Date: Thu, 10 Oct 1996 12:25:24 -0700 Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for October 10, 1996 A M E

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Date: Thu, 10 Oct 1996 12:25:24 -0700 from: Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for October 10, 1996 Reply-To:, A M E R I C A N A T H E I S T S nnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn 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. "Monkey See..." 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 v. Kurtzman. 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 info!) 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 County roadsides." 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 difficulties." 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 everyone. 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 citizenship behavior." ** 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 address. Or, check out our cool new site on the world wide web at 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 and put "info aanews" (minus the quotation marks, please) in the message body. Edited and written by Conrad F. Goeringer, The LISTMASTER ( Internet Representative for American Atheists is Margie Wait,


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