Date: Mon, 16 Sep 1996 12:25:24 -0700 Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for September 16, 1996 (Ni

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Date: Mon, 16 Sep 1996 12:25:24 -0700 Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for September 16, 1996 (Nightowl Edition) from: AMERICAN.ATHEISTS@listserv.direct.net Reply-To: aanews@listserv.atheists.org, AMERICAN.ATHEISTS@listserv.direct.net A M E R I C A N A T H E I S T S nnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn nnnnnnnnnn AANEWS nnnnnnnnnn #159 uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu 9/16/96 (Nightowl Edition) http://www.atheists.org 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 future." 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 small." *** 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 government... * 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" with religion. 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 info@atheists.org. 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: aanews-request@listserv.atheists.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, irep@atheists.org.

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