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

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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 #227 1/8/96 e-mail: In This Issue... * What Mischief Lurks In The 105th? * TheistWatch * 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 Right? 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 rabbis." ** 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 assemblies. ** 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 behalf. Seems to have worked! -- The Editor ** 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 e-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. 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