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

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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 e-mail: 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 and elsewhere. "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 these charges." 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 marriage." 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 story...) ** 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 population? 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 government." 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 Scientology. 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 fervor. ** 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 "choices." ** INTERESTED IN MEETING OTHER ATHEISTS ? Then you should join American Atheists and participate in our moderated on-line discussion forum, aachat. It's a great way to communicate with other Atheists; and it is a stimulating discussion forum for a range of provocative topics including Atheism, state-church separation, problems of being an Atheist in a religious culture and much, much more. To participate in aachat, you must be a member in good standing of American Atheists. For membership information, send mail to and include your name and postal mailing address. If you are already a member, contact Margie Wait, the moderator at ** 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. 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