Date: Mon, 7 Oct 1996 12:25:24 -0700 Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for October 7, 1996 A M E R

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Date: Mon, 7 Oct 1996 12:25:24 -0700 from: AMERICAN.ATHEISTS@listserv.direct.net Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for October 7, 1996 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 # 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 peace.") 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 been removed." 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 (aanews@atheists.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 Massood 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 "collapsing structure." 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 financial situation. 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 disintegration. 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 Afrocentrist pseudo-historians? 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 African religions. "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 mutilation." ** 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 info@atheists.org, and include your name and postal address. Or, check out our cool new web site at http://www.atheists.org. 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 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 (cg@atheists.org). Internet Representative for American Atheists is Margie Wait, irep@atheists.org

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