Date: Mon, 16 Dec 1996 16:41:53 -0500 Subject: [Atheist] re: AANEWS for December 16, 1996

Master Index Current Directory Index Go to SkepticTank Go to Human Rights activist Keith Henson Go to Scientology cult

Skeptic Tank!

Date: Mon, 16 Dec 1996 16:41:53 -0500 Subject: [Atheist] re: AANEWS for December 16, 1996 Reply-To: from: AMERICAN ATHEISTS subject: AANEWS for December 16, 1996 A M E R I C A N A T H E I S T S nnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn nnnnnnnnnn AANEWS nnnnnnnnnn #216 uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu 12/16/96 e-mail: In This Issue... * The Power Of Belief -- From Recovery To Santa Claus * Atheists Blast "Teaching Religion" Scheme In Utah * Help Us Grow! * TheistWatch; Banning Abortion -- Here They Go Again! * E-mail Addresses To Know * About This List THE HEALING POWER OF PRAYER -- AND SANTA CLAUS Belief in the alleged power of prayer needs to be balanced with the fact that many Americans are "scientific illiterates" and credulous even about ol' St. Nick! ** Reports that physicians, scientists and even a good portion of the general public believe in the "healing" power of prayer and religious belief continues to percolate through the news media. There are more statistics to this story reported in recent editions of AANEWS, as well as claims -- often unsubstantiated or based on anecdotal testimony -- from doctors and researchers. While there seems to be a shocking consensus among physicians that "religious faith can help patients heal", there is little in the way of double-blind studies and other research using good protocol to substantiate the claim. * "Ninety-nine percent of doctors in an American Academy of Family Physicians survey believer there is an important relationship between the spirit and the flesh," according to CNN. * Research by Dr. Harold Koenig of Duke University found that individuals who attend regular church services "have half the rate of depression of infrequent churchgoers." The study of 4,000 persons, though, did not find the same statistical correlation between depression and persons who prayed at home, or regularly viewed religious broadcasts on television. * The 99% figure is based upon a survey of 269 doctors surveyed by the Yankelovich polling organization at the October meeting of the American Academy of Family Physicians. Dr. Herbert Benson of The Mind/Body Medical Institute at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston declared: "Now, many physicians are beginning to hold that belief can have a profound influence on health and well-being and they see it as an integral part of their traditional treatment plan (Reuter)." There are serious problems, though, with even the "research" sometimes cited by prayer advocates. The relationship between depression (a diffuse description of a wide range of symptoms) or other aspects of mental attitude and healing still remains unclear. Most of the stories and other claims about benefits of faith seem to focus on those who adhere to the Judeo-Christian belief system. And when pressed, even Koenig believes that medicine remains the "weapon of choice against disease (CNN)." How Gullible Are We? The dearth of credible studies on this subject seem to constitute little impediment to many prayer enthusiasts and even doctors in making claims about the alleged curative effects of faith. Considerable percentages of the population believe in artifacts ranging from prayer-faith healing to the existence of angels, or the probability that they are reincarnated from a past life (usually having been a glamorous leader or important figure.) Coincident with the latest publicity about the prayer-health connection is an amusing (if not disturbing) survey announced by U.S. News and World Report, which suggests that the existence of Santa Clause as a real entity is believed by nearly one in ten adults. (Higher figures, of course, exist for other being -- guardian angels, devils, spirits and ghosts.) 9% of adults still believe in the Jolly Guy who rides a sled and delivers presents. Of the 76% who once had faith in Santa, 84% report that they jettisoned the belief by the age of ten. ** ATHEISTS BLAST UTAH ''TEACH ABOUT RELIGION'' SCHEME American Atheists in Utah today criticized the latest plan to sneak religious indoctrination into classrooms, charging that the "Teaching About Religion Program" was an effort by "a coalition of religious groups bent on using the public schools to promote religion generally." Chris Allen, Utah Director of American Atheist, noted that while the organization "is not opposed to the concept of teaching about religion, it has to be taught fairly and objectively, and that is extremely difficult to do without discriminating." Allen added that "A program that promotes positive contributions of religion and ignores or gives short shrift to negative impacts is not neutral." The AA statement was released to coincide with a ceremony scheduled for this afternoon, where members of Utah's leading religious groups will show their support for the program during a ceremony at the State Capitol in Salt Lake City. The "Teaching About Religion" program is part of a larger activity orchestrated by religious groups and the Utah State Office of Education known as Utah Three Rs Project. Standing for "Rights, Responsibilities and Respect," the program is ostensibly designed to "protect the religious liberty rights of students of all faiths and none. The project will also work closely with teachers to help them teach about religions and cultures in ways that are constitutionally permissible and educationally sound." Indeed, the Three Rs Project reads like a Who's-Who of the Utah religious establishment. The program involves planning by Rev. Monsignor M. Francis Mannion of the Salt Lake City Roman Catholic Diocese; Rev. Francis Davis, Cavalry Baptist Church; Ghulam Patel, Islamic Society; Elder Robert K. Dellenbach, Mormon Church; Rabbi Frederick Wenger, Kol Ami Synagogue; Ivan Cendese, Episcopal Diocese; Florian L. Wineriter, Humanists of Utah; and Joan Smith and David Litziek of the ecumenical group National Conference. Scheduled to speak at today's religion-fest at the Capitol is project director Ray Briscoe, Lt. Governor Olene Walker, and Associate Superintendent Jerry Peterson of the Utah State Office of Education. Promotional handouts for the event gush with praise for Charles Haynes of the First Amendment Center (Vanderbilt University, who declares: "The goal of the Utah Three R's Project is to help our citizens find common ground by understanding and applying the democratic first principles that bind us together as a people. Then, in light of our shared commitment to religious liberty, we can work for policies and practices in public education that best protect the conscience of every student and parent in our schools." Mr. Allen specifically blasted Ray Briscoe, touted as a state-church separationist but really a "researcher" affiliated with the Mormon Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS). "We've been watching this program develop for eight years," warned the Utah Atheist Director. "We were there when Ray Briscoe...launched the project ('Teach About Religion') and have been monitoring ever since." Allen then went on to declare: "The Williamsburg Charter, the foundational document of the Freedom Foundation, the curriculum organization being represented by Charles Haynes, is biased and dishonest. That Charter is also signed by a coalition of religious groups and is clearly designed to promote religion generally. Then as now, the perspective of atheists and other nonreligious thinkers is excluded and largely ignored." Allen likewise voiced concern over the role played by Ray Briscoe and programs "too closely tied to the LDS Church and its perspective." He cited the Three R's Program flier, which lists the LDS Church as a sponsor, and the fact that Briscoe has been a booster of high school graduation prayers, and given "written endorsement of many intrusions of religion into government." "We are also concerned at the expressed intent to use religion to teach values in the public school," said Allen in a statement to national media. "While good values can certainly be taught without religion, you can't use religion to teach values without promoting religion and religious doctrine. It seems clear that all this talk about values from the Governor has been a smoke screen to sneak religious indoctrination into the schools. How ironic then that the Governor's own commission on values chose to exclude religious values from their list of recommended values for Utah. "If the Utah Office of Education wants to avoid law suits against the schools for promoting religion, it had better rethink its plans." ** HELP US REACH THE GOAL... 10,000 READERS! It's ambitious. We may not make it on schedule. But AANEWS continues to pick up new subscribers toward the goal of having 10,000 on-line readers by the end of 1996. Already, we've become an important source of information and opinion for thousands of Atheists and others concerned with First Amendment rights and state-church separation. You can help. Why not forward a dispatch of aanews to a friend? Or, post AANEWS on your web site, home page, or a bulletin board. The subscription is free. And be sure to tell friends that for more information, all they have to do is send e-mail to and put "info aanews" (minus the quotation marks, please) in the message body. So simple! THEISTWATCH SHORT SHOTS American Atheists has warned that state-church separationism is not only a good principle, but it avoids needless arguments and pitfalls. One example is the special status which religious groups insist on when they attempt to have their churches, clubs and organizations melded with public institutions. So, take the case of Emily Hsu, a senior at Roslyn High School in New York back in 1993 when she tried to form an after-school Bible club called "Walking on the Water Student Christian Fellowship." Included in Ms. Hsu's proposed rules for the group was a requirement that all officers be Christians. School authorities were upset, since that conflicted with a number of laws and the school's own policy of nondiscrimination. Student clubs had to be open to all students. Ms. Hsu and her brother then sued, pointing out that forcing the club to comply with that policy would violate religious freedom. The conflict (as expected) ended up in the hands of attorneys and courts. First, a federal judge ruled for the school district, but the Court of Appeals struck down that decision and ordered officials to exempt the Bible group from its anti-discrimination policy. Today, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Bible club may indeed require its officers to be Christians, as a protected form of free speech. Ironically, anti-discrimination and equal access rules have been used by so-called "religious liberty" advocates as a way to get religious clubs and groups into public schools in the first place. But use of those principles seems to be applied, at best, on a highly selective basis. Earlier this year, for instance, there was an outcry in Utah schools when students decided to form a gay-rights support organization. The local Mormon establishment and even U.S. Senator Orin Hatch denounced the group; and school officials tried first to ban it, then decided that ALL student groups -- save those approved of by school and, ultimately, church authorities, were taboo. "Equal access'' then, as now, seems to be a problematic and selectively-used principle for some individuals. ** Yes, indeed, you can expect a brutal, nasty fight in the 105th Congress over the issue of so-called Partial Birth abortion. This rarely used procedure has become the latest raison d'etre for religious right groups, a first step in what they hope will become a cultural and political steamroller doing away with abortion in toto. Knowing that they currently don't have the votes to pass the Human Life Amendment -- a disingenuously-named plan supported in the Republican Party Platform which would outlaw abortion rights for women in the United States, again making us the laughing stock of the world for being a bastion of prudery and religious lunacy -- abortion opponents instead are dismantling the Roe v. Wade decision one step at a time. Last April, President Clinton announced that he was vetoing the Partial Birth Abortion Ban, and for that action became a target of religious wrath and even a rare letter of official rebuke from the arrogant prelates at the National Conference of Catholic Bishops. More of the same will inevitably come in January, when the new congress gathers. A Partial Birth Abortion Ban is numero-uno for Ralph Reed, the Christian Coalition, fundamentalist allies, as well as the Roman Catholic Church and other tag-along groups including Muslims and who-knows-what-else. But on Saturday, in a rare act of Presidential fortitude, Clinton threw down the gauntlet to the religious, and reiterated his opposition to the PBAB saying that he wouldn't sign it unless Congress allowed exceptions to protect the health of the mother. That's too much, however, for groups like the National Right to Life Committee. The organization maintained that most contested abortions took place in the fifth and sixth months of pregnancy. In a statement, the group lamented that Clinton's proposal "thus would allow the continuation of thousands of partial-birth abortions on healthy babies of healthy mothers." ** Seems like the anti-abortion folks aren't even going to let Clinton enjoy his inaugural; and, as usual, some of the demonstrations they plan promise to be the penultimate in boorishness and bad taste. Operation Rescue spokesman Jeff White told the Associated Press this weekend that "Everywhere Mr. Clinton has a party, we'll be there to rain on it." The extreme Christian Defense Coalition will erect of "Cemetery of Innocents" near the Washington Monument, complete with 4,400 crosses. And Operation Rescue guru Randall Terry is threatened a weekend of blockades and "prayer warrior vigils' to shut down abortion clinics in the D.C. area. ** From a member's footer on aachat which we think needs to be shared with you; and credit to Mark Twain in his "Letters From The Earth": "You have noticed that the human being is a curiosity. In times past he has had (and worn out and flung away) hundreds and hundreds of religions; today he has hundreds and hundreds of religions, and launches no fewer than three new ones every year. I could enlarge on that number and still be within the facts." ** A federal magistrate has ruled that the Cleveland School Board's policy of opening official meetings with prayer is unconstitutional. The trouble began in January, 1992 when a religious right slate seized control of the board and instituted the prayer policy. It was challenged through the American Civil Liberties Union by Gene Tracy, a teacher, and student Sarah Coles. ** When it comes to demands for social and economic justice, the Roman Catholic Church has often been a "do as I say, not as I do" kinda' outfit. Indeed, the nation's Roman Catholic Bishops recently pumped out another pronunciamento demanding that business be fair to working folks, that money shouldn't be the primary objective of life, blah, blah, blah. Nice words, but in practice the Mother Church is one mean, snotty muthah' when it comes to its own employees. In the Archdiocese of New York, for instance, a tentative agreement between 450 Roman Catholic high school teachers and the prelates has broken down; some of the teachers may be going on strike, in part to receive the $1,000,000 or so in back pay which is owned them. Question: if Mutha' Church pleads financial impoverishment, may we ask if the $1,000,000 was paid out in covert, out-of-court settlements over allegations of child abuse and hanky-panky by groping and paedophilic priests? And how stingy is the Church? While telling businesses and working folks that we should pay more attention to the poor, the Archdiocese offered its own employees a lousy, union-busting settlement of 16%, or $300 in back wages for $1800. And those folks who praise the parochial school system for its efficiency, and give it high marks for passing on to students not only facts but a sense of fair play, should note that the average Roman Catholic school teacher receives an average salary of $28,500. That next to nothing if you live in The Big Apple. And it's substantially less than the sum earned by public school teachers (who often have to put up with larger classes, and don't have the privilege of selecting which students they want to teach!). So, chalk up another first for the Mutha' Church -- holiday grinch, payroll scrooge and union buster! ** E-MAIL, OTHER RESOURCES * For information about American Atheists, send e-mail to and include your name and postal address. * For a catalogue of American Atheist Press books and products, contact Include your name and postal address. * If you are a member and would like to participate in our moderated, on-line discussion forum AACHAT, contact * To host The Atheist Viewpoint cable television program in your community, contact Ron Barrier at * If you are a member of American Atheists and would like to join our growing Volunteers Network, or be considered for a post as a State or Regional Director, contact the Office of National Outreach, ** 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 and put "info aanews" (minus the quotation marks, please) in the message body. You may forward, post or quote from this dispatch, provided that appropriate credit is given to aanews and American Atheists. Edited and written by Conrad F. Goeringer, The LISTMASTER ( Internet Representative for American Atheists is Margie Wait,


E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank