Date: Wed, 30 Oct 1996 13:24:50 -0700 Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for October 30, 1996 A M E

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Date: Wed, 30 Oct 1996 13:24:50 -0700 Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for October 30, 1996 Reply-To: aanews@listserv.atheists.org, AMERICAN.ATHEISTS@listserv.direct.net A M E R I C A N A T H E I S T S nnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn nnnnnnnnnn AANEWS nnnnnnnnnn #187 uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu 10/30/96 http://www.atheists.org e-mail: aanews@atheists.org VERMONT SUIT SEEKS GOVERNMENT FUNDS FOR CATHOLIC TUITION Parents in three separate Vermont school districts have filed suit to obtain government funding toward tuition at private, religious schools. The issue began last year when a couple asked the local and state Board of Education to pay tuition for their daughter so she could attend a local Roman Catholic high school; when the boards refused, the parents then filed a lawsuit in state Superior Court. But at least one public school district which covers the town of Chittenden, Vermont, voted to extend government assistance for parents who sought to send their children to Catholic schools. Fifteen of that community's students now attend the religious school, where tuition can run up to $3,000 per year. That move has angered State Department of Education officials, who worry that Vermont can actually lose per-pupil education grants if students are instead paid to go to religious schools. The Vermont case highlights the growing debate over school choice, vouchers, and whether or not religious schools should be the recipient of public monies. Some voucher experiments limit the use of the credit payments; parents can choose among "competing" public schools, for instance. In some cases, the vouchers may be used in covering enrollment at private schools, but not sectarian (religious) institutions. Vermont's Deputy Commissioner of Education, William Reedy, says in today's New York Times that "The state's position has been that direct payment of tuition to a sectarian school from public funds is forbidden by both the Vermont and the U.S. Constitutions." Lawyers representing the plaintiffs in the new suit, though, insist that payments would pass constitutional muster. Attorney Richard Komer, affiliated with the Institute for Justice which represents the plaintiffs, said that the since the program "gives the choice to the parents and not to the state, there is no violation of the separation of church and state." The squabble in Vermont has fulfilled the concerns of voucher critics, though, who fear an exodus of students and funding from the public schools. There are reports from neighboring areas where some parents are demanding that school districts pay for their child's tuition into various religious schools. In related developments: * A study being released today for the Twentieth Century fund suggests that at least one aspect of the voucher-public school debate -- schemes to privatize schools and turn them over to private companies or religious groups -- has not worked. The two year research project looked at both initiatives where public schools were operated by for-profit companies, and where vouchers were used so that students could attend private schools. Dr. Norm Fruchter of the Institute for Education and Social Policy who headed the investigation told media that he "was surprised how uniformly negative the results were," and noted that the research found no evidence of dollar savings, or improvements in student test scores. Costs rose by as much as 11.2% when schools were privatized, and academic performance usually fell. The study tends to refute many of the notions advanced by voucher supporters, and has particular application for cities such as New York, where Mayor Rudolph Riuliani seeks to "turn over" public schools to the parochial school system. * In Ontario, Canada, the government has financed the Roman Catholic school system since 1867; that policy was part of an agreement between English and French authorities in the confederation documents that created Canada. Following the creation of the Dominion of Canada, Roman Catholics withdrew from the public school system and began forming a network of separate educational institutions and school boards. The Protestant majority in the new country simply joined the secular school system, except in Quebec.. The funding of religious schools, though, has created on-going legal problems. Until the 1980's, for instance, Catholic schools were covered by government monies only through the tenth-grade, while public schools received financing until the end of the high school term. Ontario equalized that funding, but certain Protestant religious groups objected. Now, parents who want funding for non-Catholic religious schools are suing for equal coverage in Ontario. Sikh, Muslim, Jewish, Protestant and Hindu schools all want a slice of the public pie. In other provinces, the government pays a portion of expenses for private schools, most of which are operated by religious groups. ** RELIGIOUS PROHIBITIONISTS OVER-REPRESENTED ON GAMBLING PANEL? A nine-member federal panel formed by Congress to evaluate the impact of organized, legal gambling already has two appointees representing religious right interest groups. Gambling industry representatives and civil libertarians have worried that the group, created through the National Gambling Impact and Policy Commission Act, would become a platform for gaming prohibitionists, and the first step at outlawing many forms of recreational gambling in the country. Indeed, the "war on gambling" has become the basis for a "strange bedfellows" alliance of liberal and conservative religious prohibitionists, representing such diverse creed-meisters as the Christian Coalition and the National Council of Churches. The panel already includes bible-discipline guru James Dobson, head of Focus on the Family. Yesterday, House Speaker Newt Gingrich named Kay Coles James to the panel. James is a "Dean" at televangelist Pat Robertson's Regent University, where she heads up the Robertson School of Government. James is also a vice president of the Family Research Council, a spin-off of the Focus group headed by anti-abortion and "family values' rhetorician Gary Bauer. She has also served as president of the Black Americans for Life Committee and was an official with the National Right to Life Committee. James held public posts under the Reagan and Bush administrations, including a role with the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. "Stacking The Deck?" The appointment of James has reportedly surprised many industry observers who believed that a "token" slot on the panel would be given to a religious prohibitionists; Dobson fit that bill. Now, there is concern that the anti-gaming zealots are "stacking the deck," and are possibly over-represented in the group. The anti-gambling agenda is considered to be one of the major post-election issues for a number of religious right groups, including the Christian Coalition. But even mainline moderate and liberal religious organizations are hopping on the bandwagon. Last January, the National Council of Churches joined with the Christian Coalition in opening the Washington office of the National Coalition Against Legalized Gambling. And state units of the NCC have taken the lead in fighting legalized casino gambling. In Ohio, for instance, the Council of Churches has organized over 100 anti-gambling community rallies in its bid to de-rail riverboat gaming. But just as gambling has united religious prohibitionists and authoritarians, it has many civil libertarians and even some conservatives worried. Republican Congressman John Ensign warned last month that "You do not want the federal government regulating the gaming industry." Worries of undue influence by religious groups, especially those of the Christian right, stem in part from the composition of the panel. Speaker Gingrich and Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott have a total of six appointments, while President Clinton has only three. ** THEISTWATCH SHORT SHOTS A lot of people would like to believe that a cosmic deity (or at least one of his flunkie "guardian angels") is taking time from running the Entire Universe and is genuinely concerned about them in particular. Plenty of people throughout history believed that god spoke to them, or that they were ordained to be agents of the almighty in fulfilling some nebulous purpose. The list is a considerable one, from anorexic saints and hallucinating prophets, to the Jim Jones types. Now, Tonya Harding believes that she had god's backing when she happened to stop in a suburban Portland, Oregon bar the other day for a few rounds of video poker, and presumably ended up saving the life of an 81-year old woman who had collapsed and stopped breathing. Seems that Tonya, whose choice of boyfriends was once less than tasteful, made a "last second decision" to pull into the Lost and Found Saloon (on Sunday of all days!). According to accounts, an elderly woman named Alice Olson collapsed at the bar just a few minutes later and Tonya, who had learned CPR, began mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Ms. Harding says she believes God was behind her sudden impulse for video poker, and she "thanks god" that she was on the scene. Remarkable how "god" works, isn't it? ** We definitely need an award or some form of recognition for the religious leader who best reveals the darkest impulses, cravings and fears of his sacred creed. Perhaps the first such award should go to the former Archbishop of York, one Lord Habgood. According to the latest issue of Internet World, the Archbishop is a foe of the internet, who warns his fellow bluenoses of the net's "supermarket culture." We've always suspected that when certain individuals are promoting censorship of any medium and conjuring real, exaggerated or imaginary ills, there is actually a more covert agenda at work. But the Archbishop lays it right on the line when he says: "To have almost limitless power to call up any image, to convey and receive information without any restraints, to create, as it were, one's own world, could reinforce the dangerous perception that life has no purpose beyond individuals self-gratification." Well, your holiness, who then should put these "restraints" on information? You? The state? The church? And one must wonder if it is the good Archbishop who deigns to tell -- no, command -- what the purpose of life shall be. Anyway, an appropriate response to Lord Habgood's angst was made by writer Brent Gregston, who remarked: "One wonders if the spread of the printing press provoked similar reactions." ** Let's just say that James Dobson and Kay Coles James -- a couple of religious prohibitionists now on the panel to study the impact of nationwide, legalized gambling, might be "dumb" and "dumber" when it comes to everyday life. Religious groups are striking up the mantra that casino gambling corrupts society, "addicts" individuals, fractures the family, and probably is responsible for everything wrong in the world including the hole in the ozone layer (better leave that one out...). But what was life BEFORE legalized gambling? Let's get real on this one, folks. Even I'm old enough to remember the days when illegal gambling thrived, and made guys who had nicknames like "Thumbs" and "Lefty" pretty rich. Just about every neighborhood, from lowly ghettos and shanty towns to the swell country club areas had a nighborhood bookie, and a bunch of guys who didn't seem to have any necks, and never found a suit big enough to wear. Many still do. The numbers game, which employed thousands of runners and bag-men, was tied to everything from the stock market to the ball game score. It was big business, and tens of millions of people -- housewives, cops, politicians, ministers, everyone -- was involved. A guy named Meyer Lansky, dubbed the CEO of the National Crime Syndicate, was investing up to $5 billion a year for the mob just from the revenues on illegal betting. If I were Don Whats-His-Name surrounded by my cadre of enforcers, advisors, soldiers and accountants, I'd just love to see James Dobson and the rest of the religious right outlaw gambling (and a lot of other activities). I'd know that my associates and I in what is politely termed "organized crime" can become ridiculously wealthy running illegal betting casinos, numbers operations and any other games of chance. I'd also know that contrary to the fantasies of many religious prohibitionists, people will continue to engage in such "prohibited" or banned conduct regardless of all the preaching and law passing. People will "sin" in large numbers; politicians can be easilly corrupted; cops can be bought, and well, there still enough cash to go around. Despite whatever moral objections we might have to religious authoritarians -- that, for instance, they insist on forcing their doctrinal schemes onto the culture through coercion and legal fiat -- there is also the more basic question on whether these folks are hitting on all eight cylinders, and know anything about day-to-day, nitty-gritty life, how people act, and how the world really operates. I suspect they don't. James Dobson is as far removed from the streets of American and the everyday person as Pope John Paul is from a Rome bordello. They haven't a clue. But that guy named "Thumbs" sure does! ** Kudos to actor Woody Harrelson; he may be white and can't jump, but he's right on the mark in taking on the Archbishop of Canterbury for Hiz Holiness' recent statement that kids need to be slapped once in a while, "as long as it is done with love and with firm discipline within the family setup." Harrelson, in a letter to the London Independent, remarked: "I was wondering, now that my oldest daughter is nearly 4 years old and gaining strength, how long I have to wait before I can start slapping my newborn." ** If religion is such a good thing, then why throughout history have religious factions argued and killed over everything from dogma, territory, money -- to even table tennis? In a London court, yesterday, judges heard about the case of Nigerian-born Ayotunde Obanubi, who was allegedly killed after being surrounded by a group of Mulsims who believe that he had insulted Islam. The confrontation took place at Newham College, the site of growing tensions involving predomiantly Asian students, mostly Muslims and Africans, often over religious issues. Amidst cries that Muslims would kill to defend each other, Mr. Obanubi ended up being stabbed in a dispute over whose turn it was to play table tennis in a college common room. He was later corner and killed with a ceremonial-type knife by Muslim defenders reportedly wielding knives, machetes and hammers. ** AANEWS continues to receive information about phoney "haunted house" tours staged by fundamentalist religious groups, and a growing Christian reaction to the ritual of Halloween... In West Valley City, Utah, area churches have banded together to try and scare children into mindless religious belief through a "Hell House." A local Mormon paper praised the stunt as a :"horrific experience" which was "intended to bring people to God by showing them the consequences of sin." "After witnesseing several gruesome scenes, culminating in hell itself, the participants enter a white room where an actor portraying Jesus Christ tells them they can be saved if they choose him," notes the Deseret News. Among the "gruesome" scenes is one which includes domestic violence (a man yells at his wife while three kids look on). The wife ends up falling to the ground, and one of the children takes a kitchen knife to the father. Another vignette depicts gang members snorting cocaine, and a murder. We suspect, of course, that many of the types involved in these "gruesome" and somewhat disingenuous religious stunts are the very ones who want to BAN the depiction of violence...guess there's nothing wrong, though, with showing youngsters a good beating (or even sniffing drugs) if it's in the service of the lord. The Deseret News says that "participants were clearly shell-shocked." The "Hell House" motif is being used throughout the country, thanks to a whole how-to kit produced by the Abundant Christian Life Center. The West Valley City "Hell House" charged $5 admission; and even the News admitted that "The spectacles have produced controversy, with detractors saying they are nothing more than gory moneymaking schemes that preach hatred and intolerance." Other reports we have received indicate that many Christian "Fright tours" and phoney "haunted hours" have scenes depicting abortion, pre-marital sex (now, just how do they do THAT?) and other alleged vices. ** 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 more information about American Atheists, send mail to info@atheists.org and include your name and postal mailing address. Or, check out our cool new site on the web at http://www.atheists.org. 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 aanews-request@listserv.atheists.org and put "info aanews" (minus the quotation marks, please) in the message body. Edited and written by Conrad F. Goeringer, The LISTMASTER (cg@atheists.org). Internet Represetnative for American Atheists is Margie Wait, irep@atheists.org.

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