subject: AANEWS for January 20, 1997 A M E R I C A N A T H E I S T S A A N E W S #234 1/20
from: AMERICAN ATHEISTS
subject: AANEWS for January 20, 1997
A M E R I C A N A T H E I S T S
~~ A A N E W S ~~
In This Issue...
* "This Law's For You!" -- Utah Solons To LDS
* Inauguration Day -- What Happened To First Amendment?
* Judge: OK To Block Clinics On Religious-Moral Conscience Grounds
* Our Catalogue -- Read 'n Learn
* About This List...
LEGISLATORS ''CONSULT'', SEEK SUPPORT OF MORMON CHURCH ON
STATE BOOZE LIMITS
You would think that before voting on legislation to tamper with drunk
driving laws, elected officials would consult police, doctors, traffic safety
experts and attorneys. But in Utah, a state dominated by the Mormon religion
which has a long and disgraceful history of violating First Amendment rights,
representatives instead "consulted" with ever-present Church officials, and
sought the support of the Latter-day Saints in an effort to dramatically
lower the amount of alcohol a motorist may consume before being considered
Ironically, the Church backed-out at the last moment, declaring that
"officially" it takes no position on the bill proposed by Rep. Nora Stephens.
It would have made Utah the first state to lower the legal boozing level for
drivers below 0.04, down from the current 0.08. The national average is
What makes the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints a body of
experts on alcohol limits and driving is a bit of a mystery; the LDS opposes
the consumption of alcohol and even caffeine. American Atheist State
Directors Chris Allen and Rich Andrews informed AANEWS that in the
culturally-bifurcated state, non-Mormons often recognize each other in public
by who's purchasing the six pack of Coke in the grocery store. (We have
learned, however, that highway traffic heading for the gambling joints and
legalized flesh pots of neighboring Nevada, though, isn't always a reliable
indicator of the religious inclinations of the driver.)
The flap over driving and drinking began with Rep. Stephens call for
slashing the legal alcohol consumption limit for motorists to 0.04. A
special confab was held before the formal legislation session between the
representatives and members of the LDS public affairs committee, which
included "Apostles" of the Mormon Church. Both Democrats and Republicans
held separate sessions to huddle with the church officials, who declared that
-- "informally", of course -- they opposed the bill and instead urged
enforcement of current laws and beefed up DUI police patrols.
Curiously, the Utah-based Deseret News, a paper owned by the LDS Church,
editorialized against the proposed measure, reversing its original support
for the tougher drinking standards. But two years ago, Desert News lambasted
state public safety director Douglas Bodero who it considered "off base" for
opposing lower limits. "The fact remains that Utah needs stricter standards
as a matter of fairness," whined the newspaper in May of 1995.
Church officials are under constant scrutiny from American Atheists and
its affiliated legal group, Society of Separationists. There is evidence
that LDS leaders may be reluctant to continue jeopardizing their special
tax-exempt status by supporting or opposing specific pieces of legislation,
or endorsing partisan candidates for public office. But "unofficially," the
tougher standards are being boosted by a group called the Utah Alcohol Policy
Coalition, described by the Salt Lake City Tribune as "a private group with
members representing organizations from the Mormon Church to the PTA."
The Tribune noted on Friday that "Failure to win backing from the
predominant faith (LDS) spells near-automatic death for legislation making
any substantial change in laws relating to alcohol." The paper adds that the
church often weighs in on the issue, "sometimes informally."
CLINTON INAUGURAL CONTINUES EMPHASIS ON 'GOD', CIVIC RELIGION
Church Choirs, Prayer, Bibles And Appeals To Religious Belief Mark The
In Of The Leader Of A Secular Republic...
After prevailing in a contest which many observers consider a high-mark in
the use of religious appeals and rhetoric, William Jefferson Clinton was
sworn in earlier today for his second term as President of the United States.
The festive round of inaugural events included three church choirs, prayer
breakfasts and other religion-linked events. On Sunday, Clinton handlers
made sure that the news media was given abundant news-photo opportunities as
the President and first lady traipsed to two different church services, one
at the Columbia Baptist Church and the second at the Foundry United Methodist
Church "for a second dose of moral uplift" as wire services described the
Earlier today at the swearing-in ceremony, Clinton took the oath of
presidential office with his hand resting on a family Bible.
"God" As An Expression Of National Civic Religion (NCR)
Despite the fact that the United States if one of the few nation in the
world with a long-standing prohibition against established religion, and
support for state-church separation, Presidents and other political leaders
have often appealed to "god" to legitimize their office and public appeal.
Mention of a deity and the role of religion in the national public life has
inevitably received more attention that the importance of the First
Amendment, or the reason for why the nation's Founders included the
Establishment Clause and free speech in the same, first amendment.
The language of the Founders and earlier presidents, though, often
reflected deism -- a belief in nature and "nature's god" -- rather than the
incarnations of Jehovah manifest in the Judeo-Christian cult.
George Washington, for instance, established the tradition of invoking the
name of a deity, adding at the end of his oath the phrase "So help me god,"
which has been repeated by every president since. But the nation's first
president used distinctly deistic terminology, saying "In rendering this
homage to the Great Author of every public and private good, I assure myself
that it expresses your sentiments not less than my own." God was also
referred to as the "Invisible Hand" in Washington's first inaugural
discourse. But in his second inauguration address, Washington made no
reference whatsoever to any god -- either the Christian or deistic flavor..
The only other president who made no reference to a deity was James
Madison, also in his second inauguration address. In his 1809 oration,
Madison referred to "Almighty God." Even so, he was also the author of the
famous "Memorial and Remonstrance," and was the first U.S. President on
record to oppose the granting of public monies to organized religious groups
for the purpose of social welfare.
Early references to "god", however, often typified the deistic philosophy
of men like Washington; and statements made by these early presidents suggest
that their attitudes toward organized religion were distinctly less favorable
than those of more contemporary American leaders. John Quincy Adams was the
first president to quote Bible verse at his inaugural, but nevertheless later
declared that "This would be the best of all possible worlds if there were no
religion in it."
Bible quotations were rarely used throughout the 1800's; and it was only
in the twentieth century, with the rise of mass-evangelism, that the reading
of Biblical verse found its way back into inauguration ceremonies.
In The Name Of God
Conjuring the name of the "Almighty," even when done by presidents, has
covered a variety of transgressions and faults. James Garfield used the
occasion of his inauguration to invoke a deity and attack the Mormon cult,
saying that the religion of Joseph Smith "offends the moral sense of manhood
by sanctifying polygamy." James Polk, the nation's eleventh president
(1845-1849) mentioned a deity five times in his oration, but kept two slaves
in the White House, and nearly three dozen more on his Mississippi
In the latter-half of our own century, presidential inauguration addresses
have increasingly conjured goddism and religious faith . Ronald Reagan
declared that "We are one nation under God..." adding that "It would be
fitting and good, I think, if on each Inauguration Day in future years it
should be declared a day of prayer." George Bush provided his homilies for
the national civic religion, stating that "Our problems are large, but our
heart is larger...And if our flaws are endless, God's love is truly
boundless." Lyndon Johnson in his 1965 address echoed the sentiment of
cosmic-manifest destiny, musing that "Democracy rests on faith, that freedom
asks more than it gives, and that the judgment of God is harshest on those
who are most favored."
All told, the 52 inaugural addresses rendered by presidents over the
centuries have used references to some kind of god more than 150 times.
According to a table in the Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch, synonyms include
Providence, God, Almighty God, Heavenly Father, Almighty Being, Divine Hand
and Almighty Ruler. Ulysses Grant -- a staunch defender of state-church
separation conjured "Providence" as the second word in his inaugural talk.
Jefferson had used the same term. How long did presidents wait to refer to
a deity? Bill Clinton ranks as a religious quick-start; his first address
mentioned "The Almighty" just 67 words into his oration. Jimmy Carter waited
141 words before bringing up "god", Lyndon Johnson began at word 16 and
Dwight Eisenhower mentioned "Almighty God" beginning at word 41.
Thomas Jefferson, who spoke of the need for a "Wall of Separation" between
church and state and was a confirmed deist, waited until word 1,152 to refer
to the Masonic-deistic "Providence" in his second inaugural. Lincoln spoke
of an "Almighty Ruler," but only at word 3,212. The ultimate procrastinator
appears to have been William Howard Taft, whose "Almighty God" lingered until
(Thanks to Frank Zindler for this historical curioso!)
JUDGE SPRINGS ABORTION PROTESTERS ON ''RELIGIOUS BELIEF"
Is This The Latest Church Version Of the "Twinkie Defense"?
A federal judge has ruled that two anti-abortion protesters did not
violate the law when they blocked access to a clinic because they were
motivated by "conscience-driven religious belief." According to the New York
Times, the ruling "startled" both sides in the trial, and other legal
The defendants were identified as retired Roman Catholic Bishop George
Lynch, and Brother Christopher Moscinski, a friar in the Franciscan order.
The two have been arrested more than 29 times for clinic protests, and are
linked to the Operation Rescue movement which engages in harassment of
abortion clinic workers, and aggressive "sidewalk counselling."
The controversial ruling was made by Judge John E. Sprizzo of the U.S.
District Court in Manhattan. A former prosecutor and law school professor,
Sprizzo was appointed to the bench during the Reagan administration.
Ironically, in February of last year, he issued a permanent injunction
against Lynch and Moscinski, ordering them to not block the driveway to the
Women's Medical Pavilion in Dobbs Ferry. When arrests were made, however,
the judge refused to order fines or enforce a buffer zone restriction; in
July, he held Bishop Lynch in contempt but refused to order fines or other
In his ruling Sprizzo claimed that while Lynch and Moscinski had not
obeyed injunctions concerning the clinic, they had not defied the judge
"willfully," supposedly meaning that their conduct did not show "bad
purpose." He cited a 1970 Supreme Court ruling were a man who had refused
induction into the military did so because of "sincere moral beliefs." The
judge described the actions of the two men as "purely passive" and "minimally
Dangerous Citations, Precedent
Pro-choice activists have reacted to Sprizzo's latest decision with alarm.
A spokeswoman for the National Abortion Federation said that the reasoning
in the decision would permit protesters to ignore laws protecting clinics,
doctors and other workers. Vicki Saporta added that "People will take it to
the next level and then the next and they end up getting violent."
Worse yet, Sprizzo compared the actions of the two men to the hypothetical
case of a person who might have defied the Dred Scot decision by refusing to
return a runaway slave, based on a "moral belief." According to the Times,
the Judge also added that "American abortion-rights laws could be found in
violation of international human rights treaties."
Religious Groups Elated
The convoluted justifications in Sprizzo's decision elicited praise and
excitement from the American Center for Law and Justice, a "religious
liberty" group founded by televangelist Pat Robertson. An attorney with the
organization noted the importance of the ruling in challenging the Freedom of
Access to Clinic Entrances Act, known as FACE. Staff lawyer Walter Weber
declared that the ruling "could have many implications for FACE."
A director for the Dobbs Ferry clinic, though, was more skeptical. Randi
Fallow noted that twice a week, protesters come to the facility, but often do
not block the access. "Is it OK for them now to block our door?" she asked.
"For them to place bombs in the clinic? For them to shoot us, as long as
they're sincere in their moral beliefs?"
A Related Note...
As of press time for this dispatch, there are still no announced leads in
the recent bombing of an abortion clinic in Atlanta, Georgia. On Friday,
however, AANEWS noted the proximity of that event to the 24th anniversary of
the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court ruling which legalized abortion rights for
women; we also discussed a possible trend in another cycle of violence
directed at clinics, and possible ties to militant groups like the elusive
Yesterday, two bombs exploded in at the Reproductive Services clinic in
Tulsa, Oklahoma, causing minor damage and no injuries. The abortion clinic
had also been hit by two Molotov cocktails on January 1.
THEISTWATCH SHORT SHOTS
A disgraced minister of the Methodist Church must pay a whopping $3.7
million to seven women and one of their husbands for sexual misconduct, a
jury in Fort Worth, Texas has ruled. Barry Bailey, defrocked pastor of the
First United Methodist Church -- one of the nation's largest congregations --
was found guilty of charges that he fondled the women, made "lewd comments"
to them and even made late-night phone calls of a suggestive nature. One
woman testified that she approached the minister when she was 16 and suffered
from an eating disorder, but ended up several years later having a sexual
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