Date: Tue, 8 Oct 1996 12:25:24 -0700 Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for October 8, 1996 A M E R

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Date: Tue, 8 Oct 1996 12:25:24 -0700 Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for October 8, 1996 From: Reply-To:, A M E R I C A N A T H E I S T S nnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn nnnnnnnnnn AANEWS nnnnnnnnnn #174 uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu 10/8/96 (Nightowl Edition) In This Issue... * Taliban -- "One Nation Under God" * Unsolved Mystery? What Happened To The Religious Equality Amendment? * About This List... Afghanistan Update... TALIBAN OFFENSIVE STALLING ? The military juggernaut which has shocked both supporters and foes of Afghanistan's Islamic Taliban militia may have stalled in the last 24-hours, amidst warnings from a powerful Uzbek warlord and unexpected resistence from a deposed army commander. General Abdul Rashid Dostrum, who controls six northern provinces in Afghanistan not currently under Taliban occupation, warned the fundamentalist militia to stop its bombardment of former government troops now dug in within the Panshir Valley. The confrontation between Taliban and troops loyal to General Ahmad Shah Massood promises to be a classic military dilemma, which has repeated before throughout history. Even invading Soviet armies in 1989 were unable to occupy the Panshir; the New York Times today noted that "Now the Taliban are trying to do what the Soviet troops never could: defeat Massoud (sic) in his lair). Developments since our last dispatch: * Western analysts now have enough of a fix on the Order of Battle concerning all sides in the Afghan conflict, and have concluded that Taliban could probably not defeat a combined, unified counter attack from both the Tajik forces of Masood and Dostrum's National Islamic Movement. Taliban could also incur substantial, even crippling losses even if it does manage to successfully take the Panshir. * Is Uzbekistan giving covert support to Dostrum? A Pakistani delegation arrived there last night to "discuss ways of preventing fighting between Taliban and General Dostrum," according to the London Times. There are reports that Uzbekistan is worried about the political and territorial ambitions of the Pakistanis, who have emerged as a powerful regional force. And The Religious Madness Goes On... Taliban mullahs continue to announce draconian restrictions on all areas of social, political and personal life; is this a trend which could result in a popular uprising against the fanatical fundamentalist government which now presides over Kabul and most of the country? * "Taliban is rule-crazy," notes The Times. Mullah's have now outlawed caged pet birds; the only reason which we have found so far for this peculiar edict is that "Canaries are banned because they sing," a prohibition which could be related to the clerical ban on videos and music. There are also now restrictions concerning clothing which men may wear -- recall that one of the first Taliban edicts issued by the power-crazed mullahs ordered women to wear full clothing, head to foot. Shirts and trousers for men have "disappeared," and men are also now being ordered by militia troops to cover their arms down to the wrist. Most are now wearing robes. * Attendance at public prayer sessions is now mandatory. Each mosque has been order to form a "shura" or council which will record names of all neighborhood males, and check for compliance five times a day. "Come 4:30 a.m., the streets are full of bleary-eyed men following the muezzin's call," notes The Times. * Card games and chess have also been banned since they are said to encourage gambling. The war on women continues, and there are reports that women (even when fully garbed) are receiving beatings on the street because of a rule confining them to the home except for shopping chores. * "A married couple riding on the same bicycle on the way to the market were beaten for being physically too close in public..." This incident is eerilly reminiscent of recent outbursts of fundamentalist religiosity and theopolitical correctness in Iran, where religious zealots have attacked women bike riders and protested similar mixed-sex recreational activities. * A Taliban statement broadcast by Kabul radio declared that the "reforms" enacted by the new regime were "a matter of pleasure to the Afghan women whose rights and privileges are protected by the sacred Islam religion..." * The Washington Post reports that as many as 250,000 people have fled north before the Taliban advance into the Afghan capital of Kabul. This enormous migration, say aid organizations with volunteers on the ground, consists of "primarilly educated people of financial means whose modern lifestyles clash with the Taliban's extreme interpretation of fundamentalist Islam." Not everyone, though, has been able to flee the country. Taliban militia have been reportedly preventing whole families from boarding buses headed for the border. Ironically, other refugees have headed into Pakistan, which is the primary backer and quartermaster for the Taliban army. An International Response Grows -- But Slowly... Taliban's reign of terror has not yet elicited anywhere near a cohesive and articulated response from most nations, including those of the European Union. But yesterday, United Nations Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali warned the Taliban rulers of "serious repercussions" if the clerics continued their assult on women. While Taliban has not yet attempted to claim Afghanistan's seat at the U.N., the world body, which works with a number of private relief groups, is the most important source of aid to the country. But the New York Times reports that any U.N. call for sanctions or other measures on behalf of women and individual rights is essentially a challenge to fundamentalist Islamic law. The United Nations "is entering difficult territory," notes the Times, since many nations with Muslim majorities already "discriminate against women in various ways, though seldom so totally as the Taliban has done." "And in some of these countries other practices widely considered to be violations of women's right, like involuntary genital mutilation, take place..." **** WHAT HAPPENED TO THE ''RELIGIOUS FREEDOM AMENDMENT'' ? With the 104th Congress now headed home and many legislators facing a tough re-election battle, among the pieces of unfinished business languishing in the bill hopper is the so-called Religious Freedom Amendment. Several weeks ago, AANEWS reported that this proposal -- formerly labeled the Religious Equality Amendment -- had suddenly been resurrected from Capitol Hill limbo, and fast-tracked for a vote. That legislation would permit a wide range of religious expression in public institutions, including school prayer and other related activities in classrooms. The Amendment has a convoluted and checkered history. It began as a proposal from the Christian Coaltion, and was presented eighteen months ago when the powerful religious lobby unveiled its "Contract With the American Family," a morals-agenda supplement to the Republican "Contract With America." The new House Speaker, Rep. Newt Gingrich, promised a working version of the Amendment in time for a floor vote prior to July 4, 1995. He doled out the task to Rep. Ernest Istook (R-Oklahoma), who then huddled with representatives of nearly a dozen religious-right groups including the Christian Coalition, Christian Legal Society, Eagle Forum and Family Research Council in hopes of drafting a legislation all could agree on. That task proved to be insurmountable. All of the groups agreed that some form of a "religious equality" proposal was necessary in order to legalize school prayer, but soon two different versions emerged, with different groups throwing their supporting behind one or the other proposal. Following a round of widely-publicized hearings in several cities, both amendments seemed to wither on the legislative vine. In July of this year, what appeared to be a compromise version of the Amendment -- the so-called Hyde proposal, named after Rep. Henry Hyde -- was resurrected. It read: "Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of the United States to further protect religious freedom, including the right of students in public schools to pray without government sponsorship or compulsion, by clarifying the proper construction of any prohibition on laws respecting an establishment of religion. "In order to secure the right of the people to acknowledge and serve God according to the dictates of conscience, neither the United States nor any State shall deny any person equal access to a benefit, or otherwise discriminate against any person, on account of religious belief, expression or exercise. This amendment does not authorize government to coerce or inhibit religious belief, expression or exercise." Critics noted that the proposed Amendment "gutted" the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, and targeted a key objective of religious right wrath -- the "Lemon Test" or "three pronged" standard which originated in the LEMON v. KURTZMAN Supreme Court suit. That test enjoined government from engaging in any activity which was not primarilly secular, served to promote religion or one religion over another, or resulted in the "excessive entanglement" between religion and government. Obviously, standards like LEMON were a substantial obstacle toward prayer in public schools, even the seemingly more benign religious exercises such as "student initiated" prayer. With a Religious Equality Amendment, LEMON and other state-church separation guidelines were effectively viscerated. Hyde's proposal was christened the Religious Freedom Amendment; its introduction onto Capitol Hill caught a number of civil liberties groups off guard, and there was little warning for the one day "hearing" orchestrated by the House Constitution Subcommittee of the Judiciary Committee. News accounts attributed the sudden appearance of this sanitized and re-worked prayer legislation to the efforts of the Amendment's other author, Rep. Dick Armey of Texas, the House #2 Republican. There was also another factor: the Christian Coalition wanted a floor vote on as many bills relating to its "Contract With the American Family" as could possibly be arranged. At the August Republican Convention, Coalition Director Ralph Reed promised that such floor votes would become part of the legislative record, and end up in the approximately 60,000,000 "voters guides" slated for distribution this month through the group's network of nearly 100,000 churches. Among the legislation hastilly brought to the floor was the Defense of Marriage Act, certain portions of the Welfare Reform Act, the Communications Decency Act, and (conveniently for the Coalition), a vote to overturn President Clinton's veto of the so-called Partial Birth Abortion Ban. But the Hyde-Istook bill, the Religious Freedom Amendment, never got out of the subcommittee. What happened? According to the latest Church & State Magazine, one reason may be the divisiveness which has plagued efforts at enacting workable legislation and the specific proposals of Rep. Ernest Istook. On September 12, Istook held a press conference to call for a vote on his version of the school prayer amendment, and was "angry because the House leadership has spurned his proposal in favor of a competing measure introduced by Majority leader Dick Armey (R-Texas)." The squabble between the different prayer camps has to do with the wording, and how much emphasis is placed on classroom religious exercise. The Hyde-Armey proposal does not specifically emphasize school prayer to the extent the Istook version does; but legal opinion says that both would clearly permit an unprecedented range of prayer and other religious exercise in public schools and other government-public venues. The split ultimately pits backers of the Istook version with those groups supporting the Hyde-Armey model. The former has the support of Focus on the Family, the American Family Association and Beverley LaHaye's Concerned Women for America. The Hyde-Armey wording appeals to the Christian Legal Soiciety and the National Association of Evangelicals. Church & State notes that the Christian Coalition is willing to support either plan. Regardless of the outcome of the November elections -- and whether or not Republicans continue to control both the House and Senate -- some version of a Religious Equality Amendment is likely to rear its head when the 105th Congress meets next year in Washington. *** 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 mailing address. 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