A M E R I C A N A T H E I S T S nn nn AANEWS nn #202 u 11/20/96 (Nightowl Edition) http://

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A M E R I C A N A T H E I S T S nnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn nnnnnnnnnn AANEWS nnnnnnnnnn #202 uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu 11/20/96 (Nightowl Edition) http://www.atheists.org e-mail: aanews@atheists.org ftp.atheists.org/pub/ In This Issue: * Sherman Protests Religious Park Grab * Pope Plays Pontifical Hardball With Fidel * TheistWatch: Miss World As A Symptom Of Modernity Angst ATHEIST ACTIVIST BUSTED OVER PARK PROTEST Chicago area Atheist Rob Sherman was arrested on Monday morning over trespassing charges following his protest near the Northwest Suburban Jewish Community Center. According to the Chicago Tribune, Mr. Sherman walked onto the playground adjacent to the center where he was busted; at issue is a sign posted on a nearby fence which reads: "Reserved for the Jewish Community Center Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. During the hours listed above and at all other times, the community may use this playground when not being used by the Jewish Community Center or other tenants." The flap dates back to 1985, when the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago purchased a former elementary school and two playgrounds to use as a community and child care center. According to the Tribune, there was a rezoning agreement with the village of Buffalo Grove stipulating that the Federation would "maintain the playground and allow public use." Complicating the issue is a recent land survey demanded by Mr. Sherman which "shows some of the community center's playground equipment and fence encroaches on park district land...This would mean that the corner of the playground where Sherman was standing Monday morning was public property." Sherman also attended a Monday night meeting of the local Village Board, where he asked officials to review their decision allowing the Jewish center to post hours for the playground, part of which appears to include the public area known as Mill Creek Park. Mr. Sherman had been warned by Jewish Community Center officials to stay off the property or face chareges of trespassing. Bonnie Greenberg, executive director of the Center, seemed to be singling the Illinois Atheist out for special treatment, insisting that "Anyone can use the playground," but "It's just Mr. Sherman. He's not supposed to be on the property." Sherman is a former spokesman for American Atheists, and now heads his own group called the National Civil Rights Foundation. In response to arrest threats by the Community Center, he told the Tribune: "For ten years, they shared this playground, but this year, they got greedy and put up a sign." ** PAPAL VISIT TO CUBA IS VATICAN COUP It's now official -- Pope John Paul II will bring his travelling religious fest to Cuba next year after receiving an "unconditional" invitation from Fidel Castro. The announcement was made following a meeting held on Tuesday between the pontiff and the Cuban strongman, who said that "He (John Paul) will be received like a king and with respect." It was the first meeting between the two leaders; and the pope's visit to Cuba is expected to result in widesweeping political changes, including a possible end to the 34-year U.S. embargo. John Paul and President Castro were in Rome for the U.S. Food Summit, which also served as a lightning rod for Vatican opposition to the use of birth control and population restraint as part of a wider strategy to address the problem of world hunger. News accounts of the meeting between the leaders had a surreal quality to them, including descriptions of Castro, overwhelmed by the regal splendor of Vatican City and the Sistine Chapel, "striding somberly between ranks of Swiss Guards into the Vatican library, where he sat across a small desk from the pope (Los Angeles Times)." Italian state telesivision gushed that "Fidel Castro, atheist and priest-eater, is forgetting the past and looking to the future by going via the pope." The meeting itself was closed to all news media. International observers see advantages for both Castro and the Church, at least in the short run. Ending the embargo and attracting foreign capital is a top priority for the Cuban leader, in a land of 11 million people where the economy is gradually imploding. The pontiff has already denounced the U.S. economic blockade, and used the forum of the Food Summit to reiterate official church opposition to that policy. But Castro will pay a heavy price for any Vatican support. After taking power in 1959, his regime confiscated and nationalized over 350 Roman Catholic schools and expelled foreign clerics. All freedom of worship and religious instruction was limited to church premises. In exchange for Vatican cooperation, Castro will now be forced to grant permanent visas to as many foreign priests and Vatican officials as the church wants, and move in the direction of what spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls described as "normalization of the church and society in Cuba." There may be some shocking changes in Cuban society. In former communist countries, especially those of the former Soviet eastern block, the Vatican moved quickly to regain accounts and properties confiscated in earlier revolutions. Expect this to be the case in Cuba. And one surprise may concern abortion. Castro, educated in Jesuit schools, took a mixed view at the Food Summit in addressing the subject of population growth. He said that the world's population was growing at "a terrible rhythm...This requires planning, birth control. I think a lot of people are convinced of this. I think the Catholic Church itself, in fact, is convinced of this." But he also stated personal opposition to abortion, saying that "it is legal in my country, but we don't like it. It is not advisable. It's not that desirable, not that praiseworthy. We don't like divorces either. It's not desirable, but it is allowed by law." ** THEISTWATCH SHORT SHOTS The problematic changes wrought by modernity and global economic development seem to elicit a variety of responses, from enthused acceptance to unsavory reaction in the form of religious fundamentalism, political nationalism and ethnic jingoism. Witness the attempts of local governments and entire nation states, for example, to censor and control the explosive growth of the internet. Religious and governmental institutions likewise fret over the incursion of "outside" cultural values and images. A number of middle east states ban the ownership of direct satellite broadcasting dishes, and others retrench to combat the influences of third wave economics and consumerism. Often, what is being defended as an icon of tradition and religious-cultural integrity turns out to be far worse than what is being protested. In India, a county being transformed by modernization and a stampede of investment, the entrenched order of things has, at times, found an unlikely coalition of defenders. The Miss World Pageant seems to have united them in common cause, and become an altar calling for a whole range of diffuse discontents in the process. One critic of the event committed suicide Thursday by setting himself on fire in front of other protesters gathered outside the Bangalore arena where the Pageant was taking place. Nearly 12,000 police and troops have been mobilized to control the demonstrations, some of which are organized by womens groups, others by Hindu religious nationalists. The women have a point -- that one of the things wrong with traditional Indian society -- and, indeed, the Miss World Pageant -- has been the idea that "one's face is your value," according to a spokeswoman. But not all of the protests against the Miss World skinfest are as liberatory or enlightened. The militant Hindutva (or "Hinduness") movement, notes a recent London Times, has been "gaining strength as a backlash grows against liberal trends and Western influences that are bringing rapid changes to conservative rural India." Hindutva was responsible for organizing a mob of hooligans who destroyed works by noted Indian artist Maqbook Husain, who happens to be Muslim. And another group, Bajrang Dal, insists that the works of Mr. Husain -- and the Miss World Pageant -- are all part of an international plot to subsume Indian culture; the group, notes The Times, wants all "objectionable" paintings to be submerged in the holy Ganges River. The protests against Miss World have resulted in the swimsuit competition being relocated to the Seychelles Islands, and led to outbursts of apocalyptic violence. One contingent is threatening mass suicide by ingesting cyanide (sound familiar?) if the Pageant is allowed to continue. ** Kudos to renegade film producer Michael Moore, creator of cinematic masterpieces like "Roger & Me" (and later the unfortunately short-lived "TV Nation") for taking on Rep. Robert K. Dornan. AANEWS reported recently that Dornan, poster boy for religious right groups like the Christian Coalition, had been bested by (gasp!) a Hispanic woman named Loretta Sanchez. The upset race is close; with 1,000 ballots still be counted, Sanchez has a 665 vote lead. On Tuesday, Moore filed charges with the Orange County registrar, contending that all those who voted for Dornan must be deemed "mentally unstable." Moore, according to the Los Angeles Times, says that the controversial California Republican "poses a danger to himself and others. Therefore... everyone who supports Dornan's bid to serve in Congress is non compos mentis." Whereas Mr. Moore's claims are made in good form as a "modest proposal," Representative Dornan's references to his opposition are more mean-spirited. He has made derogatory attacks on gays, abortion rights advocates and President Clinton, whom he accused of being an operative for the KGB. He refused to concede the latest electoral contest to Ms. Sanchez, caller her "an inarticulate, flaky, non-qualified person," and even referred to Russian television journalist Vladimir Posner as a "disloyal, betraying little Jew." On Tuesday, Associated Press and the Washington Post report that Dornan led a mob in denouncing a retired Marine Colonel and fellow Republican who assisted Ms. Sanchez in her election efforts. Dornan shouted at William Dougherty: "You are a disgrace to your Baptism! You are a poor excuse for a Marine. You are a pathetic old senile man. You are a slimy coward." Britain's Electronic Telegraph noted that many of Dornan's critics dismissed him as a bufoon who had "no rival for bombast," and lamented that "If he has to go, his (Dornan's) departure will leave a gap in the increasingly-dull Washington political scene." We're not so sure of that. There is always some politicized "prayer warrior" who can be dredged out of the gutter, concealing his political demagoguery behind a flag and a bible. ** Privatizing charity and turning social services over to religious groups is all the rage these days, but corruption and mismanagement within non-profit organizations may give us pause. On Tuesday, for instance, investigators seized records from the Council of Jewish Organizations of Borough Park, New York, a group which the New York Times describes as "an essential stop for politicians seeking support from Orthodox Jews in Brooklyn." The paper quoted a source close to the investigation who revealed: "There are allegations that charitable contributions and Federal and state money that went into the council was (sic) being used for personal expenses. It appears that the COJO is beneficiary of the political pull and taxpayer largesse of Brooklyn Democratic Assemblyman Dov Hikind, who "has obtained hundreds of thousands of dollars in state money for the council and its affiliates, which in turn have doled out lucrative consulkting contracts to Hikind's aides, political advisers and at least one of his relatives." ** What is about the fixation of some religious groups and zealots with paddling kids, anyway? Take the unelightened governor of Alabama, Fob James who last Friday informed a churchload of ministers, parents, cops and politicians that he had the answer to youth violence and the rest of the world's problems -- prayer and a good whipping. With a banner overhead declaring "Righteousness Exalts a Nation," James told his applauding listeners that "We should not accept unruly children," adding that "a good butt-whipping and then a prayer is a wonderful remedy. You're looking at an old man who was a kid that received an ample dose of both. The occasion for Jame's illuminating wisdom was the release of a report from the Governor's Citizen Commission on Youth Violence, a panel which he appointed last year. Among the recommendations found in the 13-point plan, dubbed "Operation Shepherd," were programs to involve churches in tutoring programs, a 30-second silent prayer (whatever that is) in public schools and in-school chaplains to "help students and counselors" (Birmingham News/Post-Herald). Other proposals would provide weeknight youth church activities and church run athletic teams. Fob apparently worked his audience into near-hysterics, gushing "Let us have a battle cry. What should it be? How about Hallelujah!" After the pep talk, one James enthusiast told the Birmingham News "I am a firm believer that the church needs to get involved." No one should be surprised by the governor's proposals or enthusiasm for demolishing the First Amendment. James aides often conduct "prayer meetings" in their offices, and the governor's legal adviser, Bill Grey, has declared that "There is no such thing as a wall of separation between church and state." ** One scam being used by religious groups to funnel public money into their coffers is to have churches declared "historic buildings" which qualify for preservation grants. AANEWS receives a steady stream of reports about such antics in this country; and now, it seems that the Anglican Church in England is ready to grab about $90 million or so from the British treasury in order to save its "historic" structures. According to the Sunday Times of London, 13,000 buildings belonging to the Church of England are now listed on registers as "special architectural or historical interest." They already receive approximately $17 million each year from "English Heritage" to repair local churches and chapels, with another $6 million or so being poured into cathedrals. The state Lottery Fund kicks in another $16 million. But a report (naturally authored by the Church authority) now says that "only the Government had the means to convert the nation's love of church buildings into material support." ** INTERESTED IN MEETING OTHER ATHEISTS? INTERESTED IN DOING SOMETHING EXTRA FOR ATHEISM AND STATE-CHURCH SEPARATION? Then you might consider joining American Atheists. Your membership not only helps to underwrite our growing activist outreach, but qualifies you to join our Volunteers Network, FaxNet and other activities. We're looking for people to host our weekly cable television program "The Atheist Viewpoint" in their communities, monitor local and state issues pertaining to civil liberties and state-church separation, echo media releases through our nationwide FaxNet and much more. One benefit of American Atheists membership is participation in our on-line moderated discussion forum, aachat. We discuss everything from Atheism and history to current events, AA activities and the problems and challenges of living as an Atheist in a credulous, religious culture. Interested? For a membership packet, just send mail to info@atheists.org and include your full name and postal mailing address. ** 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 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). 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