subject: AANEWS for January 15, 1997 A M E R I C A N A T H E I S T S A A N E W S #231 1/15
from: AMERICAN ATHEISTS
subject: AANEWS for January 15, 1997
A M E R I C A N A T H E I S T S
~~ A A N E W S ~~
#231 ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ 1/15/97
In This Issue...
* O'Hair Group Wins Another Round In Truth Seeker Trials
* Bishop Wants To Stop Same-Sex Marriages In Hawaii
* "Kabuki" Religionists Support RFRA
* TheistWatch: Creationism In New Mexico
* Join AACHAT
* About This List...
ATHEISTS WIN THIRD STRAIGHT IN TRUTH SEEKER FLAP
"I Hope It's Over For Good," says American Atheists President...
There was good news earlier this week for American Atheists, as the U.S.
Circuit Court ruled in favor of AA founder Madalyn Murray O'Hair and other
defendants in the controversial Truth Seeker trial.
The decision marked the third consecutive court victory for Madalyn O'Hair
and her fellow defendants in a legal squabble dating back to the late 1980's.
The suit arose out of an earlier action O'Hair and a group of Atheists
associated with the old American Association for the Advancement of Atheism,
the National Liberal League and the public known as "The Truth Seeker." The
"group" sought an accounting of Truth Seeker finances which were then under
the control of the late James Hervey Johnson.
Details of the case were regularly reported in the American Atheist
Newsletter; and a full review of the matter was made in the Newsletter issue
of December, 1994 (Vol. 33, No. 12). Ellen Johnson, President of American
Atheists, applauded the court's decision and saw it as a vindication of
Madalyn O'Hair and others on charges which have appeared in the news media
"Since the disappearance of the O'Hair family, news coverage has slavishly
misrepresented the facts of the Truth Seeker case," Johnson noted. "The
O'Hairs have been portrayed as scoundrels and thieves, but this marks the
third consecutive time that courts have ruled otherwise and found no merit in
Johnson observed that those court proceedings included a trial in front of
a jury, another court trial with a judge, and now the proceeding in front of
the U.S. Circuit Court.
Time To "Put This Behind Us And Move On..."
Ms. Johnson also expressed hope that this latest decision would finally be
the end of the Truth Seeker matter. "Both sides have spent hundreds of
thousands of dollars in legal fees, and no one has been helped by this
situation." She added that "It's been a windfall for attorneys, clogged the
courts, and interfered with our work. A lot of money donated by Atheists to
the Truth Seeker has been squandered on these litigious proceedings by the
plaintiffs. I really hope it's over for good, and we can put this behind us
and move on."
Johnson said that the latest ruling would be discussed thoroughly in the
next American Atheist newsletter.
IS CATHOLIC CHURCH IN HAWAII ENGAGING IN POLITICAL ACTIVISM ?
Bishop Calls For Rally Against Same-Sex Marriage
Mitch Kahle, Hawaii State Director for American Atheists, reports that the
local Roman Catholic establishment is coming dangerously close to engaging in
political activism as it attempts to rally the faithful over the issue of gay
or same-sex marriage. Church officials have called for a January 24 rally at
the capitol building in Honolulu; in addition, Bishop Francis X. DiLorenzo
has issued a statement which, in addition to urging believers to participate,
also implores them to "write, or fax your legislator that same day to let
them know that you want justice for marriage."
The rally was announced last last week in the Hawaii Catholic Herald. A
"Dear Friends in Christ" letter from DiLorenzo warns that "If the Hawaii
Supreme Court upholds that (same-sex marriage) decision, as they are likely
to do, and if our state legislature does nothing, this state will be the
first place in history to approve and endorse 'same sex marriage'."
The letter repeats the familiar conspiracy motif that religious values are
under attack by secular culture. "Over the past three decades," wrote the
Bishop, " economic, cultural and social attacks have eroded marriage and
family life. Now, advocates for gay and lesbian rights want to change the
very definition of marriage itself."
DiLorenzo called for a constitutional amendment to the state constitution
which "allows the people, not the lawyers and the courts, to define
The Catholic Church in Hawaii may be jeopardizing its privileged
tax-exempt status as a religious organization by actively laboring for
specific legislative remedies -- in this case a constitutional amendment.
A Promise Keepers Rally In Honolulu
The Church may also be getting help as a result of the fallout from the
interdenominational Promise Keepers group, which just held one its males-only
rallies on the island. An AANEWS observer noted that PK speakers referred to
the Bible as the "absolute guide" for personal behavior. Critics of the
Promise Keepers have noted the groups hostility toward gays, and how the PK
leadership overlaps with organizations working against laws which would
legitimize same-sex marriages.
(Thanks to Mitch Kahle for information used in this
RELIGIOUS GROUPS JOIN IN CALL FOR ''SPECIAL RIGHTS'' LEGISLATION
Muslims, X-ian Fundamentalists, Humanists & Others Defend RFRA
Should religious groups enjoy "special rights" by virtue of belief in a
deity? Should churches, temples and other religious bodies be exempt from
laws which apply to everyone else? And should religious belief be a criteria
in giving persons special protections not enjoyed by the rest of the
A coalition of religious groups think they should, and yesterday urged the
U.S. Supreme Court to uphold the constitutionality of the controversial
Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Under the title of Coalition for the Free
Exercise of Religion, the group also intervened with an amicus ("friend of
the court") brief in the case of City of Boerne, Tx. v. P.F. Flores,
Archbishop of San Antonio et al. That case is becoming the constitutional
litmus test for the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, legislation drafted
and written by religious organizations.
A Tainted History
The RFRA controversy goes back to a 1990 Supreme Court decision known as
Smith v. Employment Division. Smith involved the case of an Oregon Indian
tribe's use of the hallucinogenic drug peyote in sacred ceremonies. Although
such use was a violation of the law, the tribe insisted that the Native
American church should still have to right to use the substance as an
exercise in religious liberty. Attorneys for the church insisted that the
state could not "substantially burden" religious exercise without
demonstrating a "compelling interest" in doing so.
Ironically, it was one of the more conservative and faith-driven Justices
of the high court, Antonin Scalia, who disagreed. Admitting that the
standard cited in Smith would place minority faiths at a "disadvantage,"
Scalia suggested that this was an "unavoidable consequence of democratic
No sooner had the Smith decision been handed down than religious
organizations throughout the country swung into action, and enlisted 55
constitutional scholars in drafting the so-called Religious Freedom
Restoration Act, and urging a re-hearing on Smith. Twenty religious groups
were initially involved in the effort representing such diverse organizations
as the National Association of Evangelicals to People for the American Way.
American Atheists was one of the few groups speaking out against the
dangers of RFRA. The group cited the dangerous precedent of inventing
"special rights" for religious groups that persons gained apparently by
virtue of merely being part of a religion. In other words, actions which
were illegal for one segment of society would be tolerated as long as they
were carried out under the guise of religious exercise.
Enter St. Peter Church
The constitutional test of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act will be a
case involving St. Peter Church, a 70-year old building in the town of
Boerne, Texas. When the Archdiocese announced plans in October to demolish
the structure, city officials promptly invoked local historic preservation
ordinances to stop the project. The city's Major declared that the church
was a "community landmark," and that "this community values its visual and
historical heritage, whether it's a church or a 100-year-old library."
The church is not arguing against the validity or constitutionality of
local laws affecting historic structures -- only whether there should be an
exemption in the case of religious organizations. The Archdiocese cites the
1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which would require the city of
Boerne to convince a federal judge that it has a "compelling interest" in
"burdening" a religious group.
Are Some More "Equal" Than Others ?
But critics in the Boerne and other RFRA-related controversies insist that
the Act offers "equal protection" to religious groups and believers, but not
to the rest of the population. Under RFRA, the City of Boerne (or any other
government entity) could enforce zoning, preservation or other kinds of laws
on private citizens and businesses, but would have to make a stronger case
for doing so when dealing with churches and religions. Opponents argue that
the RFRA thus violates the Establishment Clause by providing religions with
special privileges over all other types of belief or non-belief.
A Rogues Gallery Of Religious And "Kabuki" Religionists
Support for the Religious Freedom Restoration Act has come from a wide
range of religious organizations, as well as "Kabuki" religious groups which
ordinarily boast of their secularist or separationist credentials. The
former category includes the American Baptist Churches, American Jewish
Committee, Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs, Christian Legal
Society, Episcopal Church, Guru Gobind Sing Foundation, Presbyterian Church,
National Sikh Center, Muslim Prison Foundation and the
Christian-Reconstructionist Home School Legal Defense Association. The
reactionary Traditional Values Coalition is also a member, along with the
Rabbinical Council of America, United Church of Christ, and the Church of
Curiously, the American Humanist Association is also listed as a
cheerleader for the RFRA, along with American Civil Liberties Union (a great
disappointment!), Americans for Religious Liberty, and Americans United for
Separation of Church and State.
The amicus brief was prepared by a panel of members drawn from many of the
coalition member groups. Authors of the document include: Marc D. Stern
(American Jewish Congress), Oliver S. Thomas (National Council of Churches),
Steven McFarland (Christian Legal Society), Elliot Mincberg (People for the
American Way), Steven Green (Americans United), Michael Farris (Home School
Legal Defense Association) and Melissa Rogers (Baptist Joint Committee).
Arguments in the case will be heard by the high court on February 19; a
decision is expected before the end of June.
THEISTWATCH SHORT SHOTS
There are serious problems concerning the historicity of "Jesus Christ,"
said to be the founder of the Christian religion. Many scholars consider
Jesus to have been a combination of several different persons, or even a
metaphor; there is precious little evidence that such an individual ever
existed. Indeed, would be god-men, messiahs said to have been born of a
virgin who suffered and died, then rose from the grave to fly off to heaven
populate the hagiography of the world's religions.
But those concerns haven't stopped the Italian Parliament from approving a
bill which would grant nearly 3,500 billion lire -- approximately $2.3
billion U.S. -- to projects designed to mark the 2,000 anniversary of Jesus's
alleged birth. The cash will be funnelled to a Millennium committee headed
by an official Monsignor of the Catholic Church. One Vatican official gushed
that this latest raid on the public treasury was "a real Christmas present."
Up to 40 million pilgrims are expected to pour into Italy for the
celebrations focused on the year 2000. The Church has declared an official
Jubilee, and now -- with a bit of help from hard-pressed Italian taxpayers --
will have even more money to spend on this lavish display of religious
An article in a recent issue of the Journal of Church and State observes
that in the 1996 election campaign, shrill religious rhetoric managed to
reach an all-time high. Both parties, it seemed, attempted to one-up the
other in appealing to god and the wholesomeness of the religious lifestyle.
How many times was "god" implored to bless the politically faithful, anyway?
And politicians just couldn't keep their hands out of the religious
collection plate. Religious right groups poured millions of dollars into
Republican coffers; and not to be outdone, Democrats tried to grab as much as
they could even if the contributions took the form of "soft money" funnelled
through religious groups.
There is now more news about the notorious "temple fund raiser", an event
held at the Hsi Lai Buddhist Temple in Hacienda Heights, California, which
featured Vice President Albert Gore. Recall that Demo operative John Huang
put together the event, which raised over $140,000 in highly questionable
donations from monks and others associated with the Buddhist cult.
In October, Mr. Gore described the meeting as "just a community
event...not billed as a fund-raiser." But Associated Press now reports that
the Democratic National Committee had sent the Vice President (who had met
with the sects "Venerable Master" at least once during a visit to Taiwan) a
list of "major supporters" and suggested that he "extend appreciation for
participant support and inspire inspire political and fund-raising efforts."
Gore spokesperson Lorraine Voles insists that "He (the Vice President) knew
it was a finance-related event."
Creationism -- the religious view that life and the universe arose in
accordance with the literal Biblical story of Genesis -- is becoming an issue
again in New Mexico. The Creation Science Fellowship has offered a prize of
up to $1,000 to participants in an annual science fair who have "an
outstanding project...that demonstrates designs in nature or a catastrophic
process in nature."
According to the Albuquerque Journal, the director of the Northwestern New
Mexico Regional Engineering and Science Fair says that the group's advisory
board will decide next week whether the fair will accept the prize offering.
Randi Buck told reporters "This kind of thing with a semi-controversial or
religious issue has never happened before. We're trying not to pull a
controversial issue into a student competition, and there is a feeling that
this was an issue that involves religion."
But a spokesman for the Creationist group argued that "designs in nature"
could simply involve patterns of genetic material, while a "catastrophic
process" might be an exhibition about volcanoes. Jerry Simmons of CSF
admitted that most of the 200 members of the group are "Christian-oriented
and Bible-based," and that the prize was meant to offer young people
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