subject: AANEWS for January 19, 1997 (Weekend Edition) A M E R I C A N A T H E I S T S A A

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from: AMERICAN ATHEISTS subject: AANEWS for January 19, 1997 (Weekend Edition) A M E R I C A N A T H E I S T S ~~ A A N E W S ~~ #233 ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~1/19/97 (Weekend Edition) e-mail: In This Issue... * More Public $$$ For Religious Schools? * Religious Groups Threaten Hebron Pact *Theistwatch: Superstition Leads To Fear of Penis-Snatchers! * FYI * About This List... SUPREME COURT TO REHEAR AGUILAR v. FELTON A Key Precedent In State-Church Separation May Suffer -- And The Public Could End Up Financing Private Religious Schools! The United States Supreme Court has announced that it will reconsider a controversial 1985 ruling which prohibits the use of public school instructors in private religious academies. The original case, AGUILAR v. FELTON (1985) stems from a dispute involving Title 1 of the U.S. Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which called upon public schools to offer "remedial services" to certain students, including those in private institutions. Justice William J. Brennan Jr. who wrote the majority opinion in AGUILAR noted that the Act was "well intentioned," it violated the First Amendment in that government must not "promote or hinder" religious exercise. He added that the program conveyed "a message of state support for religion to students and the general public." Twelve years later, the high court will once again be examining its decision in this landmark case. Only one member of the 1985 court majority, Justice John Paul Stevens, remains on the bench; and observers note that foes of the AGUILAR v. FELTON decision may include five of the current Supreme Court justices. Indeed, Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist is on record as dismissing Justice Brennan's First Amendment concerns as "gossamer abstractions." The Chief Justice has also agreed with religious anti-separation opponents that the "Wall of Separation" discussed by Thomas Jefferson is simply a "myth" that has no basis in history or jurisprudence. Justice Anthony Kennedy has expressed disagreement with the AGUILAR ruling as well, saying that Brennan's original opinion was "unfortunate." And Justice Antonin Scalia has written that in his opinion, the court's ruling in the 1985 case was "so hostile" to religious belief that it should be "overruled at the earliest opportunity." It is rare that the Supreme Court re-examines a decision, or overturns earlier rulings. The move to rehear the arguments in AGUILAR was in response to petitions from New York City school officials, parents of parochial school students, and the Clinton administration which filed an amicus ("friend of the court") brief. Circumventing Aguilar v. Felton Although the intent of the AGUILAR ruling was to strengthen state-church separation and establish boundaries between public and private religious institutions, many government officials began constructing expensive, disingenuous schemes to circumvent the decision. The 1985 case ordered New York to stop sending public school teachers into parochial schools in order to instruct students in remedial subjects such as math and reading. Even so, officials and the state and municipal level have promoted various voucher programs and other schemes which not only threaten the integrity of the public schools, but the entire notion of state-church separation. Last September, for instance, New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani gushed with approval over a proposal from the Roman Catholic Archdiocese to have the city's parochial school system take over the education of up to 1,000 public school students. The New York Times observed that this plan "raised serious questions about the separation of church and state, the control that public school officials would have over the teaching standards and curriculums in parochial schools, and the ability of those schools to be sensitive to a religiously diverse group of public school children." Another scheme for circumventing AGUILAR v. FELTON has been to use state funds for teachers, classrooms and other facilities, but then have students from religious schools be transported at public expense to these taxpayer funded programs. In some cases, students would walk out of a Jewish or Roman Catholic religious school, across the street to special mobile-classrooms staffed by public instructors and financed with public funds. By one estimate, this "indirect subsidy" for religious schools has cost up to $100 million. Last year alone in New York City, $16 million was budgeted for such programs which serve 12,000 parochial school students in more than 100 mobile classrooms. Thanks to such schemes, about the only substance left in AGUILAR is the fact that public school teachers do not physically enter religious school buildings, and that government monies are not directly handed to parochial school administrators. Beyond AGUILAR -- A Wider Agenda AGUILAR v. FELTON is considered a key ruling on state-church separation, since it deals with cases of direct financial involvement between government and religious institutions. A reversal of the court's 1985 decision could result in a flood of new schemes at the federal, state and local levels to direct public monies into the coffers of religious educational institutions. Already, several states are ready to float voucher initiatives; a ruling last week in Wisconsin which found vouchers to be a violation of that state's constitutional guarantees on state-church separation will probably be appealed. When and if the voucher question does reach the Supreme Court, a reversal in AGUILAR is surely to be argued as precedent. Incredibly, both New York City officials and the Clinton Administration lawyers agreed that a range of taxpayer-funded educational services could and should be provided in religious schools without aiding religion, or involving government in "excessive entanglement" with religious belief. U.S. Solicitor General Walter Dellinger even argued in an amicus brief for the Clinton White House that the 1985 AGUILAR v. FELTON decision actually hurt the public school system by curtailing its program to serve low income students with special needs! Arguments are expected to be heard in April, with a decision rendered sometime by July. ** WILL RELIGIOUS GANGS TORPEDO HEBRON AGREEMENT? Both Likud And The PLO Face Opposition From Religious Sects, Parties. A Tenuous Peace Arrangement Is Threatened... Celebrations still continue in the city of Hebron where Israeli military forces have pulled back, and control of the region has shifted to the Palestinian Authority. The arrangement follows months of covert and public peace negotiations, and behind-the-scenes maneuvering by diplomats from the U.S. and the United Nations. And it is a tenuous peace at best, one that skirts fundamental issues such as statehood for Palestinians and the status of the "Holy City" of Jerusalem. The Hebron agreement is also opposed by religious extremists in both Israel and the Arab sector. It is not known how it will affect the fortunes of PLO chief Yasir Arafat, or Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu; nor is anyone betting on the ability of Arafat's new quasi-government to control fundamentalist Islamic groups which already are lining up to oppose the Hebron Treaty. * Despite its political symbolism and practical results as a concrete step toward peace, the militant Islamic Hamas movement has condemned the agreement as proof "that the last and highest word remains in the hands of the Israeli army. Hamas, a fundamentalist movement which has prospered in the squalid living conditions of Israeli operated detention camps and prisons, is responsible for the bulk of attacks on local Jewish settlers. But there appears to be a wait-and-see attitude on the part of at least some Hamas supporters. On Wednesday night, Israeli military commanders seem to have struck a temporary accord with the Young Muslims Association, which is affiliated with Hamas. * Other groups with ties to Syrian military intelligence or the fundamentalist regime in Iran intend to oppose the Hebron accord. Criticism has come from the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Hezbollah, an Iranian-controlled formation, has already condemned Arafat for making what it calls "humiliating concessions." * Netanyahu also faces opposition from extreme Jewish fundamentalists, although some of the religious parties reluctantly endorsed the Hebron Treaty in a closed-door cabinet meeting. The National Religious Party deliberately abstained from the final voting, but announced that it will now reconsider its participation in the Likud coalition government every three months. But even within the ranks of Netanyahu's own Likud Party there was dissent. Party patriarch Yitzhak Shamir called for a new leader, and blasted the Prime Minister for "betrayal of the idea of Greater Israel." The leader of another religious group, Women in Green, said that her organization would "take to the streets" in opposition to the government they helped to elect just eight months ago. * The most bitter faction seems to consist of Israeli settlers who already provide considerable support for the nation's religious fundamentalist groups. The Los Angeles Times notes that in the period leading up to his assassination, the former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin had "many verbal and political clashes" with settler groups; posters appeared depicting Rabin wearing the kaffiyeh (Arab headdress) and calling him a "traitor" and "murderer." Now, posters with the same theme are showing up, only this time bearing the visage of Benjamin Netanyahu. Perceptions An opinion poll in the daily newspaper Yediot Aharonot on Thursday showed that 67% of Israelis were "satisfied" with the Hebron agreement, while 25% were opposed. 56% said that they continue to support withdrawal of Israeli military forces from the West Bank. And one perception of Netanyahu -- especially widespread within the ranks of his Likud party and coalition -- is that the new Prime Minister has moved in the direction set by the previous Rabin government, although at a slower pace. Religious fundamentalists in Likud and other allied groups are now searching for a new leader who will achieve the "Eretz Yisrael" -- a Biblical-era Jewish religious state stretching from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean. Some look to Binyamin Begin, described in the Los Angeles Times as a "right-wing ideologue" who ironically served as Minister of Science and Technology before resigning last week in protest over the Hebron agreement. Son of the late Prime Minister Menachem Begin, he told Israeli Radio last week that he was leaving the Netanyahu government because "it is impossible on my part to be a partner in handing over parts of our land." The Future At best, Hebron is a first, problematic step. Netanyahu faces opposition from the religious right; fundamentalist groups can be expected to apply even more pressure when talks resume over more substantive issues like the West Bank settlements and control of Jerusalem. During debate in the Knesset, ministers of the National Religious Party echoed the sentiments of member Hanan Porat who declared that "We will arise and we will build Hebron and the Land of Israel...You will not defeat us so quickly." And Arafat has problems of his own. Barring an agreement between Israel and Syria over issues like the Golan Heights, expect the Syrian Intelligence Service to continue support fundamentalist religious groups and extreme organizations like PFLP. Religious extremists in Hamas can also be expected to criticize Arafat for "compromising" with the Israelis. Expect plenty of misinformation and "black propaganda" on both sides. The Disinformation War That phase of political warfare has possibly started, at least in connection with the Hebron agreement. There were substantial reports in the international press over the last two months concerning warnings made to Netanyahu by his security services, including Shin Bet. One assessment noted that continued support of settlements was ultimately inflaming passions in the Arab community, and weakening the ability of Yasir Arafat to control the extreme religious fundamentalists. But on Friday, a report surfaced in the right-wing Washington Times, a newspaper linked to Rev. Moon. Titled "Israelis fear Arafat ready for war," the article advanced the astounding and unsubstantiated thesis that Arafat has "gained control of Hamas and is ready for a military confrontation." The paper claimed that "Israel's intelligence chiefs are going through a revolutionary reassessment of the Palestinian Authority president, concluding that they and Israel's political leaders have dangerous underestimated him," Quoting Jerusalem Report correspondent Ehud Ya'ari and unidentified "political and intelligence sources in Israel," the article challenged the traditional thesis that Arafat had faced serious challenges from Islamic fundamentalists. If anything, both military and intelligence agencies in Israeli have seen it in the country's self-interest to begin a dialogue with Palestinians, and reach some kind of a workable accord. That process has now resulted in a Hebron agreement which seriously alienates the extreme Islamic and Jewish religious groups; their future of their respective agendas can rest only in the breakdown of the peace process through distrust, suspicion and eventually bloodshed. ** THEISTWATCH SHORT SHOTS Is there any aspect of life that religious zealots are content to leave untouched? Probably not. Even the local community argot is target for concern and experimentation, at least in the community of Kingsville, Texas. Last week, Kleberg County commissioners voted unanimously for a resolution urging the use of "heaven-o" instead of "hello" in greetings. We're serious. And we didn't get this item from the Weekly World News. The idea for this wretched intrusion of religious-correctness came from a local flea market operator who, according to CNN, thought it "sinister" that the root of the word hello was "hell." "He (Leonso Canales) has led a three-year campaign to get the county to remove the offensive word," says Cable News. A local county judge said that everyone in town was "a little apprehensive," but mused: "I suppose it's like everything else, once you get adjusted to it, you might start using it." According to the Oxford English Diction (Compact Edition), "Hello" has nothing to do with hell, but instead is a variation of "Hallo", which in turn stems from "Hollo." Another variant is "Halloo," and the OED defined these terms as cries made to attract the attention of a ferryman, or "a shout or exclamation to call attention." The term "hell" has an entirely different history of derivation, and none of the forms of that term seem to have anything to do with greeting someone, soliciting the services of a ferryman, or being an appropriate greeting to friend or stranger in Texas! ** Along with poverty, war and the legacy of 19th century imperialism, one of the great obstacles in the emergent nations of the Third World is religious superstition. Tribal-mystical traditions in many nations have kept women from gaining equality, resisted the spread of education, and even emerged as an obstacle to health care reform and the war on diseases like AIDS. But sometimes, the manifestation of religious superstition is even more basic and brutal. On Friday in Accra, Ghana, police arrested four people in connection with a mob beating where two men were assaulted and killed after being accused of being sorcerers and "penis snatchers." Phobia of "penis snatching" has become rampant in parts of Africa; and this latest incident involved claims that the men could cause a male's penis to disappear simply through the act of shaking hands. There were also charges that women could have their breasts shrunken. According to Associated Press, fear of the penis snatchers is becoming widespread in Ghana "where belief in witchcraft and supernatural powers is strong." (Thanks to Wayne Aiken for this "interesting" story!) ** FOR YOUR INFORMATION... If you would like membership information on American Atheists, send e-mail to Be sure to include your name and postal mailing address. If you would like to receive a catalogue of American Atheist Press books and products, contact Include your mailing address. If you are already a member of American Atheists, you are eligible to participate in our moderated, on-line discussion forum, aachat. This is a great way to meet other Atheists and stay current with fast-moving developments on the First Amendment front as well as AA activities. Contact Margie Wait at The American Atheist FaxNet is looking for more members. If you have a fax machine and would like to "echo" American Atheist press releases and other media advisories in your area, contact Margie Wait at American Atheists also has a weekly cable program, The Atheist Viewpoint. You can help expand the outreach audience of this informative television show by serving as a host in your community. If your local cable system has a public access channel and accepts "imported' programming, you may be able to sponsor The Atheist Viewpoint. For more information, contact our National Media Coordinator, Ron Barrier at ** ABOUT THIS LIST... 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