Date: Tue, 5 Nov 1996 14:45:03 -0700 Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for November 5, 1996 A M E

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Date: Tue, 5 Nov 1996 14:45:03 -0700 Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for November 5, 1996 Reply-To:, A M E R I C A N A T H E I S T S nnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn nnnnnnnnnn AANEWS nnnnnnnnnn #192 uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu11/2/96 e-mail: In This Issue... * "Hard To Be Elected If You Were An Atheist..." * Coalition Ready For Spin Doctor Mode? * Atheists Praise Supreme Court Announcement On School Prayer * Atheist Media Appearance * TheistWatch: Majoritarianism * About This List... CAMPAIGN '96 ~~ A SHAMELESS PANDERING FOR RELIGIOUS VOTES Mercilfully, the 1996 campaign is drawing to an end as people flock to the polls to elect a president, senators, representatives and a slew of local officials. Political pundits observe that at just about every level, the 1996 campaign season was a new low for mudslinging, innuendo and negative ads. Was it any coincidence, then, that so many contests -- including the race for the White House -- involved a surfeit of religious rhetoric and posturing? That candidates went out of their way to emphasize their religious roots and upbringing? That religious belief was framed not in the context of state-church separation, but as a badge of distinction in the culture-war battle for public approval? In 1960, religion played a different role in the hotly-contested presidential run between Richard Nixon and John Kennedy. Despite running under the Democratic banner, the Dixiecrat South was by no means a guaranteed sweep for the Senator from Massachusetts; wherever he went, Kennedy was grilled -- even by partisan supporters -- about his Roman Catholic beliefs and his position on the role of church and state. He told the nation, the media and especially his often-Protestant audiences that he remained a staunch advocate of the First Amendment separation of government and religion, opposed schemes such as parochaid, and considered religious belief to be essentially a private matter. Can you imaging a candidate today -- especially one seeking the Presidency -- staking out the Establishment Clause and state-church separation as a moral and political highground, a principle worth defending? Thirty six years later, President Clinton and challenger Bob Dole have both not only draped themselves in religious symbolism and rhetoric, but have attempted to out-rival the other in establishing their credentials as "people of faith." Hardly a trip to the podium or photo opportunity has been allowed to pass where some reference to religious belief was not presented for public consumption. In turn, religious ideologies and groups played an important role in defining many of the cultural issues which occupied much of the campaign. * USA TODAY quotes political scientist John Green of the University of Akron, who says that many voters supposedly consider religion to be important. It doesn't matter, says Green, if a candidate is Catholic or Baptist or a regular churchgoer -- the voters want an individual with a "spiritual core." "It's an indication to voters that the candidates are moral individuals," says Green. "It would be very hard to be elected president if you were an atheist." * Both campaigns worked hard at presenting their candidate as a church-going and religious man. Clinton's roots as a Southern Baptist were emphasized in White House hand-outs, and Dole remained to the bitter end a political race horse for the Christian Coalition. * The GOP convention remains an example of the political savvy and influence of the Christian Coalition. A $750,000 high-tech "war room" kept Ralph Reed's stable of over 1,000 delegates in line, and assured that the Republican platform mirrored the Coalition's "Contract With the American Family." When Dole finally settled on Jack Kemp as his VP running mate, he huddled with Ralph Reed for the imprimatur of the religious right. Behind the scenes, Dole and his handlers were frustrated in the badgering from religious conservatives to emphasize a "culture war" agenda; at one point Dole snapped "Who care's what Gary Bauer thinks, who's Gary Bauer anyway?" referring to the head of the Family Research Council. * Clinton managed to coopt his share of religious cache. GOP efforts to portray the President as a corrupt philaderer whose administration was rife with scandal fell largely on deaf ears. Clinton's speeches and public appearances (often in churches or before religious groups) were laced heavilly with bible quotes and exhortations to god. Surprisingly, Clinton will probably carry the majority of votes from that segment of the religious spectrum who define themselves as Evangelicals. Clinton's religious upbringing and convictions were a major point for Democratic strategists. In July, for instance, Clinton told interviewers that he reads the Bible on a weekly basis. Even his decision to veto the Partial Birth Abortion Ban -- a move which evoked an official letter of rebuke from the Roman Catholic Church -- was framed in a religious context; it was reportedly a decision Clinton arrived at "following much prayer and reflection." ** COALITION READY FOR SPIN CONTROL ? It is an important night for the Christian Coalition. For several weeks, religious right organizations have essentially "written off" the Dole campaign, blaming the GOP nominee's sluggish performance with focus groups and polls on the refusal of Republican strategists to emphasize character and culture-war issues. Christian Coalition Director Ralph Reed said recently that his group was concentrating on House and Senate races instead, a strategy to prevent what he termed a "meltdown" within Republican ranks. The Coalition's role inside the Republican Party could depend in large part on how successful the GOP is at keeping control of one or both houses of congress. The CC grabbed credit for the 1994 Republican sweep, which saw the GOP gain control of both the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate for the first time in 40 years. Erosion of Republican presence, or a worst-scenario case where the Democrats take control, could jeopardize the Christian Coalition's role as a major player insidce GOP ranks. Shifting Gears... The Coalition reportedly has several alternative scenarios of its own which will be presented tomorrow during a 10 a.m. discussion at the National Press Club in Washington. * If Republicans manage to have a respectable showing, or even an upset victory in the White House race, you can anticipate Ralph Reed to take a large chunk of the credit. Last Sunday, the Coalition pumped out the bulk of its 45,000,000 "voters guides," and has conducted an aggressive "get out the vote" effort directed specifically at fundamentalists, evangelicals and conservative Roman Catholics. * If "meltdown" occurs and the GOP fails to maintain control in Congress, the Coalition has an alternative back-up strategy. This involves shifting the blame to Republican officials who advised Dole to avoid too much emphasis on the "culture war" topics, including Clinton's character, his veto of the Partial Birth Abortion Ban and issues such as vouchers and school prayer. The Coalition will argue that Dole's "lack of leadership" failed to create a coat tail effect and help out GOP candidates in House and Senate races, including those "Gingrich freshman" from the class of '94. Today, the Coalition is conducting its own exit polls -- not to see how Dole is faring against Clinton, but to presumably track numbers of its own choosing. Sharing the podium at the press club tomorrow with Ralph Reed will be Bruce Blakeman of Wirthlin Worldwide, a polling agency which is measuring "the number of religious conservatives voting as a percentage of the American electorate." Reed will continue to play the role of spokesman for this constituency. ** ATHEIST GROUP PRAISES COURT ANNOUNCEMENT ON PRAYER American Atheists released the following statement last night to the newsmedia: "American Atheists praises the U.S. Supreme Court today in its decision to not review state legislation that would have permitted "student led" prayer in public schools. Ellen Johnson, President of American Atheists, suggested that the reluctance of the Court to even hear the case demonstrated that justices 'may prefer to stand by the existing, adequate safeguards for state-church separation and avoid a potential activist role in legalizing school prayer.' " Today's decision by the court was without comment, and left intact circuit court rulings which declared a 1994 Mississippi State law permitting so-called 'student led' or 'student initiated' prayers to be unconstitutional. "Ms. Johnson noted that today's Supreme Court announcement affirmed the June ruling of U.S District Court Judge Neal Biggers in the case of Lisa Herdahl, a mother who challenged the use of a public school announcement system for daily prayers. " 'The fact that a prayer is led or suggested by an individual student -- or a group of students -- doesn't change the fact that in a public school setting, it is still a coercive actrivity,' noted Johnson. In previous decisions, the courts have noted that students are a 'captive audience.' And just because school prayer is student led does not make it acceptable because we do not allow high school students to determine what activities are constitutional. "Ron Barrier, National Media Coordinator for American Atheists, was also pleased with today's decision. 'Administrators, teachers and even other students have no business trying to orchestrate religious rituals of any kind in taxpayer supported public schools,' he said." ** AN ATHEIST MEDIA EVENT... Many AANEWS readers enjoy listening to our National Media Coordinator Ron Barrier who has earned himself the distinctive title of the "slice and dice" Atheist for his devastating style in debating religious proselytizers. Night owls on the east coast can listen to Ron on Thursday, November 21 from midnight to 12:30 a.m. when he appears on the PBS program "America with Dennis Wholey." The topic will be "Atheist civil rights." Mark your calendar; we'll carry more details in a subsequent issue. ** THEISTWATCH SHORT SHOTS Yesterday's announcement by the Supreme Court that it would not review lower court rulings overturning Mississipi school prayer laws evoked the expected wave of disapproval, along with some revealing remarks from certain religious leaders. Jay Sekulow of the American Center for Law and Justice -- a religious counterpart founded by televangelist Pat Robertson to the ACLU -- said "I hope lower courts won't read into the court's action any disapproval of legitimate student-initiated prayer and worship, such as prayer clubs." He added that the Mississippi statute was "problematic at the outset," and had "official sanction...all over it." If so, why does it take a series of legal setbacks (including one from the nation's highest court) to get this sort of response from Sekulow? Is this a case of "well, maybe we can get away with it..."? Meanwhile, Mississippi's attorney general Mike Moore whined that "I think most Mississippians are for school prayer in all its various forms...Unfortunately, the courts have not ruled that way." Hey, does this guy even have a law degree? Did he study the Bill of Rights? Why is it "unfortunate" that a court would happen to strike down so invasive a practice as school prayer, even if the majority favored it "in all its various forms." Does that include mandatory prayer where students are forced to mouth the words of a prayer under threat of dismissal, or some other disciplinary action? Say it isn't so, Mike, say it isn't so! ** At one time or another, just about every foolish, idiotic and inhumane notion has been accepted by the "majority" of some group somewhere. Slavery was once it vogue, and pro-slave legislators were regularly elected throughout the south, often with little or no abolitionist opposition. Of course the slaves weren't voting... ** Officials with the Episcopal Church in new York are investigating charges that a priest transported youngsters from Brazil for use in orgy rites on the altar of St. Gabriel's Church. According to the December issue of "Penthouse," several priests dressed as female starlets and referred to themselves as "the girls, and partied in the church after hours. ** 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 site on the 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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