Date: Thu, 10 Oct 1996 12:25:24 -0700 Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for October 10, 1996 A M E
Date: Thu, 10 Oct 1996 12:25:24 -0700
Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for October 10, 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
#175 uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu 10/10/96 (Nightowl Edition)
In This Issue...
* "Wall" Under Attack In School Reform Schemes
* Legion To Appeal Eugene, Oregon Cross Decision
* TheistWatch: Jesus On Zoning Appeals & More...
CHICAGO ''ALTERNATIVE SCHOOLS'' BRING IN RELIGIOUS GROUPS
In 1988, then-U.S. Secretary of Education William Bennett labeled the
Chicago public school system the worst in the country, "close to educational
meltdown." Even the Chicago Tribune agreed, and ran a series about the
schools aptly entitled "Worst in America."
The statistics were hard to argue with. In some schools, the dropout rate
was 65% or more; and over 50% of those students who did manage to graduate
high school tested only at grade-school levels in terms of reading skills. A
whopping 85% of the students were scoring below national norms.
In May, 1995, the Republican governor, Jim Edgar, did what the publication
"Urban Educator" called "the unthinkable" and essentially turned control of
the public schools -- and their $3 billion budget -- over to democratic mayor
Richard M. Daley. Daley formed a new school board, reorganized management,
ground down unions and changed how even principals would be hired.
It remains to be seen how effective this "Daley Revolution" in the school
system will be. Anthony Bryk, director of the Center for School Improvement
at the University of Chicago noted that the state laws which empowered the
mayor and paved the way for such astonishing reorganization were the result
of "the language of crisis, a call for martial law, an announcement that
we're in such trouble that we're going to suspend normal civil liberties and
abolish the old offices."
Part of this realignment of the public schools in Chicago now involves the
establishment of 39 so-called "alternative schools" that will serve up to
1,500 students. The goal of the "alternative schools" strategy was to bring
in so-called "participating organizations", ostensibly to provide education,
employment training and "support services." Chicago Schools Chief Executive
Office Paul Vallis told "Urban Educator" that "We have a strong list of
credible organizations who we feel can meet the rigors and demands of
educating at-risk youth."
But the Chicago "revolution" includes a dangerous, growing alliance
between the Office of the Mayor, the reorganized Chicago Public Schools and a
number of religious groups. Among them -- participants in the "alternative
schools" scheme -- are the YMCA Training Alliance and the Catholic Charities
of the Archdiocese of Chicago.
The Chicago experiment appears to be part of the cause for the enthusiasm
of New York Mayor Rulopph Giuliani who has followed in Mayor Daley's
footsteps and demanded unprecedented powers concerning the New York City
educational system. Giuliani has hunkered down with New York parochial
school officials and Cardinal John O'Connor, and hatched a number of schemes
which have been received with varying degrees of skepticism by education
officials. State legislators and Regents in New York, though have been less
enamored of plans for school vouchers and other programs than their Illinois
counterparts. Earlier last month, when Giuliani and the Roman Catholic
Church clamored for an experimental school voucher program, it was rejected
by the Board of Regents. The Mayor has also tried to enact a program whereby
1,000 failing students from the New York City public school system would
essentially be handed over to the Roman Catholic schools, ostensibly for
remedial educational instruction.
In Chicago, the trend toward getting government and religious groups on
the same team is even more blatant. School "CEO" Vallas told CBS Evening
News that he was aware of the various legal problems of state-church
entanglement, but wanted to "tear down that wall" -- presumably the First
Amendment "wall" of state-church separation -- which enjoined the public
school system from working with the city's parochial administration.
Mayor Giuliani faces bigger obstacles than Chicago's Mayor Daley
encountered. For one, he is not popular with the Democratic Assembly in
Albany, which will be loath to turn over to a Republican mayor the city's
enormous school system. Giuliani, though, has made several end-runs around
both the Assembly and even the First Amendment. The City already provides
millions of dollars in support services to private and religious schools.
In addition, while the public school system remains cash-strapped, the
Archdiocese of New York is conducting a three-year fundraising drive to
attract $100 million for its schools; part of its campaign involves the
claim that parochial school students consistently outperform their public
school counterparts in terms of academic testing and college acceptance
rates. The Wall Street Journal noted that similar campaigns are underway in
Omaha, Philadelphia and Chicago; and the New York effort "relfects a newfound
willingness by the U.S. Catholic hierarchy to take advantage of indicators
that show low public-school performance."
It remains to be seen, though, that alleged higher performance rates can
be maintained if the parochial schools devote more of their attention to
students from the inner city. An educational analyst at the Brookings
Institution, John Chubb, told the Journal that Catholic education officials
have "always been careful" when comparing themselves with public schools
":because they haven't wanted to provoke a backlash from politicians and
others who say they serve an elite population." Chubb notes that now, the
church is taking the risky step of trying to move into inner-city areas.
Depending on performances there, we may find that the "Catholic fix" to the
urban school dilemma was really no solution at all.
LEGION CAN APPEAL OREGON CROSS DECISION: "FRIDAY THE 13th"
In Eugene, Oregon, the controversy over the infamous Skinner Butte cross
case lives on, prompting at least one City Attorney to compare the incident
to the repititious sequels of the horror movie, "Friday the 13th."
On Tuesday, a federal judge ruled that the local American Legion post may
appeal a decision handed down last month by the Ninth Circuit Court which
ruled that an enormous cross erected on public property was governmental
establishment of religion and thus a violation of the First Amendment.
The dispute focuses on a fifty-one foot high concrete Latin cross with
neon inset tubing; it is located at the crest of a public park, Skinner's
Butte. That site has had a succession of crosses over the years, but the
present structure was erected by private individuals in 1964.
In addition to sitting on public land, the Oregon cross was illuminated
beginning in 1970 for five days during Thanksgiving, seven days during the
Christmas season, and on Memorial Day, Veteran's Day and Independence day..
In 1969, it became the target of litigation, and the state Supreme Court
ruled that the cross violated both federal and state constitutions since it
constituted an "official endorsement of Christianity." In 1970, in a special
charter amendment election, voters approved an amendment designating the
cross as an official war memorial; the structure was officially conveyed to
the City of Eugene, and a bronze plaque placed at the foot of the cross.
The 1969 challenge, Lowe v. City of Eugene was "set aside" because of the
"changed circumstances", namely, that the cross had been transformed by voter
decree from a religious symbol into a war memorial.
The cross was again challenged by local residents in the Separation of
Church and State Committee and attorney Charles Porter, a former U.S.
Congressman and "persistent critic of the cross" according to the
Register-Guard newspaper. In August, the Ninth Circuit ruled that the "Latin
cross" was indeed a religious symbol, and that the argument stating that the
Skinner Butte Cross was a "war memorial" did not pass the test of the
Establishment Clause, including the criteria outlined in cases such as Lemon
By all accounts, the City of Eugene was ready to drop the matter and save
the estimated $30,000 appeal costs. On September 16, the Council voted 6-2
not to pursue the matter. But the local American Legion post quickly entered
the case, and sought "standing" in order to continue with an appeal to the
United States Supreme Court.
This development angers attorney Michael Lewis, who helped represent the
Separation of Church and State Committee. He told the Register-Guard
yesterday that the Legion was attempting to "substitute its ideological and
religious interest" for the City Council's. The City is now on a "procedural
rocky road" according to one of its attorneys; if it does not file for review
of the case with the American Legion, then the Legion's chances of a
successful appeal may be reduced. And the Separation of Church and State
Committee has asked the federal Court of Appeals for $173,000 in attorney's
fees, money which must come out of the city treasury.
Although willing to drop the case, at least one city attorney -- in an
analysis of the situation written for the Council -- continued to insist that
the Skinner Butte cross, "given its context and history, doesn't represent an
obvious city effort to proselytize or establish a state religion." That is
essentially the position of the Legionaires -- the cross really isn't a cross
in the religious sense.
Mr. Lewis of the Separation Committee has no problem with a war monument
at Skinner Butte. "The constitutional objection is that a 50-foot Latin
cross inherently is a religious message."
(Thanks to AANEWS correspondent Kevin Courcey in Portland for this timely
THEISTWATCH SHORT SHOTS
The trial of 23 current and former members of the Church of Scientology in
France has been causing fireworks in the European press. Yesterday, police
investigators told a court in Lyon that efforts to trace the Byzantine
finances of the Scientology religion ended up in what Reuter termed "blind
alleys." One researcher said that "The church was highly structured, but no
one could answer our questions, whether we went to Copenhagen, Denmark or
Luxembourg...The people we encountered did not appear wealthy, but I am
convinced that this money went overseas to unknown individuals, probably in
the United States."
The charges against the 23 defendants include everything from fraud to
manslaughter and embezzlement. They stem from the 1988 suicide of a church
member in Lyon. Mrs. Nelly Vic says that her husband -- a member of the
Church of Scientology -- was driven to suicide by financial pressures
resulting from costly church courses. The prosecution says that Scientology
"exploits the good faith and gullibility of its victims for commercial
profit, through pseudo-scientific and paramedical means, to their financial
detriment and at their medical and psychological risk."
A verdict in the trial is due on November 22.
Do commemorative crosses placed along public highways at the scene of
fatal car accidents violate the Establishment Clause? That question has
reportedly come up again, this time in Houston, Texas. Last month, Assistant
County Attorney John Renfrow raised the issue in connection with a squabble
over such markers. It appears that the family members of a man killed in a
drunk driving accident made a routine request of a County Commissioner for
such a commemorative device -- a small, metal cross painted white and mounted
on a steel pole. The Houston Chronicle notes that the crosses "dot Harris
But this particular cross was taken down by a management firm which
administeres a private neighborhood village; some local residents had
complained that the cross was "depressing", not only as a reminder of an
accident, but as a negative factor adversely affecting property values. The
Assistant County Attorney got into the act, insisting that the County did
indeed have the authority to plant such memorial markers...and the cross
again went up... and 10 hours later, came down. Mr. Renfrow had discovered
the First Amendment.
"Does the use of a Latin cross or other religious symbol as a fatality
marker pursuant to the Harris County Road Law violate the Establishment
Clause of the First Amendment?", he wondered. As far as we know, the jury is
still out on this. But the symbolism of the "Latin cross" has been clear to
at least the Ninth Circuit Court, which just recently ruled that enormous
crosses on public property -- including a park in Eugene, Oregon -- were
clearly religious symbols. We're told that the smaller, Harris County
version sits in the County Attorney's office, and will be taken the state
Attorney General's office in Austin for closer inspection.
Another indication that at least convention, mainstream religion is losing
momentum in the west is the recruitment crisis being faced by Britain's
official religious cult, the Church of England. It's bad enough that Prince
Charles, a philanderer and divorcee, will become -- upon his ascension to the
throne -- official Head of the Church as well. But it get's worse... the
Church faces a shortfall of priests according to a report issued last week
titled "Numbers in Ministry, 1996." By the year 2001, says the report, the
number of full-time priests will have fallen by 1,175 to 8,0007. And despite
the rise in number of women being ordained (a policy which is already
splitting the Church membership, driving many into the arms of the Catholic
establishment), the total number of Anglican clergy will still be declining.
The London Times notes that this decline "mirrors that which has taken
place in the Roman Catholic Church and suggests that ordaining married or
women priests might not be the answer to the Churches' recruiting
Incidentally, things are bad for the British Catholic church on another
front. The Church is enduring the scandal of former Bishop Roderick Wright,
who has been involved with a divorcee named Kathleen Macphee. The two sold
their story to "News of the World," and promptly split for the continent and
last week announced their intention to marry. The union produced an
"illegitimate" son who is now 15. "L'Affaire Wright" has resurrected the
perennial debate over clerical celibacy, and the future of the church.
American Atheists has maintained throughout its history that prayer and
other religious exercise has no proper place in the conduct of government
business. We have challenged prayer at the opening of government meetings, be
they sessions of the U.S. Congress, the various state legislators, or even
gatherings of City Councils and public school boards. Of course we would be
the first to argue that these august bodies of solons indeed need all the
help they can get, but...
Clearly, prayer at such gatherings serves to "establish religion" and
rests upon the tacit assumption that there is some "thing" or entity which
exists and is being prayed to which can allegedly answer the prayer.
Otherwise, what good is it? Often, our legal challenges have resulted in
such bizarre arguments from government attorneys as "Well, it's not really a
prayer -- it's like a 'moment of silence' and renders an 'air of solemnity'
to the proceedings." If it's solemnity which is required, why not a piece
from, say, Beethoven's Ninth Symphony?
But the strangest argument is that, well, the prayer really isn't a
prayer. Or, it is a "statement" which is MAY be a prayer, but is supposedly
sufficiently vague and amorphous so as to offend no one and appeal to
Consider the case of Carmel, Indiana where the president of the city
council, James G. Miller, invokes the deity to open each meeting of that
body. According to the Indianapolis Star/News, a typical Miller prayer is:
"We just ask you to guide us as we seek to do your will, as we seek to do
right things for the citizens of Carmel and we appreciate the opportunity to
be of service to you and to others. Thank you for the blessings you have
given us. These things we ask in Jesus' name. Amen."
Now, is there even a Christian Reconstructionist or Fundamentalist out
there who really believes that (were he to exist) Jesus would have an opinion
on each and every local zoning case in the city of Carmel, Indiana? Is a
building variance REALLY of cosmic significance for so powerful a being? But
ridiculous as these and other questions are, according to the Star/News the
practice of opening government meetings with a prayer is somewhat common
practice in the area.
Mr. Miller's prayer draws only a slight rebuke from the head of the
Islamic Society of North America, who suggests that while "It's good to
conclude a gathering with the mention of God," the NAME should be
sufficiently inclusive so as to cover the different monotheistic flavors --
Christian, Muslim, Jew. But the local executive director of the Jewish
Community Relations Council says that "I'm sure that the City Council can do
its work without pulicly invoking a prayer. At the very least, government
should be about upholding the Constitution and modeling inappropriate
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