subject: AANEWS for January 8, 1997 A M E R I C A N A T H E I S T S A A N E W S #227 1/8/9
from: AMERICAN ATHEISTS
subject: AANEWS for January 8, 1997
A M E R I C A N A T H E I S T S
A A N E W S
In This Issue...
* What Mischief Lurks In The 105th?
* A Word Of Appreciation
* About This List...
PRAYER, RELIGIOUS AID AWAIT CONGRESS AS 105th SESSION BEGINS
Will Gingrich Keep His End Of The Bargain With Religious
After surviving a vote to maintain his position as Speaker of the House,
Newt Gingrich now faces some tough decisions. Among them: How far can he go
in maintaining a bipartisan agenda of cooperation with Democrats and the
White House, while still appeasing the increasingly shrill demands of
religious fundamentalists and evangelicals who see the 105th Congress as "pay
back time" for their work in last November's election.
* Pundits have been trying to read the direction of the new Congress --
admittedly, a difficult task since the November balloting was not a clear
mandate for any particular group or cause. While Mr. Clinton managed to keep
his job at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave, Republicans also held on to control of both
the Senate and House. But since November, Speaker Gingrich has become a
gushing fountain of "god talk" observes the January issue of CHURCH & STATE
Magazine, telling fellow Republicans that his vision for America is one that
is "submissive to God's will."
"We have an obligation to reassert...that this nation comes from God, that
it is in fact only successful when it is submissive to God's will," declared
Mr. Gingrich. He followed those remarks made on November 20 with a December 3
address to the Heritage Foundation, and declared: "We have to learn to
aggressively but calmly bring back to the public square the face that we are
a noble people motivated by a deep faith in God."
On The Agenda...
Since the "Republican Revolution" in 1996 which swept the GOP into control
of both the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate (for the first time
in four decades), the nation's religious right leadership has been waiting
for the party brass to pay the piper and enact a slew of social-religious
legislative proposals. Bob Dole's loss to Bill Clinton in November has not
apparently dampened the smug conviction of activists like Christian Coalition
Director Ralph Reed, who insists that distribution of approximately 50
million "voters guides" in the final days of the November campaign, while not
electing Dole, prevented a Republican "melt down" allowing the GOP to hang on
to control in the Congress.
Topping the list of religious right demands for the new Congress will be
some form of voucher program which would legitimize government grants to
private religious schools. Vouchers are now being sold the public as a way
of "benefitting" poorer students, particularly those in inner-city districts.
Already, the Low-Income School Choice Demonstration Act has been sponsored
by Sen. Daniel Coats (R-Ind.) and Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.). It would
funnel $30 million to "experiments" in target states.
Some states have already taken the initiative on their own to institute
some form of voucher scheme; but federal aid become appealing in those states
which are heavily strapped for funding. In late December, for instance,
Maryland Governor Parris N. Glendening told constituents that the state could
not afford to expand aid to parochial and private schools. This followed an
aggressive letter-writing and PR campaign by religious organizations calling
for more tax money to pay for transportation, health services, textbooks and
equipment in private religious institutions. The Washington Post reported
that the Governor, following his decision, felt compelled to telephone Roman
Catholic leaders in Washington, Baltimore and even at the Vatican in order to
explain his position.
Another sensitive issue for religious groups involves direct political
activism. From Buddhist organizations to Christian "mega-churches", campaign
'96 was marked by efforts from religious sects to move beyond the
restrictions of their tax exempt status and mobilize followers on behalf of
select partisan candidates and causes. A little-noticed "Religious Political
Freedom Act" was introduced in the House which would permit non-profit
organizations to use up to 5% of their budgets on partisan activity. CHURCH
& STATES notes that while the measure, introduced by Reps. Philip Crane
(R-Ill.) and Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) remained in the legislative hopper last
year, it may attract wide support in this session.
School Prayer in the form of a Religious Equality Amendment, or its latest
incarnation, the Religious Freedom Amendment, remains a siren song for many
religious groups and their capitol hill bidders. On paper, sufficient votes
for passing any school prayer bill -- especially one which amends the U.S.
Constitution -- don't appear to be there. That could change, though, if
representatives and senators become jittery over well-orchestrated letter
writing campaigns, or succumb to deal-making. And Mr. Clinton, while saying
emphatically that he opposes coercive school prayer in any form, may be less
intransigent on the issue in his quest to maintain bipartisan harmony in his
last term. Clinton may also be vulnerable on the "culture war" issues if
developments in the Paul Jones sex allegation case get out of hand.
With the curtain ready to rise on the new congressional session,
state-church separationists cannot assume any easy victories.
THEISTWATCH SHORT SHOTS
Religious and political leaders assure us that all will be well if we just
traipse off to church, temple or mosque and embrace a faith-based lifestyle.
They ignore, of course, the long tradition of religious warfare, bigotry,
intolerance and authoritarianism that has characterized the institutional
creed. And there are times when even within the same flock of believers,
things can really turn ugly. Take the Mount Pisgah Baptist Church in
Rembert, S.C. The church " is now torn by infighting so severe," notes an AP
release, "that the pastor gets heckled during sermons, competing collection
plates are passed around, and police once had to shut the place down when the
arguing got out of hand."
It all began when the board of trustees of the church voter to dismiss
Mount Pisgah's minister of two years, Marvin Hodge, for failing to report
church income and raising money in the church's name for his own use. That
resulted in exchanged volleys of lawsuits, shouting matches, booing,
spitting, heckling, yelling, and several changes in locks on the front door
of the building. One church deacon told the press "I've never seen such a
mess... we need to fall down on our knees and pray to God for a solution,
because right now, I don't know what we're going to do."
In Beaumont, Texas, a federal judge has ruled that a program which brings
volunteer clergy into public school classes in constitutional. Three local
citizens had filed suit to end the so-called Clergy in Schools program, which
allows local clergy to lecture students. U.S. District Judge Joe Fisher
denied a request to issue a restraining order. The Beaumont school
superintendent gushed that there "The court does not find that there's any
violation of Constitutional rights," adding that the program allegedly was
designed to use the "communication and listening skills of ministers and
An agreement has been reached in a complicated school prayer lawsuit in
Alabama. Last week, U.S. District Judge Ira DeMent approved the compromise
between ACLU attorneys and the Talladega city school system, dismissing the
latter from a lawsuit filed by Michael Chandler, a local teacher. The
lawsuit remains in force, however, against the State Board of Education and
DeKalb County. According to ACLU attorney Pamela Sumners, the case will
challenge the constitutionality of Alabama school prayer law which permits
prayer at official, school sponsored activities.
The agreement with Talladega officials permits religious groups and
students to distribute their literature and meet on school property -- but
not during official instructional time. It prohibits any form of prayer,
including the "student initiated" or student led flavor, during official
school functions like graduation ceremonies, athletic events and student
And My Personal Thanks...
A number of aanews readers sent "get well" messages to me during my recent
bout with the flu. I appreciate this kindness. Incidentally, I'm happy to
report that among all of the well-wishers, not one offered prayers on my
Seems to have worked!
-- The Editor
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