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
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
In This Issue...
* Hubbard Park Controversy Continues In Nebraska
* Abortion-Cancer Link Disputed
* Christian Coalition Is King Maker At RNC Meeting
* About This List...
COMMUNITY SEEKS ''MIDDLE GROUND'' OVER SCIENTOLOGY PARK
A Problematic Claim To Fame For Tilden, Nebraska ~ Birthplace Of L. Ron
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
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
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
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
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
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
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,
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
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
Not surprisingly, 18 other denominations have filed amicus briefs with the
Christian Science church
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