Date: Fri, 13 Dec 1996 13:49:45 -0500 Subject: [Atheist] re: AANEWS for December 13, 1996

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Date: Fri, 13 Dec 1996 13:49:45 -0500 Subject: [Atheist] re: AANEWS for December 13, 1996 Reply-To: from: AMERICAN ATHEISTS subject: AANEWS for December 13, 1996 A M E R I C A N A T H E I S T S nnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn nnnnnnnnnn AANEWS nnnnnnnnnnn #215 uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu 12/13/96 e-mail: In This Issue: * Pittsburgh Official -- "Free Speech," But Only When Convenient! * You Can Help Stamp Out Unconstitutional Religious Displays! * More on the Religious Numbers Game * Help Us Thrive! * Theistwatch * About This List... NATIVITY SCENE, KLAN KROSS RULED OUT IN PITTSBURGH "The Battle of the Sects" a Good Argument for Separationism Let's see if we can get this straight. First, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that religious creches, nativity scenes and other displays of belief on public land were a clear, unconstitutional endorsement of religion by government. Then, Allegheny County (Pennsylvania) Commissioners Larry Dunn and Bob Cranmer, saying they were fulfilling an election time promise -- usually the world kind -- said that they would grant permission to the Holy Name Society to erect a nativity scene in front of the local courthouse. Then, the local ACLU threatened court action. Dunn and Cranmer then cited "free speech" in support of their cause. Then, the Holy Name Society back out, much to the regret of creche boosters. Then, a coalition of local religious groups -- five Protestant churches, banded together and received permission to build their creche on public land; .. Dunn and Cranmer once again donned their temporary camouflage as civil libertarians, defending the move as an example of "free speech," and cited once again a more recent Supreme Court case which according to the commissioners allowed religious displays on land that was a "public square" and had "a history of serving as a forum for ideas." Local separationists, though, noted that the Courthouse lawn was just a lawn, not a plaza with a history of debate. Confused? Following the Pittsburgh creche battle is like staying on a thread in a news group in the midst of a flame war -- and both literally and figuratively, that is what the Allegheny Court House battle is becoming. In recent developments: * The local Ku Klux Klan on Tuesday petitioned the commissioners to place a 6-foot cross in the courtyard, citing the same 1995 U.S. Supreme Court decision so praised by Mr. Dunn and Mr. Crenmer. That case revolved around whether or not the Klan could erect a cross on the lawn of the Ohio Statehouse because that area had been used as a public forum, and had a tradition of religious displays. * Commissioners Dunn and Cranmer, however, suddenly found that "free speech" was acceptable only as long as it was popular. The Allegheny County Board has now cancelled permission for ANY display, including the nativity scene or the "Klan Kross". Cranmer told media yesterday: "It is obvious there are some groups who would abuse the use the courthouse courtyard as a public forum. With that in mind, I think it is necessary that we take a prudent position and not permit the use of the courtyard as a public forum." Dunn was more belligerent, though, criticizing Cranmer, and saying that the Klan "has succeeded in encouraging my fellow commissioners to oppose of the display of the Nativity scene in the courthouse courtyard. Scare tactics...cannot and should not be allowed to dictate the actions of your elected officials." The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette quoted Rev. Samuel W. Searcy of the Tabernacle Baptist Church, one of the groups that had received permission to help erect the nativity display. The minister whined: "It's said that these types of tactics are used," adding "But I do understand that whenever you're doing something right, wrong always rears its ugly head to try to neutralize it." Whose God on the Kross ? While local preachers had joined with Commissioners in defending the nativity display as an example of free expression and a wholesome example of religiosity, the Klan too draped itself in the mantle of faith. The Allegheny Courthouse cross was to have been one of fifteen KKK crosses the group hopes to erect on public land throughout the region by December 25. And organizer C. Edward Foster justified the actions of his International Keystone Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, insisting: "We believe in Jesus Christ and the one white god." Foster added that the Klan crosses bear the letters "KKK" and the inscription "John 3:16" That Bible passage, used frequently during the Christmas holiday season, declares: "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette quoted the Grand Dragon as declaring " not intend to hold no ceremony (sic.)" Denial of a permit to the Klan and the local religious coalition may also prompt the racist group to proceed with another plan, that of trying to place a 4-foot high statue of a robed Klansman in front of the courthouse. ** (Thanks to Gary Gahagan for continuing to monitor this story for AANEWS) ** WHAT YOU CAN DO ABOUT SEASONAL RELIGIOUS DISPLAYS ... Religious displays on public property usually violate the First Amendment, in that they involve government promotion of religious belief. But what can you do about it? * Get the facts... Find out whatever you can about the display, and make sure that it is located on public land. Displays on private or commercial property are fully protected, an important component of free speech. Displays on government land, or in government buildings are another matter. Sources of information include newspaper clippings, minutes of government meetings which call for or approve the display in question, and information you can gather often with a simple phone call to public officials. Try to find out how long the display has been a "community tradition," who owns the display, whether government employees helped to erect it, and whether government funds in any way are being used -- perhaps for lighting, insurance, or maintenance. * Get a photograph which clearly shows the nature and location of the display. * Write letters to local officials and news media. AANEWS will continue to run letters from Atheists throughout the nation which raise some of the critical ideas relevant to this issue. Note especially the so-called "Lemon" test from the Lemon vs. Kurtzman decision: government may engage in no action the purpose of which is not primarily secular, may not favor one religion over another, and may not take any action which involves "excessive entanglement" between government and religion. Even if a creche or other religious display is built with voluntary labor, (i.e. does not directly utilize government/taxpayer funds), it still has the effect of creating a government endorsement of religion, and fosters excessive entanglement with religion. * Cite the "Yellow Pages" Test in letters to public officials, media and others. Pick up your local yellow pages directory, and scan the section under the heading of "churches." If you live in an urban area, you will often find hundreds of listings which identify churches, temples, chapels, mosques and other venues where "people of faith" can pray, chant, gyrate, burn incense, sing, confess, take communion, genuflect, bow, use prayer beads, celebrate mass, and do whatever else they wish to propitiate the god or gods of their choice, on their own time and at their own expense. Churches (especially those in suburban area) often have expansive lawns where they can erect their own nativity scenes, or similar displays. Such displays can also be placed inside, or on the property of the millions of church members throughout the country. Religious groups have no dearth of locations for creches, signs, and other statements which are part of their First Amendment rights to freedom OF religion. It has been estimated that there are between 300,000 to 600,000 churches in the country (along with a growing number of temples, mosques and other faith-connected structures). Why, then, do they demand to put such displays on public property? Is it for lack of other venues? The "Yellow Pages" test suggests that would be a disingenuous claim. * Consider a court challenge. Unfortunately, you may not have time to launch such an effort this year. We hope that in 1997, though, the National Outreach Office of American Atheists will be ready to challenge such unconstitutional practices on a greater scale. * Keep us posted! Send your photos and other information to the National Outreach Director, Neal Cary at 7109 Staples Hill Road, Box 259, Richmond, Virginia 23228. If you do have letters published concerning this issue in your local media, send a copy to aanews so we can share it with other readers. ** MORE IN THE RELIGIOUS NUMBERS GAME Coalition Evaluation Admits: Spiritual Landscape is Radically Different From Past Surveys attempting to measure and describe the role of religious belief in America have been fraught with problems. Follow-up studies, for instance, have revealed that people often lied during telephone inquiries about church attendance; many said that they participated in church services out of fear of saying otherwise. And Christian groups often maintain that "American is a religious nation." That statement has been used to justify everything from tax incentives for churches to prayer in public schools. But how true is it? Another survey by the George Barna Research Organization, its "Index of Leading Spiritual Indicators," provides some insight on what role religion plays in America today. Even the Christian Coalition, in its evaluation of the Barna data, admits that "The spiritual landscape of the 21st century is radically different from that of the forefathers of the nation," adding that while "Americans believe in God and think religion is important...they want to make their own rules." And George Barna adds that while "Americans are religious people," he cautions that "One might be less persuaded that we are truly a Christian people, regardless of our self-perceptions." The Data * The polling suggested that 93% of respondents believe in god, and 87% feel that "religious faith is very important in their lives." * A majority (60%) describe themselves as "religious," but 1/3 of those who maintained that religious faith was vital still rejected the label of "religious." This would confirm other studies which suggest a growing gap between so-called "spirituality" and institutional forms of faith-based expression. Diaphanous new age believes, feel-good self help systems, twelve step recovery programs and other regimens may appeal to this segment of the population. * "People may view themselves as Christian, but their intensity of commitment to the faith is lukewarm," notes Barna. Only 41% say they are "absolutely committed" to Christianity, but even that figure should be suspect. If so, why aren't churches and temples filled on religious days like Sunday? * Commitment to what Barna described as Biblical Christianity is "waning." He notes that "With loyalty rapidly becoming a cultural artifact, commitment to a local church is also on the decline." Pluralism and Confusion Barna's research confirms other developments in contemporary religion, including the existence of a thriving "belief bazaar' or religious marketplace where ideas, sects and practices compete for customers in much the same way consumer goods do. Only 54% rejected the statement that "all religious faiths teach equally valid truths," a low figure for a nation which is supposedly committed to Christian exclusivity. And 58% said that there was no single religious faith which has "all the answers to life's questions and challenges." There is also confusion and ignorance over terminology. Only 37% in the Barna survey correctly identified the term "gospel," and only 24% could identify the biblical passage John 3:16. 18% knew the correct definition of Evangelical. Other findings in the latest Barna survey confirm that the American population is undergoing a post modernist, spiritual upheaval. He notes that "Americans are seeking a personalized, customized form of faith that will meet personal needs, will minimize rules and absolutes, and will bear little resemblance to the 'pure' form of any of the world's major religions." This trend has accelerated since the 1950's and 60's, of course. Even wildly successful "mega-congregations" and the so-called "New Church" must wrap their religious message around other themes ranging from self-actualization, fostering a sense of identity and community, and dealing with "personal needs." ** HELP US THRIVE! Pat Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network now reaches a potential audience of 92% of American homes. We're not that big -- yet -- but we're getting there! And you can help. * Help AANEWS reach its goal of having 10,000 on-line readers by the end of the year! Post aanews on a local bulletin board or web site; or, just forward a copy to a friend who might be interested in becoming an aanews reader. It's free! * The Atheist Viewpoint is now seen on dozens of cable networks throughout the country. If your cable system has a public access channel which accepts important programming, you can become a sponsor for this weekly program. There's usually just a minimum of paper work involved; and our video production facilities in Austin, Texas handle all the formatting and shipping details. If you would like to become a sponsor, contact Ron Barrier through ** THEISTWATCH SHORT SHOTS Kudos to Atheists, separationists and local civil libertarians in Austin, Texas who had Mayor Bruce Todd declared November 22-29 as "Give Thanks for State/Church Separation Week." The mayoral proclamation called "on all citizens to join me in recognizing that the United States of America possesses the world's longest-lived Constitution and Bill of Rights and is the first nation in the history of world (sic) to separate state from church and to create an entirely secular Constitution, and in urging all citizens to honor the constitutional principle of separation of church and state, and to contemplate with reverence the vision of our founders in forming a nation where citizens, regardless of personal convictions, are equal before the law." (signed) Bruce Todd, Mayor ** Atheists often like to point out that for "people of faith," that elusive being called god seems to have really bungled the instruction he supposedly transmitted to followers in revelational writings such as the Koran, Bible, Oashpe Book, Book of Jasher and numerous other inspired writings. The world is filled with competing sects and beliefs. Hey, even in Pittsburgh you've got local church honchos, many of them black, quoting the same passages as the Ku Klux Klan! What gives? There has also been rumor that the Church of England was in the process of mending bridges with the Vatican, and that possible reunification was rumored to be part of the upcoming millennialist shindig the Catholic Church is furiously trying to orchestrate. Indeed, it is reported that Pope John Paul II would really like to bring the entire Protestant flock under his authority, although many of the same issued raised back in the Reformation period persists to this day. So much for those doomsday visions of a one world church under the command of the diabolical Antichrist. Instead, there is a growing hodgepodge of confused, babbling mainstream religious groups, and a proliferation of cults, none of whom make much sense to us. The latest setback for Roman Catholic-Anglican unity took place last week, when JP-2 met with the Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey. According the New York Times, the schmoozefest stalled "over the difficult and so far unreconcilable issue of the ordination of women as priests." Recall that it was Henry VIII who defied the Vatican over the issue of divorce. Indeed, Church Fathers seemed less concerned over Henry's impulse for decapitation than they were over his defiance of ecclesiastic authority. The newly emerged Church of England (with Henry as the first official head), accepted both divorce and the legitimacy of marriage for its priests, a practice which persists to this day. That issue chaffes at traditional Catholic dogma, though, and Pope John Paul repeats the antediluvian refrain of celibacy for priests and nuns. And ordination of women into the ranks of the clergy remains another point of contention. Reformers within the Roman Catholic Church (like the group Call to Action), think that women deserve an equal role is dispensing the supernatural, irrationalist rites of the church. More extreme ersatz "feminists" even have a Sophia Movement within the ranks of the laity, babbling something about the alleged female deity. Despite their differences, both Carey and JP-2 issued statements insisting that the "commitment to an ecumenical dialogue continues no matter how long it takes." ** 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 mailing address. 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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