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A M E R I C A N A T H E I S T S nnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn nnnnnnnnnn AANEWS nnnnnnnnnn #206 uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu 12/3/96 http://www.atheists.org ftp.atheists.org/pub/ e-mail: aanews@atheists.org In This Issue... * Should Kids Be Indoctrinated During School Time? * TheistWatch: Flying Egyptians, Whippin', Butt-Kickin' Christians * Send A Solstice Card! * About This List... ''RELEASED TIME" LATEST FAD TO CIRCUMVENT FIRST AMENDMENT ? They've tried just about everything -- from moments of "meditation" and "silent prayer" to student initiated Bible verse reading, and even tricks to invent prayers which are "nonreligious" or non-sectarians. But religion-in-school boosters now have another tool in their efforts to make an end-run around the First Amendment. It may not be quite as coercive as the "voluntary prayer" legitimized in legislative proposals like the Religious Equality Amendment, but it surely constitutes entanglement between belief and government, specifically in the form of the public school system. It is known as "released time" Bible education, and it is on the rise throughout the United States. According to reports, including a story in today's Christian Science Monitor," the idea is for students to leave the public school classroom in the course of the official day, and spend time off-campus in a church or other venue receiving religious instruction. Supporters, including the National Association of Released Time Christian Education (NARTCE) justify the arrangement, pointing out that the programs require parental consent, are privately funded, and operate off the school grounds. Even the American Civil Liberties Union -- traditionally a defender of state-church separation -- gives a qualified thumbs-up to the programs. A spokesperson told the Monitor that "As long as schools dot their i's and cross their t's, and don't do anything that encourages the practice of religion, this is a reasonable way to accomodate the religious needs of parents and students." But not all separationists agree. Critics point out that released-time programs have the effect of endorsing religion since they involve time during the regular school day. And the programs are specifically religious. Students, for instance, wouldn't receive released-time for other activities that they or their parents might want them involved in which were of a nonreligious nature. Indeed, the released-time programs are designed specifically for religious faiths, and now include even instruction in Judaic, Christian and Islamic beliefs. In Utah and Idaho, notes the Monitor, "thousands of students attend released-time classes sponsored by the Mormon Church." The programs have mushroomed since 1914 when the idea was concocted by an Indiana elementary school superintendent. In 1948, a U.S. Supreme Court ruling put an end to the practice of operating the programs on school property or using public funds; but in 1952, the high court decided that the programs could be offered "as long as they are privately funded and are held off campus." Part Of A Wider Assault Most released-time programs involve indoctrination of students in Christian beliefs. Many parents often support the schemes, seeing them as a quick-fix for perceived social problems. News reports about released-time activities often include parents like one businessman in South Carolina who insists that "at-risk behavior (among students) has just gone off the chart in the last thirty years." The time period reference is significant; most released-time advocates like to blame a wide range of ills, from drug abuse to teen pregnancy, on the prohibition of religious ritual in public schools beginning with legal cases such as Murray v. Curlett (1963). Many parents profiled in media articles see released-time religious instruction as an antidote to drug use, premarital sex and other problems. And a survey of released-time materials shows that these topics are often addressed from a "Christian" or religious perspective, counselling chastity and regular participation in church activities. The program appeals to many fundamentalist and evangelicals, who warn that religious belief is "under attack," and that governmental institutions including the public school system, have distanced themselves from religious belief. Released-time is also just one of many responses to this situation of enforced secularism in America's classrooms; some support a constitutional amendment to return prayer to schools, while others to enact programs which "teach religion as history." But like school voucher plans, the released-time programs may be yet another drain on cash-strapped public schools throughout the nation. Over the years, the actual number of school days has declined, and the traditional "3-R's" program has been diluted with "soft" instructional courses; time spent teaching science and mathematics has declined, and the amount spent in science lab courses has dropped precipitously as well. That is one reason why many public school administrators and teachers remain leery of released-time programs. And the programs remain unabashedly religious, even when discussing problems which might confront students. The Monitor quoted the director of a Christian Learning Center where students gather on released-time, who insisted that many "problem kids" need religious instruction. "We're trying to do something for them spiritually." ** THEISTWATCH SHORT SHOTS The question is not: How many internet junkies can the telecommunications infrastructure support with crashing? It should be: How many psychic hotlines can the public be bilked for? A CNN dispatch (appropriately from "The American Edge" section) says that America is in the midst of a paranormal pandemic, and that "almost a third of all Americans believe we can get messages from the dead." And that's not cocktail party chatter -- last year, Americans charged $300 million in calls to psychic hotlines. It seems that anyone who wants to be somebody has a psychic hotline; recall our amazement that Lorenna Bobbitt even had her name on one of the call-in services, but we have to wonder how a cleansing of emotional insecurities at $3.99 per minute benefits women who have been victims of physical abuse. The psychics on line offer pretty much the psychological perks that the more traditional, in-store variety do -- companionship, a sense that somebody cares about you, an opportunity to schmooze (even if the details of your angst are really insignificant and reflect an indulgence in our culture's rampant, runaway narcissism), soothing nostrums and a bit of encouragement to face the future. There's also the sense of exotic excitement, too, in finding out what Madame so-and-so has to say about "your future." Aside from the deeper philosophical problems with prognosticating the future in such a fashion, there are practical concerns which give the less credulous some cause for doubt. If psychics have this wonderful insight into future events, why are so many of them hanging out in rundown store fronts, or working schlocky nightclub acts? Why don't they set up a mutual fund that outperforms the heavy hitters? Why can't they look into the future and give us the cure for AIDS and other maladies now? But perhaps the best objection to psychics, and specifically to their dial-in hotlines, is this: If they're so gushing with psychic potency and ability, how come they don't call you before you call them? ** Let's consider hard-line Afrocentrism just another form of pseudo-science being foisted onto children in much the same way Christian creationism is. We're NOT talking about legitimate black history which discusses the largely unrecognized achievements of blacks, or the history of slaveocracy, a despicable institution rationalized by biblical slave morality and many parts of the institutionalized Christian church. It is instructive to remember, for instance, that in the American south during the slaveholding era, the Bible was sometimes the only book Negro slaves were permitted to read. Afrocentrism comes in many forms, and is being increasingly used to help build cultural awareness and self-esteem within the black community; it has also prompted widespread debate, and reputable Afrocentrist scholars now are having to distance themselves from the more extreme -- and unsubstantiated -- claims of some groups appropriating the label. In Milwaukee, according to Associated Press, a school board member last night called for a ban on what was described as a "racist curriculum that teaches children than winged black Egyptians were able to fly around the pyramids until white people destroyed them." Mr. Todd is challenging some of the more outrageous statements found in the so-called "Baseline Essays" program, saying that "we are running a dual school system...One system for poor blacks and another for middle-class children." He charged that "Afrocentrism mythologizes and falsifies the past and provides inaccurate information about the treatment of blacks in the ancient Mediterranean world," adding that the program at two "immersion" schools was "racist pseudo-science." Educators are increasingly worried about the dubious claims appearing in the "Baseline Essays." Albert Shanker, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said that the program made "absurd claims." "Students who learn science from the baseline essay will be told that the Egyptians developed the theory of evolution (thousands of years before Darwin), understood quantum mechanics and flew around for business and pleasure in full-size gliders." Todd says that "immersion" school students in Milwaukee have been taught that Egyptians levitated and had wings, a claim made by one instructor in a recent "60-Minutes" program. The extreme Afrocentrism which serve up a noxious brew of revisionist history and pseudo-science is justified by some as a technique to instill self-esteem and racial pride in students. Your editor noted that many youngsters schooled in this extreme Afrocentric philosophy mindlessly mouthed how it had benefitted them because they "were descended from queens and kings." One problem with such claims, of course, is that there is no evidence to suggest that they are true. And the fact that white, Christian civilization has used history in the past for its own peculiar culture agenda, does not and cannot justify contemporary Afrocentrists doing so today. Facts are facts. We need to be a bit more skeptical as well about claims to racial greatness. Isn't that kind of "secondhand" racialist self-esteem what has motivated other groups in the past with assuming their own superiority? Which group happened to be "superior" of course depends pretty much on the individuals doing the historical revising; Karl Haushofer and Alfred Rosenberg, for instant, sang the praises of the Aryan race, a group which according to Nation of Islam potentate Louis Farrakhan grubbed out a less than glamorous existence in caves eating each other. The truth is often less romantic, but far more complex and interesting, than is acknowledge by either extreme. As for "self-esteem," that catchall phrase is empty if it is not connected to more prosaic and demanding regimens. Blacks, whites, Hispanics -- indeed ALL children in contemporary America -- face a risky and problematic future thanks to educational budget cuts, calls to religionize the school classrooms, and a general "dumbing down" in the hard-science curriculum. Instead of learning about fictional Egyptians flying, levitating, and romping around the pyramids in gliders, kids need more exposure to math, biology, astronomy, chemistry, physics and geology. Does musing about an ersatz- "golden age" serve as an acceptable substitute, for instance, to understand the basic mechanics behind how a plane flies? ** Incidentally, the bit about an advanced, glorious civilization ISN'T totally a creation of the characters who wrote the Baseline Essays program. Tales of an advanced, paranormal golden age originally began with white folks, starting with the early theorizing about the mythical continent of Atlantis. Plato, of course, first mentions Atlantis in the "Timaeus" and the "Critias," where it was described as a country larger than Asia Minor and Libya together, and lay beyond the Straits of Gibraltar. Archaeologists have found no evidence of such a civilization, but many classicists agree that Atlantis "was a useful parable to underscore several points he (Plato) wished to make about government and city states," notes the New Age Encyclopedia. The myth was rejuvenated by Sir Francis Bacon (1551-1626), and quickly became part of the European mystical scene. Ignatius Donnelly (1831-1901), a prolific author and American populist, ignited a fire storm of interest with his book "Atlantis: The Antediluvian World," and the Lost Continent found its way further in contemporary occultism thanks to the efforts of Madam Blavatsky (Theosophy), Edgar Cayce, and pop-culture Rosicrucianism. But Egypt as a center of high civilization has always figured into the Atlantis myth; depending on who you read, Atlantis was either a "colony" founded by the Atlanteans after their wonderful civilization was engulfed in a cataclysmic flood, or was an outpost for aliens a la Erich von Daniken. Egypt remains at the center of much Rosicrucian pseudo-science, and the Egyptians are credited with a remarkable list of paranormal powers and achievements ensconced in a "secret wisdom" transmitted through "mystery schools." Novels and pseudo-historical, occult writings have further embellished the mythology of Egyptian civilization. In her critique of Afrocentrism, Dr. Mary Lefkowitz cites the fictional writings of Abbe Jean Terrasson as a major force in crafting a glamorous, esoteric view of that ancient civilization, a view transmitted throughout Europe and America in the glamorized, metaphoric tales of Freemasonry and other occultic systems. Later, the French archaeologist Augustus Le Plongeon became fascinated with trying to establish cultural links between Native peoples throughout North and Central America with the Egyptians; subsequent research refuted Le Plongeon's claims, though, but his 1896 work "Queen Moo and the Egyptian Sphinx" inspired James Churchward who authored several books on the Pacific Ocean equivalent of Atlantis, a continent he called Mu. Churchward, Atlantis and Ancient Egypt all remain as vital focal points in contemporary occultist lore and pseudo-science, their thematic elements constantly undergoing revision and embellishment with little attention to credible facts. ** We recently discussed the unhealthy preoccupation many religious fundamentalists seem to have with what Alabama Governor Fob James fondly describes as a "butt-whipping and then a prayer." Corporal punishment is the latest panacea proposed by religious right boosters such as bible-disciplinarian James Dobson of Focus on the Family. A good whacking is sometimes recommended as a way to "solve" the problem of disobedient school children, rebellious teenagers, defiant kids. Other magic-bullets in the Christian trick bag include school uniforms, school prayer, banning pagers, distributing bibles in classrooms, banning evolution, or posting the National Guard in the school hallways. But the debate over spanking and other forms of corporal punishment is also another example of the gap between secular culture and the vision of many religious activists. According to the National Coalition to Abolish Corporal Punishment in Schools, incidents of such punishment over the past four years and "way down and heading south fast." Robert Fathman of the Coalition says that "school authorities realize it's (corporal punishment) not the best option," and attempts to legislate the practice have failed throughout the country. Twenty Seven states now ban corporal punishment, and in another eleven, the majority of students are in districts which prohibit the practice. But along with creationism and school prayer, corporal punishment thrives in many states of the South including Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and South Carolina. The current USA TODAY notes that Catholic schools, traditionally praised as examples of the success enjoyed by religion-based education, "have pretty much eliminated" corporal punishment according to Irwin Hyman of Temple University's National Center for the Study of Corporal Punishment." But Hyman suggests that "Where it is increasing is in the Christian academies with a fundamentalist bent." Just as these "Christian academies" have become bastions of creationist pseudoscience and religious indoctrination, they are also promulgating a practice which, while it has roots in snarly biblical lore, may have little foundation in actual fact. A position paper by the Society for Adolescent Medicine notes that "Physically punishing children has never been shown to enhance moral character development, increase the student's respect for teachers or other authority figures in in general, intensify the teacher's control in class, or even protect the teacher." The study adds that "There are many effective alternatives to corporal punishment, and it is possible for school authorities to learn them and for children to benefit from such techniques..." ** The debate over doctor assisted suicide and voluntary "self deliverance" is about to get a lot more heated and complicated -- and not entirely due to Jack Kevorkian. A Rhode Island man, Noel David Earley who suffers from Lou Gehrig's disease, has announced plans to kill himself. The day before his suicide, he plans to hold a news conference revealing the specific time when he will ingest a large amount of painkillers and inject himself with lethal drugs. What makes Earley's case so interesting is HOW he plans to commit suicide. No Mother Teresa-bedside praying ritual here! Early will spend time partying with close friends, have sex with his girlfriend, consume some of his favorite food and, the following morning, overdose. The 47-year old ex-veteran was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's disease two years ago; he had already founded a program in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to support persons suffering from Alzheimer's disease. "I'll do the things I love most in the world," Early told CNN, "food and sex. Then I'll inject myself with a compound and I'll go to sleep." Rhode Island law makes assisted suicide a felony carrying a $10,000 fine and up to 10 years in prison time. Early has testified in government hearings against the law and launched a suit challenging it. Reportedly, Dr. Jack Kevorkian offered to assist but Earley declined. The Rhode Island attorney general says his office will prosecute anyone aiding in the suicide; but Earley's determination and obvious role in planning the act seems to rule out any possible claims that he is being coerced against his will. Suicide opponents have managed to focus the debate over physician-assisted deliverance on those aiding or arranging the act. In the case of Noel Earley, however, that target may not be present -- and opponents will have to challenge the right of anyone to control the circumstances of their death. ** LOOKING FOR THAT PERFECT SOLSTICE GIFT? What's an Atheist to do when Hanukkah and Christmastime roll around? You can recycle last year's fruit cake (the one in the tin that you haven't even looked at!), or you can send Winter Solstice greeting cards to your friends, family, and even your enemies. American Atheist Press has a variety of cards for this time of year which emphasize the naturalist themes of the season. Some are serious, others are funny. We've also got hundreds of books, pamphlets and other products you can give, or -- be selfish! -- buy for yourself. There's still time to receive our new American Atheist Press Catalogue and order in time for the holiday. Just send e-mail to "catalogue@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 information about American Atheists, send mail to info@atheists.org and include your name and postal mailing address. Or, check out our web site at http://www.atheists.org, or our ftp site at ftp.atheists.org/pub/. You may forward, post or quote from this dispatch, provided that appropriate credit is given to aanews and American Atheists. 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