subject: AANEWS for January 22, 1997 (Evening 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 22, 1997 (Evening Edition) A M E R I C A N A T H E I S T S ~~ A A N E W S ~~ #235 ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ 1/22/97 (Evening Edition) e-mail: In This Issue... * Atheists Protest Amicus Brief * The Oregon Cross -- Again! * TheistWatch: Insurance Against "Virgin Birth" * For Your Information... * About This List... ATHEISTS URGE CLINTON TO REVERSE STAND ON RELIGIOUS AID A Government Amicus Brief Supports A Reversal In A Key First Amn'd Case American Atheists launched a letter writing campaign last night, urging concerned citizens to contact the White House and ask President Clinton to withdraw a government "amicus" ("friend of the court") brief which supports government aid to religious schools. A press release to media and flurry of internet postings was followed by a letter from American Atheists President Ellen Johnson which criticized the Clinton administration's appeal for a rehearing in the AGUILAR v. FELTON Supreme Court case of 1985. Last week, following appeals from New York City, parents of Roman Catholic school children and the government, the high court voted to examine its earlier finding. Here is the text of the letter sent to Mr. Clinton: President William J. Clinton The White House 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. Washington, D.C. 20050 Dear Mr. President: Congratulations on your inauguration to a second term as President. We applaud your enthusiasm and commitment to defend the Constitution of the United States, as provided in your official oath of office. But as President of an organization which labors for the rights of Atheists and other non-believers, and on behalf of the constitutional principle of state-church separation, I am distressed by your administration's support of a rehearing by the U.S. Supreme Court in AGUILAR v. FELTON (1985). It is unfortunate that your Solicitor General has submitted an amicus brief on this dangerous proposal; it is even more astonishing that he defended the action as something beneficial to our public schools. For the record, AGUILAR tested the constitutionality of Title 1, U.S. Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which called upon public schools to offer certain "remedial services" to students, including those in private and private religious institutions. Justice William J. Brennan Jr., writing for the majority in AGUILAR, noted that while the Act was "well intentioned," it was a clear violation of the First Amendment in that government must not "promote or hinder" religion. He added that the Act "conveyed a message of state support for religion to students and the general public." I am disturbed by the support of your administration for a reversal of the AGUILAR v. FELTON ruling. In SCHOOL DISTRICT OF ABINGTON TOWNSHIP v. SCHEMPP (1963), Justice Brennan noted, "What may not be done directly may not be done indirectly lest the Establishment Clause become a mockery." However good intention, direct and/or indirect aid to religious schools violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. It would compel tens of millions of Americans who profess no religious belief to subsidize religious institutions through taxation. If the religious community in America wants religious instruction for their children, they are obligated to pay for their schools and all of the related costs. Atheists and others should not be compelled to subsidize religious schools by underwriting the costs of books, busing, nursing, remedial education and salaries of teachers who provide that service. Mr. President, a reversal on AGUILAR -- such as your administration appears to support -- comes at a time when the nation's public school system is under attack and desperately in need of support, resources and funding. It is the position of American Atheists that overturning this case would serve to encourage voucher plans and other unfair, legally suspect and morally wrong schemes which promote government funding of religious schools. I urge you to direct your Solicitor General to withdraw the amicus brief presented last week to the high court, and consider instead arguments which support AGUILAR v. FELTON. Thanks you for your consideration on this matter. Respectfully, (signed) Ellen Johnson, AMERICAN ATHEISTS ** Johnson also called upon Atheists, state-church separation advocates and civil libertarians to flood the White House with letters urging the administration to withdraw its brief for a rehearing of Aguilar. Those wishing to express an opinion in this important First Amendment matter may: * Contact the White House Comment Office hotline at 202-456-1111. This automated line is active from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Eastern... * Send a fax to the White House at 202-456-2461... * Send regular mail to the President at the White House, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, D.C. 20500... ** ANOTHER ROUND IN OREGON ~ CHRISTIAN COALITION URGES OFFICIALS TO KEEP CROSS, RESIST FIRST AMENDMENT RULING There is another development in the Saga of the Skinner's Butte Cross. This 51-foot steel and concrete religious edifice has been at the center of controversy and litigation for years. Briefly... * The City of Eugene Oregon maintains a public park at a location known as Skinner's Butte. Beginning in the late 1930's private individuals began to erect a succession of wooden crosses in the park; but in 1964, private individual then paid for the construction of a fifty-one foot Latin cross with neon inset tubing. Although they did not seek City approval in that project, Eugene subsequently granted a building permit for the project. * Since 1970, the City has illuminated the Skinner's Butte cross for seven days of the Christmas season, five days during Thanksgiving, and on Memorial Day, Independence Day and Veteran's Day. * Litigation over the cross began in 1969, when the Oregon State Supreme Court declared that the structure violated both the federal and state constitutions in respect to state-church separation. Rather than remove the cross, though, the City held a charter amendment election in 1970 where voters approved a designation of the Skinner's Butte cross as a "war memorial." The cross was deeded to the city, and a bronze plaque was placed at the foot of the cross proclaiming it a monument to war veterans. As a result of this stratagem, the Oregon Supreme Court then set aside its earlier decision on the basis of "changed circumstances." * In August of last year, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in another case that the Skinner's Butte cross was clearly a religious symbol, and "clearly represents governmental endorsement of Christianity." In addition, "the City of Eugene may reasonably be perceived as providing official approval of one religious faith over others." * Following the Ninth Circuit decision, City officials wisely decided to cut their losses and not appeal. The case had already cost taxpayers $23,000 to defend, and the city was also ordered to pay the legal bill of plaintiffs. In September, the City Council decided not to contest the cross decision, noting that an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court might not succeed, and could end up costing another $120,000 in legal fees. * But not content to give up, the local American Legion Post entered the fray, insisting that the cross was "a war monument," and threatened to revive the case. The Legion attorneys, however, missed a filing deadline by a mere 12 minutes. * Finally, after three decades of litigation, it appears that the Skinner's Butte cross must come down. Local religious groups have explored ruses whereby they would form a private organization and have the city essentially deed or sell them the religious monument; but one thinks of the warning of Justice Brennan that one cannot do by indirect means what one is prohibited from doing by direct action. * Now, there is yet another development in the story. The December issue of "Religious Rights Watch," a publication of the Christian Coalition which is mailed to nearly 250,000 subscribers, is urging members to contact city officials to keep the Skinner's Butte cross and fight the Ninth Circuit decision. According to yesterday's Eugene Register-Guard, "About 175 people from around the nation followed through, calling Eugene officials and sending letters, faxes and electronic-mail messages in support of the cross." The Skinner's Butte monument was listed in the "Religious Rights Watch" as one of the "action points" imploring readers to contact officials. The paper notes that "Eugene residents were a distinct minority among those who contacted the city during the past six weeks." * On January 29, U.S. District Judge Michael Hogan will be meeting with city officials and citizens concerned about the issue to hear final remarks and hopefully issue a schedule for the relocation or trashing of the cross. Outgoing Eugene Mayor Ruth Bascom has formed a seven-member panel trying to find a "suitable site" for the cross. There is also a man named John Alltucker who is very much a part of this story. Alltucker owns a sand and gravel firm and has offered to help move the 19,000 pound cross; ironically, he was one of the individuals who helped erect the Skinner's Butte cross back in 1964. According to the Register-Guard, one local Eugene attorney contacted City Hall with the suggestion that the city grind up the Skinner's Butte cross and dump the remains at the home of Mr. Alltucker. Meanwhile, the new Mayor, Jim Torrey, says that he supports the effort of the relocation panel, but opposes relocation of the cross until the American Legion Post or other veteran's groups have "exhausted all legal options." Even if the cross supporters exhaust all legal venues, there is still the possibility that taxpayers will end up footing the bill of "relocation." ** THEISTWATCH SHORT SHOTS To commemorate its tenth anniversary, The Skeptic magazine has released a special edition with a survey of the "top paranormal phenomena" reported over the past decade. Researchers found that the most significant growth was in the area of belief in angels, where in the U.S. polls show that 70% believe in the existence of these ethereal agents, and nearly half are convinced that they have their own personal guardian angels. One out of three believe they have "experienced the presence of an angel," according to Britain's Electronic Telegraph. The British magazine also says that the most undesirable important from America is this nation's credulous belief in alien abduction. Did those advanced creatures REALLY cross the void of interstellar space to satisfy their sex cravings for humans? Interesting Skeptic criticized Britain's National Lottery as the government program which has done the most to undermine the public's understanding of statistics. An editor noted: "People have a false idea of what they can do to change their luck, such as monitoring numbers that came up in the past. That cannot in any statistical sense give you any better chance of winning." ** Regrettably, Steve Fossett's bid to navigate his hot air balloon around the globe failed yesterday when his "Solo Spirit" -- a name chosen to commemorate Charles Lindbergh's "Spirit of St. Louis" -- landed in the Indian village of Naonjhar, some 320 miles south-east of New Delhi. While India is enjoying an explosion of economic growth fueled by high-tech industries, the "third wave" transforming much of the nation's urban landscape isn't making in into a good portion of the countryside. Naonjhar has no running water or electricity, and religious superstition remains firmly rooted in the popular consciousness. In fact, when Fossett's balloon touched down, villagers led by a local religious guru rushed the vehicle thinking it was a "fire temple" descending from the sky. Hindu mythology is repleat with tales of gods coming down from "heaven" (sound familiar?). One such deity, the monkey god known as Hanuman is said to streak across the sky and leave a trail of blazing fire. All told, nearly 2,000 of the faithful and curious surrounded the balloon; fortunately, Mr. Fossett was unhurt in the landing, and the radios, cameras and other equipment he used during his six-day flight were recovered. ** For over a decade, a mini-revolution against theocracy in Spain has sent rumblings through that former bastion of Roman Catholicism, once one of the centers of authoritarian political rule and Inquisitional terror. The tables are turning, though; in fact, it's gotten so bad for some of the country's religious orders that they are appealing to the Pope for help. At a Carthusian monastery in northern Spain near Zaragoza, one of the country's great artistic treasures is preserved, a mural painted by the master Goya in 1772 which depicts the Virgin Mary. Due to the rules of the order, though, only men are permitted onto the grounds of the monastery -- and as a result, only men have gazed at the incredible mural, the largest in Spain. That may change. According to the London Times, women's groups are now demanding that women be permitted to see the painting, on the grounds that it has been restored recently with the use of public funds. It is an important lesson for all sides in the consequences of state-church entanglement. ** This sounds like the old argument -- "I got pregnant from the toilet seat." Sure. According to Britain's "The Globe and Mail," over 300 British women have actually taken out one-million-pound sterling insurances policies against having a virgin birth by an act of god. The women reportedly expect the Second Coming of Christ in the year 2,000, and fear (or hope!) that they may be impregnated in a modern-day form of immaculate conception. Those of you chuckling over this absurd attitude should know that according to legend, believed by millions around the world, some gal insists that she did indeed become pregnant sans the act of carnal intercourse, and bore a god-man -- and, incredibly, remained a virgin. The difference between religious mystery and contemporary delusion may be a matter of time, and the number of followers who are sufficiently credulous to believe the tale. ** Much needed social change is finally coming to predominantly Roman Catholic Ireland. Last Friday, that nation's High Court granted the first divorce in modern Irish history, a little over a year after voters approved a change in the constitution. That election may have signalled a major defeat for the Vatican. Catholic officials opposed any change in the divorce laws, but stopped short of their usual tactic of insisting that Catholics who voted for change were committing a "sin." The reform measure passed by a margin of 50.3% to 49.7%. Unfortunately, even with reform there are an estimated 80,000 marriages where one or both couples crave a divorce; these people must still suffer with bureaucratic delays, and according to press reports many will not have their cases processed for several months. ** For Your Information... If you would like to become an American Atheists members, just send e-mail to and include your name and postal mailing address. American Atheist Press offers hundreds of books, pamphlets, bumper stickers, tee shirts and other products. To receive our latest catalogue, just send mail to; be sure to include your name and mailing address. ** ABOUT THIS LIST... 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