Date: Mon, 30 Sep 1996 12:25:24 -0700 Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for September 30, 1996 A M

Master Index Current Directory Index Go to SkepticTank Go to Human Rights activist Keith Henson Go to Scientology cult

Skeptic Tank!

Date: Mon, 30 Sep 1996 12:25:24 -0700 Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for September 30, 1996 from: Reply-To:, A M E R I C A N A T H E I S T S nnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn nnnnnnnnnn AANEWS nnnnnnnnnn #169 uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu 9/30/96 http://www.atheists. org e-mail: In This Issue... * New Era Indictment Raises Old Question *(Groan!) Another Islamic Theocracy * Upitty Women in Pakistan! * About This List... NEW ERA FOUNDER INDICTED: SCANDAL SPOTLIGHTS RELIGIOUS $$$ Billion-Dollar Religious Crusade Funding Plan Remains Mystery... The U.S. government filed its 82-count indictment on Friday against the founder of a non-profit charity organization with ties to some of the most powerful religious organizations in the country. It is the latest chapter in a scandal which began over one-and-a-half years ago, following the collapse of the Foundation for New Era Philanthropy, casting doubts on the charity's president and founder, John Bennett, and raising suspcions of wealthy, anonymous donors who talked of funneling up to $1 billion into the coffers of religious evangelical movements. Bennett stands accused of operating a "double-your-money" scheme which enticed a number of non-profit organizations -- many of them religious -- into putting up "good faith" investmen money which, promised Bennett, could be doubled in value in as little as 90-days after being matched by wealthy, secret contributors. There are suspected indications that Bennett operated a pyramid scheme, possibly repaying the investors with their "donated" money out of the funds of new investors. Early reports identified a number of religious groups "based in Colorado Springs, Colorado" as participants in the New Era arrangement. The government now contends that Bennett -- a leading figure in the Philadelphia arts and philanthropic community -- diverted money from New Era for his personal use; a bankruptcy trustee now puts that figure at nearly $5,000,000. Both New Era and Bennett filed for Chapter 13; at the time, he and his wife resided in a $620,000 home which had been paid for in cash. The philanthropist also informed federal bankruptcy officials that the couple could live on no less than $9,880 per month to cover personal expenses. Investigators contend that Bennett acted as a middle-man between non-profit organizations and wealthy donors, many of them interested in assisting religious causes. Among the names being mentioned is that of John Templeton Jr., son of British investment mogul Sir John Templeton who founded the prestigious Templeton Prize for Religion, the world's largest endowment reward. According to the London Times, Sir John intended to contribute over $16,000,000 this year alone "mainly to religious and spiritual causes." Templeton made his fortune as an investor in Japan, heading up the Templeton Galbraith and Hansberger fund. He sold his stake in the business in 1992 for nearly $500 million, but even with hefty philanthropic contributions like the Templeton Prize, his fortune has continued to expand. The list of New Era participants reads like a who's-who of elite arts and cultural organizations as well as evangelical outreaches. Most organizations lost money in the philanthropy's bankruptcy, a figure which investigators now put at a staggering $136 million; but about $85 million ended up in the coffers of so-called "net positive" groups who either received substantial matching funds or outright grants. 185 religious organizations in the New Era collapse promptly founded the United Response to New Era, in an effort to establish "biblically and morally correct" ground rules and recoup some of their initial investment. The goal is to have the "net positives" turn over all of their earnings to a third party, the Evangelical Council for financial Accountability, to cover the losses of the "net negatives." Some of the former category, such as Baptists for Life, have already done so. That plan was approved last month by a U.S. Bankruptcy judge; but the "net negatives' will get back only about 65% of their investment. 31 nonprofit groups, meanwhile, have filed a $90 million lawsuit against the troubled Prudential Securities, Inc., maintaining that the giant firm has played a "pivotal role" in the collapse of New Era, was aware that Bennett's operation was a fruad, and considered the matching program as "a likely scam operation." Plaintiffs in that New Era-related suit include Philadelphia College of Bible, Biblical Theological Seminary, United Theological Seminary and several small religious colleges. A Fund For Proselytizing ? Bennett could face up to $28 million in fines, and prison sentences of over 900 years if convicted for running the financial scheme. On Friday, defense attorneys filed documents claiming that the New Era founder suffered brain injury during a 1984 auto accident, and was under psychiatric care and suffered hallucinations. Even so, Bennett reportedly projected a charming, confident demeanor when dealing with both possible grantees, investors and philanthropists. But in the mountain of legal and accounting paperwork which has become part of the largest philanthropic scandal in decades, a key elements has apparantly been ignored. Early accounts of the New Era collapse quoted sources who said that Bennett and the philanthropy were part of an effort by "wealthy donors who wish to remain anonymous" to channel sums of up to $1 billion into religious evangelical groups in the United States. That news was quickly subsumed by the outcry of New Era's "net negatives" -- especially bible colleges, missionary groups and other religious organizations -- that they had lost millions. The fate of the various groups involved in the philanthropy's collapse is still not clear, and there is the possibility that some of New Era's "sugar daddies" will continue to pour money into their coffers. Even without John Bennett, a cozy relationship will continue to exist between power financial backers like Templeton, and religious evangelical groups. ** ANOTHER ''NATION UNDER GOD'' AS TALIBAN SEIZES CONTROL IN AFGHANISTAN Women, Intellectuals, Media Are Targets Islamic fundamentalist rebels seized control of the Afghan capital of Kabul over the weekend, and began a reign of terror to enforce strict Muslim doctrines. The group known as Taliban now rules over two-thirds of the nation; a broadcast from Mullah Omar, the organization's leader, declared the country a "competely Islamic state" and promised that a "complete Islamic system will be enforced." The Taliban victory has been described as a series of "stunning successes" in the aftermath of a ten-year civil war and battle against the former Soviet Union. The organization represents perhaps the most extreme Islamic movement yet to achieve state power, and is even more theocratic than its counterparts in nations like Iran, or even Saudi Arabia. The roots of the Taliban movement go back to the civil war against the Soviets, which ended in 1989 and was a contributing factor to the collapse of Moscow's communist regime. That war was unpopular in Russia, and the Red Army was bested by a coalition of Islamic guerrilla groups assisted by Western interests, including the United States which supplied guns, ammunition, food, medical supplies and even sophisticated, hand-held Stinger air-to-ground missiles. Later, the Russian defeat would be compared to the American experience in Vietnam. Sometime in 1994, the Taliban movement was started by Mullah Muhammad Omar, a guerrilla fighter who had lost an eye during one of numerous encounters with the Soviets. Little is known about the Mullah, although it is suspected that he shares the roots of other Taliban fighters, most of whom were clerical students in religiousschools and had lived in the squalid refugee camps established during the civil war. With the Soviets out of the country, the various guerrilla or Mujahadeen groups either brokered deals with the tenuous government in Kabul, or began operating as criminal organizations preying on trade convoys and villages throughout the country. Taliban emerged as a orderly, if draconian alternative to that chaos; it also refused to join the coalition government which itself was enforcing strict Islamic codes. This past summer, Afghanistan's new prime minister, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, took over the Kabul government under a peace pact with President Burhanuddin Rabbani. The new administration quickly announced a crack-down on corruption and crime, and ordered all women to wear "decent and dignified dress" in public and avoid "illegal mixing' of the two sexes. Hekmatyar also began overtures to local warlords, former Mujahadeen rebels, who had established themselves in some of the 27 provinces which the Kabul administration still didn't control. But Kabul was already under rocket attack by the Taliban, a fact which split and disturbed many Arab nations. Pakistan was backing the Taliban as part of its own continuation of the "Great Game" and its quarrels with India. And the Kabul regime was also dominated by ethnic Tajiks, whereas the young Taliban warriors were mostly Pashtun tribesmen. The collapse of the Kabul government and the Taliban victory has brough swift change to the capital. Taliban militia tracked down and hanged the former president Mohammed Najibullah from a pole near the presidential palaced. A hunt was initiated for Hekmatyar and Ahmad Shah Masood, the government's former military chief. While troops loyal to the old Kabul regime retreated from the city, Taliban religious officials were already making new decrees... * Mullah Agha Gulabi, identified by the London Times as a "religious scholar", told the population by radio that "God says that those committing adultery should be stoned to death. Anybody who drinks and says that it is not against the Koran, you have to kill him and hang his body for three days until people this is the body of a drinker who did not obey the Koran." * A six-man ruling council has been established, and the Taliban militia was informing Kabul citizens to "go about their lives as usual." But militia units immediately began sweeping neighborhood, confiscating firearms and ammunition. Taliban officials also issued an order barring female workers from offices and schools, and told women to begin wearing Islamic head veils when in public. "Two women were repeatedly struck by militiamen in the market in the east of the city (Kabul) centre after they were spotted wearing scarves which did not cover all their hair or faces..." reports today's London Times. "They (Taliban militia) began beating her with sticks and telling her she was un-Islamic for wearing such revealing clothes..." Throwing women out of the workplace may also have devastating financial consequences for the city's 40,000 "war widows" who are the sole support of their families. * The Taliban regime has also ordered all government employees to grow beards within six weeks, "or face Islamic punishment," notes the Times. * Observers expect that in coming days, Taliban militias will begin confiscating telesivion sets and establishing roadblocks in search of banned printed materials, even rock 'n roll tape cassettes -- something which has been carried out in other Taliban-controlled areas. Not An Iranian Ally Strangely, the Taliban sect is not supported by the Shiite theocracy in Iran. That reflects theological and political considerations though, since Tehran was an ally of the old Kabul theocracy. Taliban militias also did not engage forces, or challenge areas under the control of pro Saudi Arabian Mujahadeen forces, and there were reports that Saudi interests were bankrolling the Taliban as much as the Pakistani govenrment. What does Pakistan get for its support of the new Kabul theocracy? In 1995, Hindustan Times of India observed that the regime of Pakistani leader General al-haq Zia "would agree to a seemless and a borderless friendship based in the islamic (sic) brotherhood...They clearly told Mujahidin (sic) and others (Taliban) that they must get free access, through Afghanistan, into Central Asia, Iran and the Gulf Countries." In the pathway -- Iran, which bortders Afghanistan and Pakistan on one side, and Turkey and Iraq on the other. Meanwhile, Pakistan maintains its own Islamic hard-line, directed particularly at women... PAKISTANI WOMEN DENOUNCE ISLAMIC CHATTEL STATUS A decision by Pakistan's High Court last week upholding laws which prevent females from getting married without the approval of "guardians" prompted a demonstration by hundreds of angry women, organized by the group Womens's Action Forum. Representatives of the group which includes female attorneys, writers, artists, journalists and civil liberties activists told media: "The judgment is unacceptable as it is in violation of the constitution which guarantees equal rights to all citizens." Meanwhile, the progressive journal "Friday Times" said that the court decision "Is the most ridiculous judgment which will leave women at the mercy of their guardians. The judgment represents obscure thinking which considers women nothing more than chattels." But that didn't stop Justice Abdul Hafeez Cheema from declaring null and void the marriages of two women who got hitched to the men of their choice against the orders of their fathers. The case involved a 14 and a 19-year old, who along with their new husbands were charged with fornication. Both women had run away from home last month . Cheema, in handing down his decision, quoted from the Koran which states: "No marriage except the marriage of Muhammad is valid without the permission of the guardians of the women. Cheema also noted that under Muslim strictures, even divorcees and widows must obtain the consent of "guardians" in order to re-marry. ** 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 mail to and include your name and postal address. Or, check out our cool new site on the web at You may forward, post or quote from this dispatch, provided that appropriate credit is given to aanews and American Atheists. 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. Goeringer, The LISTMASTER ( Internet Representative for American Atheists is Margie Wait (


E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank