Date: Mon, 21 Oct 1996 17:59:35 -0700 Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for October 21, 1996 (Nigh
Date: Mon, 21 Oct 1996 17:59:35 -0700
Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for October 21, 1996 (Nightowl Edition)
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
#181 uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu10/21/96 (Nightowl Edition)
In This Issue...
* "Clinic Wars" On Supreme Court Agenda
* About This List...
NEXT ROUND IN ''ABORTION WAR'' COULD BE UP TO SUPREME COURT
Could Frustration Fuel A New Round Of Anti-Abortion Terrorism?
Late last week, arguments began in front of the United States Supreme
Court which could determine not only the constitutionality of so-called
"bubble zones" around abortion clinics, but developments within the
anti-choice movement itself. The current proceedings involve the issue of
buffers or "bubble zones" which are protected areas outside of clinics where
patients and cars may enter and exit. The Los Angeles Times noted that any
ruling in this case "will probably reach well beyond abortion clinics to
demonstrations involving causes such as gay rights and animal rights and
possdibly even to anti-stalking laws."
Two years ago, the court ruled in favor of a Florida abortion clinic which
had a 36-foot buffer zone, although Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy
and Clarence Thomas dissented, saying that the "demonstration-free" area was
a violation of free speech.
Arguing against the "bubbles" last Thursday was Jay Sekulow, director of
televangelist Pat Robertson's American Center for Law and Justice. "On
public sidewalks, you will hear messages you don't like, but (the
Constitution) protects robust speech on a matter of public debate," Sekulow
told the court.
But State University of New York law professor Luncinda Finley gave the
Justices a different perspective. She noted that protesters had physically
"blockaded" clinics, and had "grabbed, pushed, shoved and yelled" at patients
on the sidewalk as they entered or exited. Solicitor General Walter Dellinger
added that the "keep-your-distance" order was a response to anti-abortion
group's "crowding and obstructing" pregnant patients.
Court watchers suggest that the pivotal vote in the matter may rest with
Chief Justice William Rhenquist; in 1994, he upheld the buffer zone ordinance
in the Florida case, and according to the Times, "questioned attorneys
sharply on both sides of the case and did not tip his hand" in last week's
proceedings. A final decision could be months away.
Any decision in the case could affect not only a myriad of other free
speech venues, but the specific course of the anti-abortion movement.
Despite successes at the GOP National Convention last August in keeping a
strong, anti-abortion plank in the Republican platform, anti-choice groups
have met with only limited success in their efforts over the years to have
the procedure banned. A Clinton victory in November -- or, worse yet for
anti-abortion groups, a loss of control in either the House or Senate to the
Democrats -- could undermine the few gains the pro-life side has managed to
In addition, the RU-486 abortion pill met with FDA approval in
mid-September; for anti-abortion groups, that technology raises the specter
of "privatizing" abortion. Kate Michelman of the National Abortion and
Reproductive Rights Action League observed that thanks to the French pill,
women will have "privacy and safety and freedom from blockades and
harassment" they might otherwise encounter at open clinics. A representative
of the National Right to Life Committee noted that the progress made in
opening a market for the RU-486 pill was "a tragic step."
While "bubble zone" ordinances have not done away with demonstrations
outside of clinics, they have reduced violence by as much as 80% in certain
areas, and admittedly deprived more militant "sidewalk counselors" of some
Frustration at ending abortion, though, may be one of the factors fueling
a small but potentially dangerous group of self-appointed "Phineas Priests"
who see themselves as "avenging angels" by launching physical attacks on
clinics, workers, physicians involved in abortion, and even women who have
had the procedure. The model for such an "avenger" is Rev. Paul Hill who
shot an abortion clinic doctor to death outside a Florida clinic. Tom
Burghardt of the Bay Area Coalition for Our Reproductive Rights suggests that
Hill was a "Phineas Priest," one who justified his actions based on select
readings from the Old Testament. In a booklet titled "Should We Defend Born
and Unborn Children With Force?" (1993, Defensive Action, Pensacola,
Florida), Hill tells of the zeal of Phineas in the Book of Numbers:
"Phineas violently took the life of two immoral persons in order to turn
God's wrath away from the people. Number 25 tells us that the Israelites
were playing the harlot with Moabite women. God's wrath in the form of a
plague, therefore, turned against the people. As a result of the sins
committed, Moses and the judges were weeping before the tabernacle. As Moses
and the leaders looked on, Zimri, the son of Salu, brazenly brought a Moabite
woman named Cozbi by the weeping leaders. He led her past them and into a
tent for immoral purposes. When a priest named Phinehas (sic) realized what
was happening he was filled with zealous jealously. He then followered them
to a tent and checked the plague by driving a spear through them both."
Hill continues, noting that "The startling truth is that this violent act
was not done by a civil leader or after due legal process. Yet this violently
zealous act by an individual 'made atonement for the sons of Israel.' Though
sin had fanned God's righteous anger to a searing blaze, the shedding of
guilty blood had cooled the flame and saved the people from destruction."
In his essay "Paul Hill: A Phineas Priest?", Burghardt notes that the
evocation of Phineas signals "a dramatic change" in more frustrated and
dissatisfied members of the anti-abortion movement. He warns that the
"spiritual warfare" of the "rescue movement" is transformed, not only
possibly into a wider theopolitical agenda, but to a new level of
potentially violent action.
(Subsequent issues of AANEWS will discuss "The Phineas Priesthood," a
group which has surfaced in connection with a string of bank robberies and
pipe bombings in the Pacific northwest...)
THEISTWATCH SHORT SHOTS
Recently, Mormon Church president Gordon B. Hinckley declared before an
American Legion convention that what society needed now was a "war" against
Atheists and other non-believer scum who don't stick to the path of
righteousness. Now he is reminding followers that there is to be no wimpy
compromising under the spirit of ecumenism; Hinckley told the LDS seminannual
General Conference that his religion is "the only true and living church upon
the face of the whole earth," a claim made at one time or another by just
about every religious denomination, sect, cult, movement, church or temple
throughout human history. The 86-year old patriarch also insisted that
Mormon inventor Joseph Smith was "visited" by God, and that prophetic and
priestly authority has been passed down through the generations of church
leaders like some kind of bridal dress that never seems to go out of style --
at least in Utah.
Iran has joined a small but growing list of nations which is feverishly
trying to control the technology of the Internet before that explosive new
cybermedium begins eroding the foundations of medievalism, superstition and
authoritarian control. According to reports including a piece in a recent
New York Times, "The Islamic Republic is in a quandary over just how
extensive its electronic links with the outside world should be...the
government fears that everyone from die-hard supporters of the deposed Shah
to western prnographers will storm in via cyberspace." And Iranian Deputy
Foreign Minister Javad Zarif echoed the sentiment of censorcrat bluenoses
elsewhere (Janet in D.C., are you listening?) when he declared "We believe a
certain level of decency must be provided."
Not surprisingly, the Iranian theocracy uses the example of novelist
Salman Rushdie, whose 1989 novel "The Satanic Verses" brought down a "fatwa"
or sentence of death from the late Ayatollah Khomeni, as a reason for why
censorship is needed. "There is stuff on the Internet that people have
access to that is as offensive as 'The Satanic Verses'," added Zarif; of
course, if it is "offensive" to "people", why are they possibly so tempted to
The fundamentalist clerical publication "Zobh" calls for a ban on all
internet technology in Iran, comparing the threat posed by cyberspace to the
phenomenon of direct satellite broadcast. But for now, state officials are
following the lead of their fellow bluenoses in China, Singapore and
elsewhere, trying to centralize all access through the state-operated phone
system controlled by the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications. Profane
sites on the web are blocked ("playboy.com" is naturally at the top of the
list, according to the New York Times), and the banned-in-Tehran list is
updated every day.
Even e-mail transmission is stalled at the border, metaphorically
speaking. The municipal bulletin board and e-mail system in the capital
automatically delays each piece for at least 24-hours while the messages are
scrutinized. The Mayor of Tehran, certainly no civil libertarian, admitted
that "Maybe in the future we will have to open the curtain surrounding Iran.
Ultimately we know we can't control it mechanically -- that we will have to
control it spiritually."
Our lead article in this issue of AANEWS mentioned how Jay Sekulow, poster
boy for the religious right's crusade on behalf of "liberty," told the U.S.
Supreme Court that "On public sidewalks, you will hear messages you don't
like, but (the Constitution) protects robust speech on a matter of public
Is Jay a sudden convert to tolerance and libertarianism? Don't bet on
it... for starters, notice how Mr. Sekulow disingenuously qualifies the scope
of the First Amendment, saying that it protects "robust speech" as long as it
is presumably deemed worthy of the title "public debate." Actually, it goes
far beyond that. The First Amendment also protects utterances that in Mr.
Sekulow's opinion may not qualify so lofty a designation. It protects Larry
Flynt and "Hustler" Magazine, and it even protects Atheists (at least in
theory) who insist that Mr. Sekulow is a song-and-dance man on behalf of
selective toleration and selective censorship.
It's the Constitution, Jay, and it doesn't just apply to a bunch of people
waving Bibles outside of abortion clinics.
This writer for one has always a bit uncomfortable with those "bubble
zones" around clinics. Even in defense of a good cause -- abortion rights --
we shouldn't be trying to make end runs around the First Amendment; indeed,
the anti-choice types are usually outnumbered anyway by abortion rights
activists -- so what's the big deal? There is something to be said for the
notion of "know thy enemy," or at least who the enemy is. Every woman going
into an abortion clinic SHOULD know that there are squads of bible-waving
fanatics out there who wish to deprive her of this right. "Bubble zone"
boosters may also be inadvertently doing women a disservice when they act as
if females seeking abortions are frail, waif-like things in need of a
benevolent government to constantly protect them.
There IS, however, much to the points raised by State University of New
York Law Professor Luncinda Finley, who reminded the Justices of the Supreme
Court that protesters have physically blockaded clinics, and "grabbed,
pushed, shoved and yelled" at patients. Similarly, a "face-to-face harangue"
is not anything which any woman should have to endure.
There may not be a simple "answer" to this aspect of the ongoing abortion
war which is being played out on the streets and in the legislatures of this
nation. It is remarkable, though, that many of the protesters -- and much of
the leadership -- in the anti-abortion movement is comprised of men, males
who often boast of religious convictions and justify their actions (including
murder) on religious grounds. The "bubble zone" controversy, like the rest
of the abortion war, is simple testament to the fact that even in the late
twentieth century in America, the patriarchy is alive, and kicking, and
refuses to die a much needed, long-overdue death.
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