleasant implications."
After learning about the plaque, American Atheists promptly called upon
the National Park Service to remove it as a clear violation of state-church
separation. In press releases and other statements to media, AA officials
noted that the marker was clearly religious, and involved the National Park
Service in the promotion of a religious group.
Ms. Johnson informed Park Service officials that the plaque was another
"publicity stunt" by Chinmoy and his gullible followers, and that "among the
'unpleasant implications' is the clear fact that this is a religious group,
Sri Chinmoy is a religious leader, and this plaque constitutes a clear
violation of state-church separation." She also cautioned officials at the
Park Service and the U.S. Department of the Interior to consider the
"possible legal implications and consequences" of erecting a religious marker
on government property.
According to the New York Times, Parks Service spokesman Manny Strumpf
said "The plaque is down and it will remain down unless or until it is
approved by the director. And I don't see that happening in the near
Strumpf noted that "A review of National Park Service policy indicated
that the authorization for the placement of a plaque has to come from either
the director of the Park Service or from Congress."
The Times noted that the plaque "has been removed after a review by the
National Park Service."
Earlier this evening, American Atheists National Media Coordinator Ron
Barrier issued a statement, saying "It is unfortunate that the district
superintendent had to review National Park Service policy after the
controversy. This raises serious questions as to who exactly knows park
policy, and what other violations have occurred due to 'policy ignorance'."
Barrier promised that "American Atheists will be vigilant against any and
all attempts to blend our government with any religious cult, large or
A "Thank You" From AANEWS...
It's been a long day...it's late, but even at this hour victory is sweet.
Let us take this opportunity to thank all AANEWS readers who faxed public
officials with your concerns about the bogus "Peace Blossom" plaque erected
at the Statue of Liberty. You have made possible an important victory for
First Amendment State-Church separation.
What's in a plaque about 1-foot square? Actually, a great deal. One
reason why American Atheists was concerned about the Sri Chinmoy incident was
that it involved a possible "gray area" concerning the Establishment Clause.
The Superintendent at the Statue of Liberty claimed that she authorized the
plaque, in part, because it was "not religious." As American Atheists
pointed out, though, there were other legal considerations the Park Service
needed to be aware of.
Under court rulings which delineate what state-church separation is all
about, there is an important finding involving the case Lemon v. Kurtzman.
From this comes the famous "three-pronged" test, which naturally has become
a major target for religious groups seeking to erode the First Amendment's
Establishment Clause. The "Lemon" or "three-pronged" test states that
* May engage in no activity the purpose of which is not secular;
* May not advance religion, or further one religion over another
* May not engage in any activity which involved "excessive entanglement"
At least one Park Service official declared that the Chinmoy plaque was
somehow "not religious." The effect of the plaque, however, combined with
an official dedication ceremony orchestrated by the Park Service -- and a
blatant attempt to disguise the purpose and theme of the ceremony by avoid
religious references -- was to clearly advance a religious organization,
namely the group presided over by Hindu guru Sri Chinmoy.
As Atheists and First Amendment state-church separationists, we don''t
deny that ANY religious group -- include cults that believe their guru can
lift enormous amounts of weight or perform other questionable feats -- should
enjoy freedom of religion. Pick up the phone book for any major metropolitan
area, and you will find dozens, even hundreds of listings under the heading
"churches" which list places for religious people to meet. There, they may
dance, pray, sing, chant, burn incense, gyrate, kneel, bow, genuflect,
prostrate themselves, donate money, light candles, play music, wail, keep
silent, read from holy books, and do just about anything else they feel is
necessary to appease the god or gods of their choice -- on their own time,
and at their own expense.
The First Amendment also gives us freedom FROM religion. There should be
no religious test, for instance, for public office, or the exercise of other
rights. One should not be compelled to support a religion; one should not be
forced to participate in religious ritual either.
It is the position of American Atheists that public property, including our
national monuments, schools and other government institutions, must be
religion-free. Taxpayers should not be forced to support religious
billboards, displays, monuments or activities.
The Sri Chinmoy "Peace Blossom" is ultimately no different than, say, a
nativity scene or some other religious display. It has no proper place at
the Statue of Liberty.
Ask yourself WHY a religious group -- such as the followers of Sri Chinmoy
-- would want to erect their publicity "peace plaque" on government land, and
at such an important venue. American Atheists has maintained that such
public statements of religious belief, when deliberately tied to government
edifices, serve simply to legitimize and sanction religion.
So, pat yourselves on the back. We may again have to again flood the Park
Service with hundreds of faxes and phone calls should they suddenly decide to
sneak the Sri Chinmoy plaque back into the State of Liberty, or perhaps allow
some other religious display. But for now, that Wall of Separation is a
little stronger -- because so many of you made the effort to speak up.
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 e-mail to email@example.com. Or, check out our cool
new site on the web at http://www.atheists.org.
You may forward, post or quote from this dispatch, provided that
appropriate credit is given to American Atheists and aanews. For
subscribe/unsubscribe information, send mail to:
firstname.lastname@example.org, and put "info aanews" (minus the
quotation marks, please!) in the message body. Edited and written by Conrad
F. Goeringer, The LISTMASTER. Internet Representative for American Atheists
is Margie Wait, email@example.com.
E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank