Date: Thu, 31 Oct 1996 11:10:41 -0700 Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for October 31, 1996 A M E

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Date: Thu, 31 Oct 1996 11:10:41 -0700 Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for October 31, 1996 Reply-To:, A M E R I C A N A T H E I S T S nnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn nnnnnnnnnn AANEWS nnnnnnnnnn #188 uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu 10/31/96 e-mail: In This Issue... * Christian Politicos Use Fake Jury Notices * Public Park To Honor Founder Of Scientology? * TheistWatch: JP-2 In Cuba, "Prayer Intercession" In Omaha * About This List... RELIGIOUS GROUP FLOODS MAIL WITH PHONY ''JURY NOTICES" The envelope reads: "Official Business." There's even a warning notice of "Penalty for unlawful use." And in 24-point type, mail recipients can see those ominous words "Jury duty notice." But when Ohio Atheists Frank and Anne Zindler opened their "jury duty notice," they found that instead of an official government document, there was a disingenuous political pitch by former Congressman William Dannemeyer -- once one of the most extreme religious figures on Capitol Hill -- on behalf of the Coalition of Politically Active Christians. The "jury" -- those who end up sending money to COPAC -- supposedly "judge" President Clinton and his wife, Hillary, on a variety of supposed misdeeds including: "drug running; bribery; extortion; murder;cocaine abuse;usbstruction of justice; and using taxpayer funds to support Clinton's voracious sexual appetite!" Recipients of the disingenuous "official business"-looking "jury notice" are told by Mr. Dannemeyer that "It's your responsibility to be one of the few to serve on the jury of citizens that will return justice to America..." and that everything in the CPAC letter is "backed up by concrete evidence and testimony..." Whose "Jury"? Unlike more sophisticated political groups such as the Christian Coalition, COPAC is blustery and tendentious in telling supporters who they may wish to support or oppose. COPAC Purposes declare that "As a political action committee, we will be actively involved in supporting candidates and legislation that support Judeo-Christian ethics and oppose those who don't." The group also describes itself as a "Christ-centered work dedicated to restoring the country to the Judeo-Christian values it was founded upon," and declares the Bible to be "the only infallible authoritative Word of God." COPAC's political agenda may end up being highly problematic for millions of Americans who do not happen to embrace the group's peculiar interpretation of Christian dogma. Echoing a debate which has broken out in some fundamentalist and evangelical groups (including the Southern Baptist Convention) which questions whether or not non-Christians can qualify for "salvation," COPAC's Statement of Faith declares: "We believe that the only way eternal life is received is by faith alone in Jesus Christ...We believe in the resurrection of both the saved and the lost; they that are saved unto the resurrection of life and they that are lost unto the resurrection of damnation." "Courteous, non-judgmental..." The fraudulent "jury notices," though, which contain Rep. Dannemeyer's pitch for contributions, may not only deceive postal recipients, but violate COPAC's own "Guidelines For Political Conduct." "All communications will be expressed in a courteous and non-judgmental manner," states the COPAC homepage, "refraining from obscentities, name-calling, sarcasm or derision of others. We refrain from personal attacks of any kind. If we disagree with others, say so in a respectful and civil manner..." But rather than expressing a "respectful and civil" attitude, the COPAC/Dannemeyer money pitch includes numerous dubious, even outrageous claims: * "Bill Clinton set up a state agency in Arkansas for the specific purpose of laundering drug money, making payoffs to other government officials and individuals willing to keep their mouths shut about his involvement in criminal activity..." * Dannemeyer's screed suggests that the Arkansas Development and Finance Authority directed loans to a Clinton pal, Webster Hubbell, so that "special nose-cone compartments" could be manufactured and used on airplanes which were "being used to smuggle dope back into Arkansas!" * COPAC accuses Clinton of doing "everything possible to cover-it up," in reference to the murder of two teenage boys in Arkansas who supposed "witnessed a drug transfer." Dannemeyer's screed on behalf of COPAC is not surprising, especially in light of the former congressman's extreme views on state-church separation, gay rights, civil liberties, abortion and other issues. In 1988 for instance, Dannemyer sponsored a California state initiative which would have eliminated anonymous testing for AIDS patients and forced doctors to report the names of people testing positive to state health authorities. The measure was widely denounced by civil libertarians and medical professionals, but had become a cause celebre for anti-gay and religious fundamentalist groups. ** PARK TO HONOR SCIENTOLOGY FOUNDER CAUSES UPROAR Are Scientologists, Hubbard Fans Looking For Government"Matching Money" ? A proposal to erect a picnic complex at a public park in honor of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard and post signs along a hiking trail listing his 21 "Way to Happiness" precepts has many folks in the small town of Tilden, Nebraska worried and angry. A local citizens group is threatening to file a lawsuit, and there is a slate of city council candidates explicitly opposing the plan. Critics say that the signs and picnic pavillion clearly violate the First Amendment separation of church and state. Why Tilden, Nebraska? This small town of 895 citizens happens to be the birth place of pulp sci-fi writer L. Ron Hubbard, the man who invented Dianetics and the "religious philosophy" which today is promulgated by the Church of Scientology. The connection is tenuous; according to reports in the Omaha World-Herald, few people in Tilden were aware of the fact that their community could boast such a distinction. Hubbard's mother, May Waterbury was from Tilden, and L. Ron Hubbard was born in the local hospital on March 13, 1911. "Mrs. Hubbard and her husband left for Oklahoma within weeks of the birth," and that man who claimed to have discovered the "all the wisdom of the world" never returned. Two years ago, a group known as the Friends of the Park Foundation began raising money for a new city park and trail which would connect with Cowboy Trail, a popular hiking and cycling route. Enter the Friends of L. Ron Hubbard Foundation; the group donated $50,000 to supplement locally-raised money for the park projects, and match a $228,000 federal grant. The Foundation has pledged another $250,000 for the construction of a "picnic pavilion" which would be included in the new park to be officially named the L. Ron Hubbard Park and Recreation Center. Plans have also been proposed to include signs listing the Hubbard-authored "Ways to Happiness." They include such homespun advice as "Fulfill Your Obligations," "Don't Do Anything Illegal," and "Take Care Of Yourself." Depending on who you talk to, these are important moral lessons, painful elaborations of common sense, or messages designed to promote Hubbard and the Scientology religion. Members of the Concerned Citizens group insist that the park project involves an attempt to promote the Scientology religion, and that the "Ways to Happiness" qualify as religious statements which have no place on public property. One member told the World-Herald that the proposal was Scientology's attempt to "come in and recruit new members." In addition Concerned Citizens "narrowly missed" putting a measure on the Nov. 5 ballot which would have banned acceptance of money from the Hubbard Foundation; but three anti-Hubbard candidates are now running for City Council. The local City Attorney is reportedly concerned about the church-state separation dimension of the park flap. Michael Brogan has advised city officials to avoid the potential for lawsuit and reject at least the suggestion to erect the 21 precept signs, and notes that "The more it looks like the city is approving of a particular kind of religion, the more it would violate the notion in the Constitution that requires a separation of church and state." A number of other suggestions have been presented -- such as putting the "Way to Happiness" signs in the park rather than the connecting bike-trail path; while this may avoid entanglement with the federal matching grant, though, it does not solve the problem of religious display or monuments on public property The Tilden City Council is expected to take up the problem again at a meeting either next month or in December. In the meantime, the Hubbard picnic pavilion and the "Way to Happiness" markers face a rocky constitutional road ahead. ** (Our thanks to Ron Larsen for background research used in this article.) ** THEISTWATCH SHORT SHOTS Well, for once we have to agree with Louis Farrakhan. No, no, the man is obviously bonkers when he says that he's encountered black aliens on board a giant UFO, or that the Koran makes any sense; but when Farrakhan made his recent world tour (dubbed "dancing with dictators" by the U.S. Department of State), he raised more than a few eyebrows by sitting down with the likes of Mohammar Khadafi and a bunch of other thug dictators. Louis has long manifested a penchant for nuzzling up to authoritarian regimes, especially the clerical kind -- he praised the theocratic government in Iran as a "perfect example of a government based on the Koran," and has even dropped-in to visit pals running the government of Sudan, where the Islamic regime is linked to everything from oppression of women and religious-ethnic minorities to outright slave trading. Farrakhan attracted considerable outrage from both the government and the media because of his "dances with dictators" world tour. Perhaps he should. But we fail to find anything near the level of denunciation and angst over plans by another religious leaders -- Pope John Paul II -- to take his theological dog-and-pony show to another totalitarian country -- Cuba -- and meet with that nation's head of state, Fidel Castro. Selective indignation, anyone? Indeed, Cuba is heating up as an object of theopolitical interest for the Vatican. Earlier this week, the Vatican began paving the way for a visit to Cuba by Pope John Paul II, and a meeting between the pontiff and Fidel Castro which could take place as early as next month. Castro is scheduled to attend the five-day conference of the U.S. Food and Agricultural Organization meeting in Rome, and reportedly may drop in on JP-2 for a private audience. And the official monthly publication of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Havana, "New World", notes that plans are underway in "fixing a date for the longed-for visit of His Honiness to our country." One goal the pontiff may have in any meeting with Castro is getting the Cuban government to return church lands, bank accounts and other holdings which were seized following the 1959 revolution. In return the Vatican is joining the chorus of nations which are denouncing the U.S. trade embargo on Cuba. On Monday, Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, head of the church's "Justice and Peace Commission" said the sanctions were "legally questionable" and "unacceptable" to the Vatican. In returning for blunting the embargo and loosening trade and visa restrictions, church negotiators reportedly want the Cuban government to approved a series of giant outdoor masses with uncensored media coverage. Havana Cardinal Jaime Ortega is also pushing for the government to lift restrictions on religious proselytizing, and to allow visas for as many foreign priests and nuns and church officials desire. The Vatican also wants permission to expand its "charitable and educational" activities (New York Times). On this one, the Vatican and John Paul are walking a thin line. Church attendance and interest in religion is, by many accounts, low in Cuba where the Communist Party presumably declares an official policy of atheism. But since 1992, the Party has stopped baring Roman Catholics from membership, and the state constitution has made prohibitions against religion-based discrimination. Earlier this week, church authorities had to quiet anxious anti-Castro Cubans when it was announced that Catholic Charities was shipping 35 tons of food to Cuba as a relief effort to aid Hurricane Lili survivors. There were problems at the Jose Marti International Airport in Havana over whether or not priests would accompany the shipments; church authorities told representatives of emigre groups, though, that "everything is going according to schedule" and that the church was in full control of the food distribution. The political stakes for both Castro and the Vatican are enormous. Fidel has few friends with the deep pockets of his former ally, the Soviet Union, and faces growing opposition from a new generation of Cubans with wider visions than those of the 70-year old strongman. The Church is a veritable chess master when it comes to the tit-for-tat moves of international realpolitik; Cuba fits neatly with John Paul's own millennialist vision of a resurgent Catholic Church in Latin America where it faces challenges from Protestant sects and, of course, the inevitable cultural incursions of modernity. ** Ron Larsen, our Nebraska aanews correspondent informs us of the following development, which he titled "Protecting With Prayer..." " The Omaha World-Herald reports that the chaplains of the Omaha Police Department and the Omaha and Millard Fire Departments are launching a citywide intercessory prayer effort for the men and women in those jobs. (Which also brings to mind interesting church-state questions over taxpayer funded police and fire chaplains.) Yesterday, recruitment letters and sample prayer cards were mailed out to 700 area churches and synagogues. Rev. Charles Swanson, a firefighter chaplain and project coordinator says: "We've printed 5,000 cards. I've got hope." Hope for exactly what was unspecified. The prayer effort, called "Shield a Badge," was started in Arlington, Texas in the late 1980's by a couple with three sons who were police officers. Volunteers agree to pray daily for an officer or firefighter for a year. The officer's or firefighter's name and work address are forwarded to the volunteer from a central clearinghouse. Headquarters for the Omaha effort is Swanson's church. The Omaha Fraternal Order of Police and the Omaha and Millard firefighter's union have each contributed $250 toward start-up costs. "Anything we can do to make our job safer will be supported, including appeal to the ultimate authority," said Lt. David Friend, president of the Omaha police union. Supposedly, police officers and firefighters can opt out of the program if they choose. According to the article, only a "handful" have done so. Swanson claims that the participation rate is 99%. Shield a Badsge has been a "success" in several other cities, including Houston. That city's program is run out of the 23,000 member Second Baptist Church by Dr. Richard O'Brien, a retired physician who heads the church's prayer ministry. He said 650 intercessors from 70 churches pray for Houston's 5,200 police officers. Although there is no scientific way to measure effectiveness, Dr. O'Brien said, a former Houston police chief attributed a 5% drop in accidents to officers in 1990-91 to prayer. Well, there's proof for ya! Prayer was also cited in the survival of a Houston police officer who was shot in the head." ** Mr. Larsen's article is disturbing for several reasons. The Second Baptist Church in Houston is well known to First Amendment separationists -- it is the Houston "mega-church" which according to Church&State Magazine "set up the best little political machine in Texas," and mobilized church members to vote for specific Christian Coalition-approved delegates in the March 12 Texas presidential primary in violation of its IRS tax exemption. Second Baptist is also one of the growing number of "mega-churches" which boast enormous congregations, endless rounds of social and religious activities (even bowling leagues, dances and dating services), and create a "totalistic environment" for parishioners. It really doesn't matter, of course, that "prayer intercession" is not scientifically validated. The "intercession" is initially meant as a control mechanism to reinforce religious belief through repetative chanting, prayer and other rituals. Every statistical fluke or chance event is considered for inclusion into a mindset which tries to connect that occurrence to the prayer activity. For instance, the fact that a police officer was shot could suggest that prayer intercession does not work; for believers, though, the fact that the officer managed to survive "proves" the efficacy of prayer. Worse yet is the practice of deliberately targeting authority figures and government employees -- in this case police and firefighters -- into a religious scheme. Mr. Larsen notes that individuals may choose to "opt out" of the prayer intercession program; but even off duty, police and firefighters are part of a religious activity using the symbolism, uniforms and cache of their public roles. ** 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. 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