Date: Mon, 7 Oct 1996 12:25:24 -0700 Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for October 7, 1996 A M E R
Date: Mon, 7 Oct 1996 12:25:24 -0700
Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for October 7, 1996
Reply-To: email@example.com, AMERICAN.ATHEISTS@listserv.direct.net
A M E R I C A N A T H E I S T S
nnnnnnnnnn AANEWS nnnnnnnnnn
# 173 uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu 10/7/96
In This Issue...
* Parks Official Says Plaque Doesn't Meet Guidelines
* Sex Abuse Fund in Britain
* More Taliban Religious Authoritarianism
* TheistWatch: Creationism, Female Genital Mutilation
* About This List...
IT'S OFFICIAL -- HINDU RELIGIOUS PLAQUE INAPPROPRIATE, SAYS NPS
The Field Director of the National Park Service has finally told us what
we already knew -- a religious plaque erected at the Statue of Liberty by
followers of Hindu cultist Sri Chinmoy shouldn't be on public property.
In a letter dated September 30, Marie Rust of the Department of the
Interior informed Ron Barrier, American Atheist National Media Coordinator
that "this plaque does not meet our policies regarding permanent plaques in
our National Parks and the plaque has been removed."
The flap began in early September following news reports that a so-called
"Peace Blossom" had been installed in the memorial lobby at the Statue of
Liberty. The "blossom" was a plaque erected by followers of Hindu religious
leader Sri Chinmoy; it was dedicated at an official ceremony involving cult
believers and National Park Service officials. During the August 27
ceremony, deliberate efforts were made to refer to Chinmoy only as a "student
of peace," not a huckster, religious leader or cultist, "to avoid unpleasant
implications" (New York Times).
News accounts also revealed that Chinmoy's followers approached the Park
Service a mere six weeks before, and showed the on-site Superintendent at the
Statue of Liberty -- Ms. Diane H. Dayson -- a video extolling the virtues and
prowess of the Hindu avatar, including a segment which purportedly depicted
him lifting several thousand pounds of weight with one arm. (Chinmoy's
groupies have made a number of extravagant claims, and have achieved some
dubious athletic feats such as records for underwater pogo-stick jumping.
They also host a number of marathon running events on behalf of "world
American Atheists promptly filed a protest with the Park Service. Ellen
Johnson, AA President, contacted Ms. Marie Rust of the NPS noting that "one
very definite 'unpleasant implication' is that there has been not only an
exercise in official gullibility by public officials, but a constitutional
violation of the First Amendment's Establishment clause." Johnson urged
government officials to "consider the possible legal violation of allowing
this plaque to be erected."
American Atheists also launched an appeal for members and supporters to
protest Chinmoy's latest religious publicity stunt; hundreds of faxes, phone
calls and e-mails poured into the offices of the National Park Service and
Secretary of Interior Bruce Babbitt. Word that the plaque had been taken down
broke several days ago, and Rust's letter to Mr. Barrier is the first
official confirmation of that decision. Rust noted: "After consultation with
Superintendent Diane Dayson, Statue of Liberty National Monument, the
National Park Servioce has concluded that this plaque does not meet our
policies regarding permanent plaques in our National Parks and the plaque has
Other Violations ?
AANEWS asks readers to keep us informed of other similar violations,
particularly "Peace Blossoms" which have been erected on government
property. There are over 900 of these monuments and plaques throughout the
world, many of them at popular tourist venues, and many erected on public
property. We are concerned with any "blossoms" on U.S. or State property in
the United States. Please contact us (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you have any
further information on this.
CHURCH MAINTAINS ''SECRET SEX ABUSE FUND''
Allegations of impropriety involving the Roman Catholic Church flared
again over the weekend, with the British Broadcasting Company (BBC) revealing
that ecclesiastical officials maintain a "secret sex abuse fund" through a
church-owned insurance firm. The charges involve Catholic National Mutual, a
company established in 1979 allegedly to issue property insurance. The BBC
notes that ownership is held by 25 of the nation's 30 archdiocese, and that
Catholic Mutual is operated by Alexander Insurance Management, a subsidiary
of the Church's official insurance brokerage.
According to Britain's Electronic Telegraph, "the church had set up the
Mutual in Guernsey to take advantage of the tax concessions and to allow the
fund to 'benefit from the island's strict laws on company policy (BBC)'."
The Catholic Media Office discounted the recent revelations as
"inaccurate", but a BBC press officer stood by the account, noting that there
was evidence that Mutual offered specific liability cover for physical and
sex abuse claims. "Our story clearly indicates the Catholic Church is
insured for this contingency," said the BBC statement.
Over the past decade, paedophilic behavior by clerics has been unmasked as
a major problem for Vatican branches in Britain, the United States and
elsewhere. It is believed that the establishment of the "special fund" was
in response to millions of dollars worth of compensation claims awarded in
hushed-up out-of-court settlements. In Mexico, over $10,000,000 in awards
have just been won by victims of clerical abuse.
TALIBAN RELIGIOUS MADNESS CONTINUES
The Islamic Taliban militia which now rules most of Afghanistan tightened
its grip yesterday at the entrance to the Panjshir Valley, in possible
preparation for an offensive against the remnants of the former government
army. That confrontation could take place later today, and mean serious
trouble for troops loyal to the ousted military commander, Ahmed Shah
Meanwhile, a reign of Taliban religious terrorism continues to sweep the
capital of Kabul, much to the consternation of international relief workers
and human rights activists. Mullah's continue to institute the sharia, a
tough religion-based criminal code that often prosecribes draconian
punishment for everything from drug trafficking to adultery.
* In a scene eerilly reminiscent of Prohibition-era bluenoses, Taliban
militia poured into homes and the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul, carting
away liquor and beer. Cases of the newly prohibited hooch were then run over
by tanks in what Associated Press termed "a gesture stressing Muslim purity."
* A commissioner with the European Union, Emma Bonino, charged that the
restrictions against women enacted by the religious fundamentalists of the
Taliban threaten to take the nation "back to the dark ages."
"I am convinced, and history proves this, that when there is a major
violation of basic human rights a dmajor humanitarian crisis follows," Bonino
told international media yesterday. She also cited a new religious women
where male doctors would not be permitted to operate on women, and there
could be no women doctors since females are banned from working.
* Relief organizations in Kabul say that their efforts to help over
200,000 people a day (many of them orphans or fatherless families) have
"ground to a halt" because they depend on women.
* A request in the United Nations Security Council by Italy and Russia to
condemn the Taliban religious regime was blocked yesterday thanks to pressure
from China, Indonesia and Egypt.
* "Punishments are quick and harsh," notes an AP release from Kabul. The
death penalty has already been proscribed for murder, drug dealing and
fornication. "Amputation is the penalty for theft," a custom in several
other Muslim societies.
And More On The Russian Dimension...
AANEWS has advised readers that the Taliban counter-revolution will be
felt most poignantly in Afghanistan, and then in the countries of the former
Soviet Union. Historically, past threats to centralized leadership in Moscow
(whether under the old Tsar, the Communist Party, or now the factions around
Boris Yeltsin still jockeying for influence) have resulted in military
build-ups and outbreaks of xenophobic religious nationalism. (Recall that
even in the midst of World War II, Josef Stalin employed the services of the
Russian Orthodox Church in mobilizing the masses for the "Great Patriotic
War," closed down Atheist groups such as League of the Godless, and entered
into an uneasy alliance with the Patriarchy which endured until the demise of
the Party in 1989.) There are two countervailing forces at work...
* Islamic nationalism represents the fastest growing population groups
within the borders of the former Soviet Union. Former Soviet Republics --
Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan share a tense border with
Afghanistan, and are still considered part of the "strategic frontier" Moscow
wishes to maintain. Population is increasing in these countries which are
heavilly Islamic. In Tajikstan, the Russian 201st Div. is already engaged in
an insurgency war with Muslim guerillas.
* In Russia, religious nationalism remains a potent force. Islam is one
of many "corrosive, foreign influences" church leaders and certain
nationalist politicians wish to contain or eliminate.
There is also grumbling and dissatisfaction within army ranks, too. Some
troops in the 1.5 million troop army haven't been paid since June; in terms
of both equipment and morale, the former Red army is described as a
In June, President Boris Yeltsin named Gen. Alexander Lebed as his
national security chief. The former paratrooper is considered a hard-line
nationalist who has already pledged to check cultural incursions by foreign
religious groups which threaten the Russian Orthodox Church; he has
specifically named the Mormon, Scientology and the Aum Shinryo cult. Some
worry that Lebed may also be anti-semitic. Lebed's political fortunes could
be tied to factors such as Boris Yeltsin's health, or the threat to the
Russian underbelly from Afghanistan and the muslim republics. Today, Lebed
continues his meetings with NATO leaders in Brussels and is expected to
discuss the Taliban situation for his foreign counterparts.
THEISTWATCH SHORT SHOTS
Chalk up a temporary victory for the Roman Catholic Church in Poland; last
week, the nation's upper house of Parliament rejected an attempt to
liberalize strict anti-abortion legislation in a heated 52-40 vote. Outside,
the Church and its subsidiary Polish Peasants Party rallied 10,000
anti-choice activists who prayed and sang religious songs.
The proposed new law would have allowed women to terminate pregnancy up to
the 12th week if they could show they were in a "difficult" social or
In January, 1993, a church-dominated parliament under the control of the
old Solidarity trade union enacted stiff anti-abortion measures. The
procedure was allowed only if pregnancy endangered the health or life of the
woman, or was the result of incest. Otherwise, doctors performing an
abortion faced prison sentences.
The new legislation would have loosened those restrictions, and permitted
private clinics to provide abortion services.
We receive a steady flow of press clippings and other reports from across
the country about local attempts to bully schoolboards into permitting
so-called "creationism" into science classrooms. Creationism is the doctrine
that the universe and life was conjured by a god as described in the biblical
account found in Genesis. Though most of the major Christian denominations
have made peace with the scientific evidence of evolution, many
fundamentalist groups insist that since the bible must be considered
literally true, the Genesis tale requires "instant creation" of even
developed life forms, and a relatively young earth -- somewhere on the order
of 6,000 years or so.
Creationists have peppered their old religious doctrines with a
combination of scientific misinformation, appeals to tolerance and fair play,
and a distorted, limited notion of intellectual skepticism. They maintain,
for instance, that evolution is "just a theory" which has serious flaws; they
also insist that their viewpoint is a legitimate scientific position which is
entitled to "equal time" in the classroom, and they maintain frequently that
"students have a right to hear all sides" in any controversy.
But creationism is hardly a legitimate theory; it ignores the vast and
still-growing body of evidence in support of evolution, a body of evidence
that is cramping museums and artifact collections. Besides, most creationist
"evidence" (such as human "footprints" said to have been co-existent with
tracks from dinsoarus) has been exposed as either untrue or highly suspect.
And what's the evidence FOR evolution? It is found in that growing body of
evidence, hanging on the walls of natural history museums, in display
cabinets, and ,yes, in fossil vaults so heavy that the supporting beams
underneath are beginning to sag. Evolution is a fact, although the minutia
of how precisely it operates continues to be the subject of spirited and
enthused scientific debate.
Unfortunately, most scientists have tended to regard creationism as a
crank movement, and seriously underestimated its organizational vigor and
cultural impact. The surprisingly wide acceptance of creationist foolery is
part of a larger anti-science bias emerging in the society. Couple biblical
literalism with credulous belief in new age pseudoscience, lack of emphasis
in schools on science, a widespread lack of critical thinking in media and
other institutions, and one has a formula for potential social
The recent Bullet Poll which sampled 500 adults in the New York area, for
instance, surveyed attitudes about creationism. A mere 19% thought that
evolution alone should be taught to students in the public schools: 30% chose
creationism. And around 50% of respondents called for teaching evolution and
creationism -- an answer in the Bullet Poll described as "both theories", as
if the two were intellectually equivalent.
Admittedly, some segment of the 50% group no doubt accepts the notion that
creationism deserves "equal time" in classes, even if it is wrong. But does
this make sense? For instance, why teach just the Christian version of the
creation myth; how about Aztec accounts, or stories from African or middle
eastern cultures? Is anyone proposing, for instance, that Babylonian stories
of how the world was fashioned be given "equal time" in science classrooms?
We hope not. Unfortunately, most of the "equal time" block do not
understand that creationism has nothing to do with a fair exchange of
differening views; it is all about religious indoctrination.
Perhaps creationism belongs in schools, but only in a class dealing with
comparative religions and beliefs systems. But is this possible today?
Would Christian fundamentalists, for instance, really want their offspring
being told that their religion is rejected by most of the world's religious
believers, and that in terms of age it is, relatively speaking, the new kid
on the block? Would they really encourage their children to examine
alternative belief systems? Or, worse yet, question the notion of "belief"
itself? We think not.
In the meantime, teachers and school boards who stand up to creationist
bullying deserve our support. Religious belief of any kind has no place in
the science classroom.
What unites many Muslim nations, Christian fundamentalists and even
Most, if not all, remain silent on the outrage of ritual genital
mutilation of girls, a problem rampant throughout the African continent. The
custom remains firmly rooted in age old tribal religious superstition, and
represents perhaps the apotheosis of male domination and control over women.
The practice is "woven into the everyday life" of hundreds of ethnic groups
in a wide band of 28 countries throughout Africa; there are even indications
that the ritual has spread to the United States, a residue among certain
immigrant groups of customs and taboos better left back home..
On Saturday, a special report in the New York Times discussed genital
mutiliation, and noted that in countries like the Ivory Coast and Central
African Republic, up to 40% of females have been mutilated. Even some women
consider the practice to be desirable, especially since often only a
"circumcised" woman is eligible for marriage. And change about the deeply
ingrained practice is slow; village chiefs, family elders, unwilling families
often stand in the way.
Afrocentrists who promote a bogus view of historical events may be
displeased to know that this mutilation custom pre-dates the incursion of
either Christian or Islamic doctrines; in addition, "the practice knows no
class or religious boundaries." Today it is practiced with equal zeal on the
continent by Muslims and Christians, and followers of more traditional
"The practice is more widespread among the illiterate, but it is also
common among the educated."
There may well be merit to the argument that in the this method of
controlling female anatomy is, while painful and direct, more honest than the
sneakier efforts which characterize western culture. The demand that women
conceal (or, at other times, emphasize) a portion of their anatomy still
resonates today in cultures permeated by religious superstition. The Taliban
demands women be, essentially, encased in clothing from head to foot. In the
United States, admittedly more enlightened and progressive, bluenoses will
occasionally take up their battle cry and hatchets against thong bikinis or
other "immodest" or "provocative" garb. (Ever notice how they don't say
anything about beer bellies?) From coast to coast, whether it's the Million
Man March or a rally of Promise Keepers, the agenda of the day seems to be
making sure that women know their place, and damn well stay there.
But we digress...
The Fourth World Conference on Women held last year in Beijing was a major
focus for anti-abortion groups, especially religious movements based in the
United States. We didn't hear them crying out against the injustice of
female genital mutilation. But Hillary Clinton (a favorite bugaboo on the
"700 Club") rightfully called the practice a human rights violation where
"young girls are brutalized by the painful and degrading practice of genital
About This List...
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