subject: AANEWS for January 11, 1997 A M E R I C A N A T H E I S T S AANEWS #230 1/11/97 h

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from: AMERICAN ATHEISTS subject: AANEWS for January 11, 1997 A M E R I C A N A T H E I S T S ~~ AANEWS ~~ #230 ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ 1/11/97 e-mail: In This Issue... * Hubbard Park Controversy Continues In Nebraska * Abortion-Cancer Link Disputed * Christian Coalition Is King Maker At RNC Meeting * TheistWatch * About This List... COMMUNITY SEEKS ''MIDDLE GROUND'' OVER SCIENTOLOGY PARK A Problematic Claim To Fame For Tilden, Nebraska ~ Birthplace Of L. Ron Hubbard A rural farming community in northeastern Nebraska continues to be divided over whether to name a park for one if its more famous birth-citizens, Scientology-Dianetics founder L. Ron Hubbard. The flap began generating media attention in October with revelations that a group of Tilden citizens wanted to erect signs along a popular hiking and biking trail that would list Hubbard's 21 precepts about life, called "The Way to Happiness." In addition, plans were announced to either name a park adjacent to the trail -- or a pavilion -- after the controversial author who started as a pulp sci-fi writer, and ended up heading a wealthy religion. Ron Larsen, Nebraska State Director for American Atheists, says that the little town of some 900 denizens "now has a growing church-state controversy on its hands." The issue continues to divide Tilden, according to an article in today's issue of the Omaha World-Herald. Officials are said to be "looking for a middle ground," and Tilden Mayor Steve Rutjens says he "hates to see the tearing of the town apart." On Tuesday, 150 residents attended a city council meeting to discuss the controversial park proposal. "Most objected to any recognition in the park for Hubbard..." notes the World-Herald. Thus far, $50,000 in contributions have been made for the Hubbard park project, with another $250,000 pledged. There is also $270,000 in matching federal funds; but co-mingling these monies may constitute a violation of state-church separation. Opposing the Hubbard park project is a local known as Concerned Citizens Coalition. Spokesmen told reporters in October that they were suspicious about those promoting the park. "Why would they want to come into this little town unless they have some ulterior motive?" a representative asked the World-Herald. Tuesday's Council meeting rejected a motion to hold a referendum on this issue, and scrapped plans for the "Way to Happiness" signs along the hiking-biking trail. But some council members, and members of a group raising donations for the Hubbard park, still want to name a picnic shelter area after L. Ron Hubbard. In addition, the council asked the local park foundation to raise matching money so that the city would not be liable for matching funds if the park is not named for Hubbard. City officials, including Mayor Rutjens, fear that any decision could result in legal action. The council is expected to make a final decision on the matter in February. ** NEW STUDY CONFIRMS NO ABORTION-BREAST CANCER LINK New research published in Thursday's edition of the New England Journal of Medicine finds that women who have undergone abortions do not show an increased risk of breast cancer. This finding contradicts a controversial claim made in October by a team led by Joel Brind of Baruch College, which used "meta-analysis" to link abortion and increased incidents of breast cancer. The Brind study appeared in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health; USA TODAY noted that Brind "worked with groups that oppose abortion to publicize the possible link." In the most recent study, researchers examined medical records of 1.5 million Danish women, comparing incidents of abortion and cancers. Researchers tracked 370,715 abortions and 10,246 breast cancers -- a rate no higher than among those women who hadn't undergone abortions. Dr. Brind promptly criticized the new findings, saying that he was unimpressed with the Danish study. He noted that the research did not include older women who may have had abortions prior to 1973. The Danish team defended its methodology, though, and Patricia Hartage of the National Cancer Institute declared: "A woman need not worry about the risk of breast cancer when facing the difficult decision of whether to terminate a pregnancy." Meta-Analysis & Hyperbole Dr. Brind has emerged as a leading proponent of the thesis that abortion results in significantly high rates of breast cancer. Even before his controversial October study results were made public, Brind has advanced his case in medical forums and publications, and in various anti-abortion publications as well. Brind charged that physicians and legislators were involved in "a natural scandal that women aren't told this (higher cancer rates) before they consider having an abortion." He also charged that "Thousands of American women every year will be getting breast cancer because of legal abortion." Dr. Brind was also the sole plaintiff's expert witness in 1995 in a federal court suit brought by the Christ's Bride Ministries against the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority. SEPTA has removed signs placed by the Christ's Brides warning that "Women who choose abortion suffer more and deadlier breast cancer," following the complaint of an FDA officials who said that placards were misleading and "unduly alarming." Other medical researchers have found Brind's claims to be highly inflated, and based on questionable analytical techniques. Brind's major study came under attack on several fronts: * Critics questioned Brind's strategy of so-called "meta-analysis," a technique which actually combined 23 different epidemiological studies done over a 35 year period. Indeed, those studies reached remarkably different conclusions. Ten found an increased risk of breast cancer in women who had undergone abortions, while ten found no such increase. Three indicated that abortion even had a "protective effect" against cancer. Lynn Rosenberg, a epidemiologist at Boston University, responded to Brind's study asking: "Why would one want to combine contradictory studies and say the average must be the truth? It makes no sense." * Evaluating the risk of breast cancer, even taking the worst-case scenarios in Brind's study, become problematic. The "slight" increase which Brind and his team found translated into a statistical increase of 4,700 new cases of breast cancer each year. Writing in the Boston Globe, medical reporter Richard A. Know observed that "Even if the increased risk that Brind and his colleagues calculate is true, a 30% elevation is viewed by scientists as small -- and possibly due to flaws in data collection, such as a reluctance among some women to report having an abortion." Statistically, the 30% rise correlates to a relative risk of 1.3, certainly less significant than, say, the 22-fold increase in lung cancer linked to smoking. * Others, in addition to citing statistical and methodological problems in Brind's study, attacked the motivation. Willett and Karin D. Michels of Harvard University expressed skepticism over the reliability of Brind's statistics; back in 1993, Willett Michels, a harsh critic of Brind, accused him of "being particularly sleazy" in comparing breast cancer risks in women who had undergone abortions, and those who had full-term pregnancies. . Michels noted that full-term pregnancy actually lowers the risk of breast cancer. He wrote: "Of course the risk is higher among women having an abortion not because abortions are a risk factor but because a full-term pregnancy is protective." A Wider Agenda ? Brind is also an opponent of RU-486, the "morning after pill" which he also believes contributes to increased levels of breast cancer. The National Cancer Institute and the National Breast Cancer Coalition disagree; and even researchers who take no position on a causal connection point to problems with studies and contradictory results. But for anti-choice advocates, Brind's research -- questionable and flawed as it is -- is quoted as gospel. Right To Life state organizations, for instance, circulate materials which claim to cite studies putting the risk of elevated cancer risk among women who undergo abortion at up to 50% higher than those who do not. The Ohio Right To Life organization circulated a tract claiming that "breast cancer has been rising at an alarming rate" (a fact that may be due to any number of reasons, including better detection programs), and referred to one Los Angeles study which "found a 2.4 fold higher incidence of breast cancer among women under 33 years of age" who had abortions. Following Brind's October study, the alleged "health risk" of abortion was given greater emphasis by anti-abortion groups such as the Christian Coalition and the National Right to Life Committee. The latest study, however, may not silence those who suggest an abortion-cancer link; USA TODAY noted that Dr. Joel Brind was "unimpressed" by the Danish research. ** CHRISTIAN COALITION PLAYING POWER BROKER IN RNC CHAIR SELECTION? But Inside Bickering May Threaten Pat Robertson's Back Room Moves To Control GOP The Christian Coalition has control over 35 to 40 votes on the Republican National Committee -- a fact of considerable importance when the RNC meets next week to choose a new party Chair and successor to current head Haley Barbour. A simple majority of 83 committee votes is required to elect the winner; and according to Church & State Magazine, the Coalition is throwing its support behind three announced candidates. They are: former New Hampshire Governor Stephen Merrill, former California GOP head John Herrington, or Texas Republican Party chair Tom Pauken. But AANEWS has learned that behind the scenes, the Coalition picks aren't getting along, a development which may be helping the cause of front runners James Nicholson and David Norcross. Merrill has become the target of an anonymous smear campaign , which so far has involved mailings of photocopies of his two previous divorce decrees to all 165 RNC members. The issue of marital infidelity is raised in one of the documents; and Merrill is perceived as an "outsider" who, while serving as national chair of Bod Dole's presidential bid last year, has never served on the Republican National Committee. The accusations have become so ugly that, according to the Washington Times and other news sources, even the Christian Coalition is now taking a "second look" at Merrill; some view the ex-Governor as an inside-operative who is "too comfy with the GOP's entrenched Washington establishment," according to an editorial in the influential Manchester Union Leader. And last week, opponents of Tom Pauken accused the hard-line Texas conservative of working against the election of George W. Bush as Texas governor. So why all the squawking? The Coalition and other religious-right groups are wary of just about any move that smacks of having their role in the GOP reduced or, worse yet, putting in place the "big tent" philosophy that Haley Barbour and some of the more moderate party elements would like to see. As a result, the voting for a new chair could take as many as five ballots. Don't write off Betsy DeVos, who combines political savvy with the kind of religious right connections that the Coalition likes. She is the Michigan party activist who has been active in anti-abortion efforts, and founded the Of The People group which promotes the Parental Rights Amendment. Betsy and hubby Rich go way back in the religious right circuit; their Amway distributing company is one of the leading "soft money" contributors to the GOP, and funnelled over $2.5 million to the party in one day during the 1994 midterm elections. How's that for clout? THEISTWATCH SHORT SHOTS Yesterday's dispatch noted the on-going war between the German government of Chancellor Helmut Kohl and the Church of Scientology, which the Bonn authorities would like to regulate (if not ban outright) as a dangerous cult. Scientologists have likened their persecution to that of the Jews during the Nazi holocaust. We noted that "paternalism" of the German state -- a characteristic which isn't exactly a historical anomolie, and added that "Bonn was the first of the European nations to take the dubious plunge into attempting to regulate content on the internet..." We have now learned that German authorities have finally released the latest draft of proposed new legislation that would provide "certification" for internet users, and (of course) attempt to regulate on-line content. There are already strict laws prohibiting pornography, neo-Nazi propaganda, violent literature and anything which provokes racial hatred; but under the new proposals, internet service providers would be accorded the status of common carriers, thus not responsible for "illegal" data content. How would the Germans deal with this "illegal" content? One official noted that individual ISP's "can't do very much" about the alleged problem, but suggested that "effective international cooperation in the prosecution of the offenders and an international legal framework" were the only effective means. This raises the prospect, of course, that there will be an international version of the old Communications Decency Act. Indeed, Germany has called for a meeting of the European Union, the U.S. and Japan next July to discuss strategies for controlling the internet. ** In Italy, Vatican authorities are having a cow because of the headmistress of a Turin school who has ordered distribution of condoms for students. Maria Luisa Vighi Miletto, Principal of the aptly-named Giordano Bruno High School, defended her actions following an attack in the official Vatican rag, L'Osservatore Romano. And according to the London Times, pupils at the school was surprised by the "media fuss" and defended distribution of condoms as the commonsense thing to do. Giordano Bruno (1548?-1600), of course, is well known as an icon in the struggle against religious authoritarianism and orthodoxy. He was a champion of the Copernican cosmology which rightly the sun, not the earth at the center of the known universe; and he was burned at the stake on Feb. 17, 1600. Think the Vatican just won't forget? ** In Turkey, Muslim groups are being hit with charges of sexual harassment and misconduct, a development which has ignited another spirited debate over the question of secularism and religion. Next Wednesday, members of the Aczmendi Islamic sect go on trial; and among the charges is that the group's leader, Muslum Gunduz pressured women into having sexual relation with him and another "sheik" who heads the lodge of another Islamic sect. A columnist for the Turkish daily Hurriyet charged that "Every day so many of our Moslem girls and women are being deceived by charlatans..." ** How involved should government courts be in internal church affairs? That's a questioned which has troubled First Amendment scholars and jurists; now, the Massachusetts State Supreme Court is taking up the issue in a case involving the First Church of Christ, Scientist and two former members in Boston. The case involves allegations made by the two former Christian Scientists that church officials mismanaged up to $45 million in funds between 1988 and 1992. During this period, the Church expanded its media outreach (it publishes the prestigious Christian Science Monitor), but the plaintiffs charge that officials also violated internal laws contained in the "Manual of the Mother Church" penned by founder Mary Baker Eddy. The court has to decide what role, if any, government plays when allegations of financial or other impropriety are made concerning religious groups. An attorney for the church declared that "The ability of a church to govern its own affairs is absolutely essential to religious freedom." But a lawyer for the plaintiff insisted that the court is being asked to intervene not in a matter of faith or theology, but because of an infraction of a monetary nature. Not surprisingly, 18 other denominations have filed amicus briefs with the Christian Science church ** 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. 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