Date: Mon, 21 Oct 1996 17:59:35 -0700 Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for October 21, 1996 (Nigh

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Date: Mon, 21 Oct 1996 17:59:35 -0700 from: Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for October 21, 1996 (Nightowl Edition) Reply-To:, A M E R I C A N A T H E I S T S nnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn nnnnnnnnnn AANEWS nnnnnnnnnn #181 uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu10/21/96 (Nightowl Edition) e-mail: In This Issue... * "Clinic Wars" On Supreme Court Agenda * TheistWatch * 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. Consequences 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 cobble together. 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 favorite tactics. 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 read it? 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 ("" 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 debate..." 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. ** 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 on American Atheists, send mail to and include your name and postal address. Or, check out our cool new site on the web at You may forward, post or quote from this dispatch, provided that appropriate credit is given to American Atheists and aanews. 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. 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