Date: Thu, 3 Oct 1996 12:25:24 -0700 Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for October 3, 1996 A M E R
Date: Thu, 3 Oct 1996 12:25:24 -0700
Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for October 3, 1996
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
#171 uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu 10/3/96
In This Issue...
* Atheist Challenges South Carolina "God"-Belief Law
* Police Quiz Director In Missing O'Hairs-Case
* Taliban Bans Photos, Films ~ "Against Islam"
* TheistWatch: School-Scams, Gambling, Lots O'Rocks
* Getting Atheism On The Tube!
* About This List...
SUPREME COURT HEARING ATHEIST NOTARY STATUS CASE
"God" As A Litmus Test For Public Office In S.C.
The Supreme Court hears arguments today in the case of Herb Silverman, a
university mathematics professor and Atheist, who was refused a post as
public notary because he removed the word "God" from his applications. Dr.
Silverman's case is a challenge to a clause in the South Carolina State
Constitution, which since 1868 mandates: "No person who denies the existence
of a Supreme Being shall hold any office under this Constitution."
In 1990, Silverman ran as an unsuccessful write-in candidate for governor
in order to challenge that requirement.
He has made two applications for a notary post, removing the word "God"
from the wording. According to state officials, he was short by one required
signature. But an Associated Press story released todeay notes that "Under
the state's complex rules for becoming a notary public, Silverman actually
had the required number of legislators' signatures -- eight -- at the time of
his first application. But redistricting had changed the required number to
nine, and when his second application was rejected he opted to take the whole
matter to court." Even so, in findings pertinent to Silverman's case, the
Secretary of State admitted that Dr. Silverman is the first qualified person
-- of a grand total of 33,473 state notary officials -- to actually pay the
application fee and be denied that position.
After five years of litigation, a Fifth Circuit Judge ruled that South
Carolina was violating the First Amendment in that it established a religious
"litmus-test" as a qualification to hold a public trust. Judge Thomas L.
Hughston, Jr. also noted that Pennsylvania and Arkansas are the only other
states which continue to enforce religious-belief laws of this kind. But
South Carolina officials continue to argue that the case really isn't about
religion (or the lack of it!), but a filing signature technicality.
Silverman told AP: "The first thing people ask you when you move here is
what church you go to, and when you tell them that you don't believe in God
(sic), all of a sudden you don't have many friends."
In 1961, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a Maryland law which also
required god-belief as a condition for obtaining a notary public license in
the TORCASO v. WATKINS decision.
More On The Missing O'Hairs...
GHQ DIRECTOR INTERVIEWED ~~ CAR AT POLICE IMPOUND LOT
An Austin, Texas police detective interviewed Spike Tyson, the Director at
American Atheists offices earlier today in connection with the disappearance
of the Murray O'Hair family.
Two days ago, it was learned that William Murray -- evangelist, and
estranged son of American Atheists founder Madalyn O'Hair -- had filed a
"missing persons" report. It now appears that Murray was only able to file a
"Request To Find." According to Tyson, "A 'missing persons' report can only
be filed if there is reasonable evidence of foul play, and so far that
doesn't appear to be the case." William Murray has stated that despite bad
relations with his family for the last twenty years, his attempt to determine
their fate was prompted by a desire for "closure." He has also told
newsmedia that he hopes his mother, Madalyn O'Hair, "had an experience with
Jesus Christ," alluding to his belief that the famous Atheist has died.
Tyson was interviewed by a Det. Baker, and was told that the investigation
was at the "beginning stage." He also reported that the car belonging to
Robin Murray O'Hair, found earlier in a parking lot near the Austin airport,
is now in a police impound lot undergoing tests for physical evidence.
A "Request To Find" (also known as a "Request To Locate") means that
police will simply attempt to verify that a certain person or persons are
alive; that fact is then revealed to the person making the request, although
any specifics -- such as whereabouts -- are not included. News reports say
that the Austin PD investigators in the Murray O'Hair case have about
two-dozen similar situations they must investigate.
Mr. Tyson also reported that police were interested in the fact that Tyson
was followed by an unidentied, grey car for about a two week period
immediately following the disappearance of the Murray O'Hairs. He was unable
to obtain a license plate number.
On Monday, NBC Nightly News aired a segment about the missing family but
offered no new conclusive evidence in the case. Tyson informed aanews that
"We've got media all over the place" today, and attributes the renewed public
fixation with the disappearance on the one year anniversay.
TALIBAN POISED FOR NEW OFFENSIVE: RUSSIANS CALL FOR SUMMIT
Fundamentalists Ban Films, Pictures For Religious Reasons
Islamic fighters of the fundamentalist Taliban movement continued their
offensive in Afghanistan today, following the recent capture of the capital,
Kabul. In the last 48-hours, the Taliban army has moved north capturing key
provincial centers, and now is poised at the mouth of the strategic Salang
Tunnel. At the other end wait the 20,000 troops under the command of Uzbek
warlord General Rashid Dostum. The two sides are presently negotiating; and
a truce would make it considerably easier for Taliban to strike at its main
target, the vanquished army of former government troops led by Ahmed Shah
Massoud. Troops loyal to the ousted Kabul government are dug in to a
stronghold in the Panjshir Valley, 30 miles beyond the Salang Tunnel.
For Afghan citizens, the civil war which has wracked their country has
been an endless cycle of battles involving different brands of Muslim
fundamentalism, tribal animosities, widespread corruption and draconian laws.
The Soviets invaded the country and were driven out in 1989 by a coalition
of Islamic fighters known loosely as the Mujahadeen. Some of those groups
joined a new government centered in Kabul, while others became provinicial
warlords, often terrorizing local populations, getting involved in the
lucrative drug trade, and fighting with each other.
The Taliban movement grew out of Islamic schools and the numerous refugee
camps that dotted the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. It represents the most
extreme of the Muslim groups, and has shocked both allies and enemies by its
recent successes on the battlefield. In areas brought under Taliban control,
strict Islamic law is enacted. Women are banned from the workplace, girls
schools are closed, and armed religious patrols search houses and automobiles
in search of contraband -- everything from a television set to western
literature, even "pornographic" rock 'n roll tapes.
Following the capture of Kabul over the weekend, Taliban mullah's
immediately declared that women must now wear full veiled headgear in public;
men were ordered to grow beards within six weeks. The new regime has also
carried out Soviet-style "show trials", paraded criminals through the
streets, and announced new penalties and restrictions covering a variety of
Yesterday, the mullahs issued a decree forbidding the taking of pictures.
The new Education and Culture Minister, Amir Khan Mutaqi, said that
"According to our religion, it is forbidden to take pictures of any human
beings" since they could be used for "idol worship." Britain's Electronic
Telegraph reports today that "The ban was accompanied by tight curbs on all
journalists in the city (Kabul), although news reporters were permitted to
photograph ruined buildings." Mutaqi also prohibited journalists from
reporting on ''sensitive" incidents that could be "blown out of proportion."
"Journalists should not ask irresponsible people or the people on the
streets" for information, declared the official. "They should come to us."
But while Taliban tightens its grip on the population, its military
offensive in the north continues to worry neighbors, especially the Russian
government. The former Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979, largely due
to fears of insurgent Muslim influence in that region. Even after a
disasterous, ten-year war, Russia still considers the Afghan border to be it
"strategic frontier," one which President Yeltsin's National Security
Advisor, Gen. Alexander Lebed, warns is in danger of collapsing. The Los
Angeles Times notes that "Taliban is seen in Moscow as a creature of
Pakistani intelligence, set up to roll back Kremlin influence in the area."
Right over the Afghan border are two former Soviet Republics, Tajikistan
and Uzbekistan. Muslim influence in both countries is strong, and at present
only the Russian 201 Division stands between Afghanistan and Moscow.
The Taliban victory is also having a "butterfly" effect in the halls of
the Kremlin, where President Boris Yeltsin faces health problems, a sluggish
economy, and considerable opposition from both nationalists and communists.
Lebed is perceived as a "strongman" who has considerable support from the
military; he wants Moscow to provide immediate aid to General Massoud and the
outsted prime minister, religious fundamentalist Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. But
General Boris Gromov, the man identified with the Russian wirthdrawal from
Afghanistan in 1970, is warning that the Kremlin should avoid engagement, and
lacks the material and military resources to intervene.
THEISTWATCH SHORT SHOTS ...
New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani already has a cozy relationship with
the Big Apple's Roman Catholic prelate, Cardinal John O'Connor. Hiz Honor
wants to enact some kind of voucher scheme, make it easier to intermingle the
local parochial school system with the city's cash-strapped public schools,
and even turn kids over to Catholic schools, ostensibly for remedial
education. Among the plans under consideration is one where the Church would
"lease" classroom space to the city "at a modest fee..." Oh yeah? A report
made public yesterday by investigators reveals that the current "school
leasing" program within the Board of Education has resulted in overpayment,
and windfalls for landlords. Hmmm... is the Cardinal more business savvy
than we give him credit for? The investigation revealed cases where the
Board of Education leased a theater from a dance company that didn't even own
it, at a price that was 25 percent higher than the company was paying at its
end. Other questionable leases involved figures like $13.5 million; there
could be as many as 30 incidents of hefty over-payment.
Empty church buildings could become a financial windfall for the Roman
Catholic business office in New York City. An even better deal for the
clerics would be to have the city lease the useless surplus space and pay the
church to operate classes. Talk about double-dipping!
On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court announced that it would hear arguments
in a "right to die" issue -- whether or not doctors may assist desperate
patients who wish to kill themselves. The question of "voluntary euthanasia"
or "self deliverance" promises to be every bit the 900-pound gorilla issue
that other "life" debates such as abortion have already become. We could
also add related bio-issues -- genetic engineering, patenting of "designer
life forms," use of fetal tissue for research or treatment, even un-assisted
suicide -- to the list.
The battle lines for the euthanasia war have already been drawn. The
Roman Catholic Church has a litany of symptoms which it insists constitute
the so-called "culture of death." And not surprisingly, Protestant religious
fundamentalists have joined in the call for government measures banning any
form of assisted suicide. We are already seeing the debate over this
degenerate in a torrent of verbal obfuscation, similar to what has happened
in the abortion controversy. "Partial birth" abortions, anyone? And we have
Rep. Charles T. Canady, truly the "In-House Representative" for the Christian
Coalition (and head of the powerful House Judiciary subcommittee on the
Constitution), mucking up the waters with dubious claims and assertions.
Arguing against physician-assisted suicide, Canady declared that 27% of
3,700 Dutch euthanasia cases in one year were "involuntary."
This is very much like Rep. Henry Hyde's claim that "partial birth
abortion" involves a human baby which is, literally, "two inches from full
constitutional protection." In fact, the Netherlands has strict guidelines
on euthanasia; the practice is still technically illegal, but is carried out
under conditions established by the Dutch Parliament in 1993. Doctors who
follow procedures simply do not face prosecution. Mr. Canady (and his
sources) are also conveniently including the cases of brain-dead individuals
Australia's Northern Territory enacted a voluntary euthanasia law last
year; but now, The Rights of the Terminally Ill Act faces court challenges.
Among those working to have the law repealed are the Roman Catholic Church
and some native religious organizations.
Don't expect a sober, objective inquiry into the euthanasia issue; and
don't expect a Supreme Court ruling to stop (or protect) any movement for
physician-assisted suicide. After all, remember Roe v.Wade?
Another front is about to open up in the on-going religious-political
"culture war." The Christian Coalition and other religious groups are
already fishing around for new issues to capitalize on following the November
elections, especially ones that involve "reaching out" to more moderate and
even liberal churches. They think they have found one -- gambling.
While "hot button" issues like vouchers, abortion and school prayer have
been grabbing the lion's share of headlines, religious groups left and right
have been quietly organizing to stop (and eventually roll back) the spread
of legalized gambling in the United States. In March, TheistWatch dispatches
reported on the founding of the National Coalition Against Legalized
Gambling, a joint operation between the Christian Coalition and -- get this
-- the National Council of Churches. At the opening of the Washington, D.C.
office of the NCALG, Ralph Reed was joined by the new group's executive
director, Methodist minister Thomas Grey, who called the project an
Mention gambling, of course, and plenty of images come to mind -- from
street-level numbers runners to Al Capone, even some wild-eyed Billy Sunday
type admonishing a frenzied congregation about the "sin" of playing a game
of chance. That undercurrent of self-righteousness still pervades much of
the anti-gambling movement, of course, but late-twentieth century
prohibitionists have learned from the errors of their more frenetic,
bible-thumping predecessors. As with other issues, look for the Council, the
Christian Coaltiion, and other religious groups to mix a skillfull blend of
economic arguments, "family values" rhetoric and bible bias into the campaign
Religious groups have already won round-one in this battle of the New
Prohibition War with the establishment of the National Gambling Impact Study
Commission. Among other things, the panel will review gaming laws and policy
throughout the country, look for any relationship between organized crime and
legal gambling, and examine "social problems' ostensibly caused by the
industry. It will have awesome powers, including subpoena power over casino
and corporate records. There will be nine appointees; three chosen by
President Clinton, three by House Speaker Newt Gingrich and three by Senate
Majority Leader Trent Lott. Mr. Lott remains a key Christian Coalition
supporter in the Senate, and Mr. Gingrich -- regardless of his sectarian
political agenda -- is still beholden to Reed and the religious right.
We predict that at least one religious leader (perhaps more) will be among
the nine appointees. Barring that, we can also expect someone affiliate with
a church or religious organization.
Every year, nearly 4 million tourists flock to the town of Sedona, Arizona
which has become a mecca of psychics, palm readers, "spiritual advisors",
channelers and other new age hucksters. Many visitors go for the stunning
scenery of the area, including sites like the Grand Canyon, while others --
mostly the uncritical and credulous -- venture there in search of "energy
vortexes" and other bizarre attractions. For those who think they can
commune with ancient spirits or recharge their bodies with "energy" from
crystals, trekking to Sedona is like a Muslim making the lifetime haj to
Yesterday, Associated Press featured yet another write-up on the mystical
attraction of this Arizona community, and quoted Ken Feder, an archeology
professor who visited Sedona in search of material for his book "Frauds,
Myths and Mysteries: Science and Pseudo-Science in Archeology." He remarked
that the place was "magical", but only in the metaphorical sense. "There's
magic in the blue sky and the geology that produced those beautiful red-roick
canyons. I guess I would just beg to differ that there is magic (here) on an
occult or mystical level." True enough. But we thought that a wise-cracking
Sedona native of 40 years, one Evelyn Baldwin, was more to the point. In
discussing the "power vortexes" and armies of gullible seekers who swarm over
the local landscape in search of instant enlightenment, she remarked: "This
New Age stuff, I don't believe a damn word about it. The only thing I've
gotten from all these rocks is tired."
HELP ATHEISM GET IN THE PAPER -- AND THE TUBE -- IN YOUR AREA...
If you're a member of American Atheists and...
* Own a fax machine or
* Live in an area where the cable TV system has a "public access" channel
which accepts outside, imported programming...
You can help American Atheists. If you know the "Joy of Fax," you can
"echo" timely press releases in your area through the American Atheists
FaxNet. For details, contact the FaxNet Coordinator, Margie Wait, at
And if your cable system has public access, you may be able to help out by
hosting the Atheist Viewpoint Television Program. This half-hour weekly
program from American Atheists is now on over 40 cable systems throughout the
country -- and growing? If you would be interested in hosting AVTV in your
community, just send e-mail to email@example.com.
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 more information
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E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank