Date: Mon, 23 Sep 1996 12:25:24 -0700 Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for September 23, 1996 A M

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Date: Mon, 23 Sep 1996 12:25:24 -0700 Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for September 23, 1996 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 #164 uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu 9/23/96 http://www.atheists.org e-mail: aanews@atheists.org In This Issue... * Human Rights or Religious Wrongs? Gov. Office For Clerics * Religious "Charity" Uses Your Money * "Anti-Religion" Conspiracy Is Media Bust * An Ephemeral Offer * About This List... CLINTON FORMING RELIGIOUS ''ADVISORY'' PANEL ON RIGHTS Senate, House Resolutions Defend Christian Proselytizing... The Clinton administration is forming a special 20-member advisory committee which, according to the Washington Post, will be housed in offices located in the U.S. State Department and charged with supposedly informing the government on "problems of religious oppression and intolerance" throughout the world. Word of the special panel was reportedly leaked by an unidentified White House official, who told the Post that a public announcement concerning the matter would be made "very soon." Reuter news service said that the group would make "specific recommendations in areas such as diplomacy, refugees, and using religious leaders to resolve disputes." The identity of the panel members, or what religious group instigated the proposal, are not yet known. According to a morning dispatch on CNN, the panel "is being formed to counter complaints from evangelical Christians that insufficient attention is placed on the persecution of Christians abroad." Formation of this panel (and its recognition by giving it offices and other resources within the U.S. Department of State) comes at a crucial time. * A new book by Watergate expose reporter Carl Bernstein explores the not-so-secret machinations between the Roman Catholic Church and the U.S. government during the Reagan administration in using church resources to accelerate the "fall" of Communism, particularly in Poland and other east block states. Even before this book, however, there were substantial reports documenting the funnelling of over $20,000,000 in covert-operations money from the Central Intelligence Agency through the church and into the coffers of the Solidarity Trade Union in Poland. The government of communist apparatchik General Jaruzelski disintegrated, and Solidarity founder Lech Walesa was elected the nation's first President following decades of Soviet-client rule. (That relationship, though, soon soured as Poles began to be suspicious of the "power grab" being conducted by the Vatican, especially in internal politics. Alexander Kwasniewski defeated Walesca in a hotly-contested election in November of last year. Since then, the Polish legislature has repealed a number of church-backed laws, including a ban on abortion. And the government has refused to sign a "Concordant" with the Vatican. The Pope and the Polish Catholic establishment has also opposed a draft constitution that omits all references to god in its preamble.) * Evangelical movements have stepped-up their proselytizing efforts, especially in the so-called "10-40 Window", a latitude zone which includes a number of countries where Christian missionary efforts are colliding with indigenous customs and religious beliefs, and Islamic establishments. Religious groups based in the United States -- including Pat Robertson's 700 Club -- have suddenly discovered the issue of "human rights" when it involves expressions by Christians in predominantly Muslim societies. A number of organizations are involved in the "Praying Through the 10-40 Window" campaign, including the Christian Information Network, AD2000, and Robertson's "World Reach" project. The AD2000 movement says that it is "Mobilizing global prayer for evangelism," and coordinates the "prayer warrior" efforts of dozens of smaller groups including the Spiritual Warfare Network, Every Home for Christ, Intercessors International, Southern Baptist Bold Mission Prayer Thrust, Campus Crusade and Women's Aglow (sic). "Praying Through the 10-40 Window" is often described in quasi-military terms. Last year, for instance, their efforts included "warfare prayer behind enemy lines" and the use of so-called "Gateway cities" where prayer events were being organized. Robertson's effort is perhaps the most ambitious and heavilly funded. His World Reach began in 1995 with the lofty objective of reaching "nearly 3 billion people with the Gospel message over the next five years -- with the goal of 500 million decisions (conversions) for Christ." "World Reach will focus its efforts on five regions of the world: Asia,Europe, Latin America, the Middle East and North America," says the 700 Club guru. (Ed. note: What's left? The antarctic?) "The message of salvation through Jesus Christ will be communicated in terms that are culturally relevant and acceptable, and delivered by the medium that best suits the culture and capabilities of each nation..." The Christian Education Network says that its plan for "Praying Through the 10-40 Window" events includes "prayer teams (who) fan out to spiritually, economically, and politically strategic cities," across the world. Other events, including the Washing March for Jesus and Concerts for Prayer International are part of a "focus on cities in the Muslim world that is being sponsored by the AD2000 and Beyond Movement." Re-Defining "Human Rights" ? Religious belief was a useful tool during the cold war, when the United States was portrayed as being in a struggle against "godless" communism. The disintegration of the Soviet Union, however, has proven to be a "mixed-blessing" in some cases. In Russia, fascist and nationalist jingoism has created the prospect of yet another authoritarian regime, perhaps headed by strongman Alexlander Lebed, who has sought an official alliance with the Russian Orthodox Church. He and his more rightwing opponents, including madman Vladimir Zhironovsky, both intend using the Orthodox religious establishment, and seek the protect the country from incursions by "other" religions and sects, including Mormonism, Scientology and Judaism. U.S. foreign policy strategists have also found themselves in problematic relationships, though, with religious groups in the middle east. In Afghanistan, the price of opposing the Soviet-backed regime in Kabul was support for the Islamic Mujahadeen. Part of the fallout from that Faustian bargain has the been the emergence of an Islamic state which now may fall to an even more fundamentalist group, the Taliban, and the fact that Stinger missiles are now probably included in the arsenals of "Army of God"-type groups linked to the Iranian intelligence service, VEVAK. Two linchpins of U.S. policy in the middle east -- Saudi Arabia and Bahrain -- both face serious challenges from extreme fundamentalist movements. The use of religion -- at least in this part of the world -- has often backfired on State Department strategists. Yet increasingly, the U.S. government is coming under pressure from evangelical religious groups to guarantee "access" to foreign nations for American-based missionary organizations and efforts. But Robertson and other "prayer warriors" do not seem concerned about "human rights" in the cases of those in the 10-40 window who may be advocating a non-religious or secular agenda. This would include civil liberties groups, womens' organizations, labor movements and movements on behalf of cyber rights and telecommunications freedom. Indeed, the religious right in the United States has often been ambivalent or hostile toward these agenda. * Millennialist fervor is also playing a role in the effort to evangelize the globe. Robertson himself often makes cagey remarks about Christ "returning soon," and notes that humanity is on the threshhold of a new millennium, one with heavy eschatological overtones. Some religious groups, including the Southern Baptists, have dragged out hoary questions such as the status of non-christians, from the theological storage chest. Can Buddhists, Hindus, even Jews REALLY be saved and qualify for entrance into heaven if they just live good lives? Apparently not. In June, the Southern Baptist Convention adopted an official resolution calling for increased efforts to convert others to gospel foolishness, with special emphasis on Jews. That decision prompted an insightful observation from the Anti-Defamation League which said that "Especially after the Holocaust, Christians have no right to talk about a mission to the Jews. They should talk about a mission to the Christians, because it was in Christian Europe that the Holocaust occurred." The week before the SBC convention in New Orleans, two evangelical leaders -- Donald Argue of the National Association of Evangelicals, and James Henry of the Southern Baptist Convention -- contacted with White House concerning a plan which was already being drafted to "address the overseas persecution of Christians." In a letter to Clinton, they termed the project "manifestly inadequate," and according to Religion News Service, wanted a "Presidential commission with more authority to deal with the problem. AANEWS will keep readers posted on the status of this special "Religious advisory panel." ** CATHOLIC CHARITIES ADMITS TO ''PARTNERSHIP'' WITH GOVERNMENT Religious partisans have often argued that "faith based charity" is proof of the good work done by churches. But increasingly, religious charity has turned out to be a government (i.e. taxpayer) funded program which churches often take credit for. That fact was underscored in a new report released yesterday during the annual gathering of Catholic Charities USA, described as "the nation's largest network of independent social service organizations." Even the president of the group, Rev. Fred Kammer, admitted that "While Catholic organizations should be commended for spearheading the development of housing, let's remember that partnership with the private sector and government at all levels make most of these projects possible." The report admitted, for instance, that of the 47,594 housing units built by church affiliated outreaches, 47% were "assisted" by monies from the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Other revelations include: * 218 "church" building projects last year involved "public partners such as HUD." * 41% of operating income "comes from government funding" at different levels, and 3/4 of that amount originates with the federal government. * "More than 11 million people of all religious, national, racial, social and economic backgrounds received services (from Catholic Charities USA) in 1994." The percentage figures may actually be higher, though. Catholic Charities has admitted that over 63% of its revenues come from government grants, not the crumpled dollars bills deposited in Sunday's collection plate. It becomes nearly impossible to trace some of the money flowing through "faith based" charities, especially since it often originates in so-called Community Development Block Grants where public funds are turned over to private (often religious) social service groups. The involvement of religious group in the administration and creation of social service projects will probably grow in the near future, in part due to the Welfare Reform Act. That legislation included a provision known as the "charitable choice clause" that allows individual states "to contract with religious organizations" to provide welfare services. Rev. Stephen Burger, executive director of the International Union of Gospel Missions, a coalition of 245 different "faith-based" missions, told USA TODAY earlier this month that the plan was a good idea. "By agreeing to this welfare-reform plan, Congress and President Clinton are finally acknowledging our success in transforming lives by providing the type of help the government does not, and cannot, provide -- spritual guidance." "Material" and "Spiritual" Help One problem with government subsidies for "faith based" charity (a favorite slogan of Christian Coalition Director Ralph Reed) has been the intrusion of religious ritual into those taxpayer-funded social programs. Religious groups gain considerable notoriety for "their" charitable works which are, in reality, funded by the public. And religious proselytization is often a feature of such "faith based" projects. Rev. Burger, for instance, points out one shelter known as Harvest Home which provides shelter, food and clothing to homeless women and children. "It also provides rehabilitative services that include education classes, life-skills training and Bible study." The Welfare Reform Act -- until challenged in court -- will make it easier for government funds to flow into the coffers of religious groups, minus the traditional caveates about state-church separation. Meanwhile, the public will continue to subsidize a reputation enjoyed by religious groups that their "charitable" outreaches are beneficial to society. ** IS ''ANTI-RELIGIOUS'' ARSON CONSPIRACY REALLY A BUST ? The "Church Arson Plot" Was Much Smoke, Little Substance Despite the efforts of hundreds of federal, state and local agents, evidence of what religious leaders from many points on the political spectrum described as a "plot" or "conspiracy" to burn churches and hurt religion continues to be elusive or non-existent. One reason for that has been a number of arrests in cases where church buildings (of black, white and mixed-race congregations) were torched. This past summer, news of an alleged "outbreak" of church fires captivated the attention of the public, media and government investigators. Initially, it was thought that there was an effort by racially motivated individuals or groups to burn down black churches. Actuarial statistics, though, showed that the number of church burnings for the year was "on schedule," and that nothing unusual was going on. Politicians and religious leaders, though, quickly seized upon the "church arson" hysteria. Black religious groups insisted that a "racist conspiracy" was at work, although Ralph Reed of the Christian Coalition, even the Director of the U.S.Civil Rights Commission, employed more dramatic terms in describing the fires as a "conspiracy against religion" and "conspiracy against christianity." But now, with "church arson" faddism slipping out of the media and political spotlight, a different -- and even embarrassing -- picture is beginning to emerge. * The total of fires still has not exceeded the yearly average; nor has the percentage of "suspicious" fires in churches. In this latter category, from Jan. 1, 1995 to September 4 of this year, there have been 230 possible arsons, 100 of which occured in predomiantly black churches. But everyone has been shocked by the profiles of those arrested for these crimes. Blacks account for about 12.5% of the population. And while 100 of the "suspicious" fires (43.5%) involve black churches, "33% of those who have been arrested for burning black churches are African Americans," according to the Los Angeles Times. Those arrested in arsons of predominantly white churches account for another disproprotionately high ethnic percentage; 93% of suspected firebugs in those cases are white. Some of the more embarrassing, high-profile arrests in the black church arsons include a case in Texas, where a 21-year old black firefighter and church member admitted to setting the blaze. The Times quotes an unidentified Justice Department official who declared that "We're still seeing race and bigotry driving many of the fires as suspected. But we're also seeing other motives as well, sometimes pranks, sometimes issues within the congregation, sometimes...individuals who are a little unbalanced." Demands from religious groups -- everyone from the Christian Coalition to the National Council of Churches -- that the government investigate the arsons has resulted in some 70 arrests, four times the number made before the FBI and Treasury Department (BATF) entered the probe and formed the National Church Arson Task Force. There were several distasteful aspects to the phoney "church arson" conspiracy charges... * Religious and political leaders exploited a "pseudo-event," and made disturbing claims with little or no supporting evidence. Reed's contention that the fires were proof of a "war on religious belief" had little or no basis in fact. Indeed, two men involved in the church fires turned out to be members of the Christian Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, although most news accounts identified them only as members of the "KKK." That racist group is now the target of a lawsuit by the Southern Poverty Law Center; it's director, attorney Morris Dees, has been one of the few level heads in the church arson "conspiracy" flap, and noted that there was a "mixed bag" of reasons behind the fires. In addition, religious right groups that are not particularly known for their involvement in the struggle for civil rights, "hopped on the bandwagon" and exploited the arson issue. The Christian Coalition offered a reward for information in the cases, but the fate of that money remains unknown. Meanwhile, the Clinton Administration established a special $10,000,000 special loan fund earmarked for re-building churches. That move was promptly denounced by American Atheists. "Why should a church be considered more valuable than a home or business which has been destroyed by arson," asked AA President Ellen Johnson. *Further erson of state-church separation occurred when government became involved in the business of replacing torched church buildings. Rep. Henry Hyde, a notorious Christian Coalition supporter, used the hysteria to introduce a Church Arson Prevention Act which mandates especially high penalties for those convicted of burning a church. But why not a private residence? Or public building? In addition, insurance regulators came under scrutiny, and now face penalties for refusing to insure congregations which have suffered as the result of arson. * Public credulity was exploited. In some cases, fears of a "conspiracy" even reached the point that "satanists" were suspected. Fires in North Carolina prompted newspapers there to warn parents of "telltale signs" that children and adolescents were getting involved in devil-worship. At least one group, though, has thus far escaped media and public suspicion -- aliens. ** Going...Going...Almost Gone! It's seven days and counting. You've got just over a week left to take advantage of our spectacular membership discount offer which allows AANEWS readers to save 50% when you join American Atheists. Individuals can join for just $25, and family membership is just $37.50. If your name is "Ellen", you and your partner can enroll at this special rate, too! As a member, you receive the American Atheist Newsletter, American Atheist Magazine, catalogues, special mailings, and other benefits. Interested? Just send e-mail to info@atheists.org, and include your name and postal address. Our office manager, Spike Tyson will rush you a hefty information packet. Then just fill out the application along with your membership fee, and be sure to put "AANEWS READER" next to your name, with your e-mail address. Do consider taking advantage of this un-godly offer! ** 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. You may forward, post or quote from this dispatch, provided that appropriate credt is given to aanews and American Atheists. For subscribe/unsubscribe information, send mail to aanews-request@listserv.atheists.org and put "info aanews" (minus the quotation marks) in the message body. Edited and written by Conrad F. Goeringer, The LISTMASTER (cg@atheists.org). Internet Representative for American Atheists is Margie Wait, irep@atheists.org.

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