Date: Sat, 13 Apr 1996 12:25:24 -0700 Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for April 13, 1996 nn nn A

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Date: Sat, 13 Apr 1996 12:25:24 -0700 from: AMERICAN.ATHEISTS@listserv.direct.net Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for April 13, 1996 Reply-To: aanews@listserv.atheists.org, AMERICAN.ATHEISTS@listserv.direct.net nnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn nnnnnnnnnn AANEWS nnnnnnnnnnnn #11 4/13/96 PUSH FOR SCHOOL PRAYER AT GRADUATION CEREMONIES EXPECTED With the end of the school year just a few more weeks away, there are indications that once again the issue of prayer at graduation ceremonies will be hotly debated. We can expect major confrontations at school board meetings, protests and even legal challenges as select students -- often encouraged by churches and religious groups -- attempt to promote "student initiated" prayer during graduation events. AANEWS had detected considerable activity from fundamentalist political groups like the Christian Coalition over this issue. The new edition of its publication, "Christian American" will focus on student led graduation prayer, and include an article by Jay Sekulow of the American Center For Law and Justice, ACLJ. That organization was founded in 1991 by televangelist Pat Robertson; based in Virginia Beach, Va., it has branch offices throughout the country with a full-time staff of 15 attorney and some 500 affiliated lawyers. The ACLJ has been active not only in the legal battle for school prayer, but has also come to the aid of anti-abortion protestors including Randall Terry of the infamous "Operation Rescue." It has over 400,000 contributors, and a yearly budget of $8 million. "Student Initiated" prayer is the latest strategy in a long-term effort by religious organizations to "put God back into the public schools." In 1963, legal cases like Murray vs. Curlett ended the practice of mandatory prayer and bible recitation in public schools. While many state and school districts did not have such compulsory prayer policies, those which did -- such as the Baltimore Public Schools -- were enjoined from the practice. The Supreme Court ruled that school prayer constituted an "establishment" of religion in clear violation of the First Amendment. Pro-prayer groups responded to this decision in two ways. Some insisted that only an amendment to the U.S. Constitution could guarantee such a practice. Despite over 35 years on behalf of such an effort, though, the requirement of winning support in 2/3 of the Federal legislature, plus two-thirds of the individuals states, has proved to be a formidable obstacle. Other groups have employed a different strategy, but again with mixed results. Federal and State courts have generally struck down attempts to "sneak prayer in through the back door," such as having prayer read over school loudspeakers during breaks, or permitting a "moment of silence." In the 1992 Lee vs. Weisman case, the court ruled that prayers at public school graduation ceremonies constituted an "establishment of religion." That and other legal rulings often cited the official nature of the prayer, especially when it was initiated or led by a teacher, school administrator, or other person in authority. Critics of school prayer muster a number of arguments against the practice. They point out that it is fundamentally wrong to compel students to pray, especially since the nature of the prayer may not be in accord with the beliefs of "minority-religion" students. Some challenges to school prayer, in fact, have come from religious students and their parents who objected to the sectarian nature of the prayer. Others point out (as plaintiffs did in Murray vs. Curlett) that Atheist students and parents would find ALL prayers to be unacceptable, and a clear endorsement of religion. Atheists insist that prayer or religious ritual of any kind simply does not belong in public schools or official gatherings of any kind, and that it insults the millions of Americans who profess no religious belief. Unlike other cases of the time such as Abington Township vs. Schemp, the case of Murray vs. Curlett was specifically brought by Atheists, and included a declaration of what Atheism was. Can There Be "Voluntary Prayer"? Critics of school prayer also say that there is no such thing as "voluntary prayer." Students who do not participate in prayer or other religious events in schools are often ostracized, humiliated, harassed and even physically assaulted for not "going along" with the rest of their fellow students. Courts have noted the divisive nature of such policies. And teachers, even administrators, have been known to discriminate against students who refused to pray. The perception that religious students ARE PROHIBITED FROM PRAYING has been assiduously cultivated by certain organizations for a number of years. Jay Sekulow of the ACLJ, in talks and written commentary, often cites situations where it appears that students -- even those praying during lunch-time, or who wear religious garb -- are supposedly persecuted by teachers and others because of their beliefs. These cases are then cited as further proof that American society in general has become hostile toward "people of faith", and that legislative remedy is required. But a closer look at these few cases suggests that school prayer advocates aren't telling the full story. Reports of such "persecution" often turn out to be misleading and inaccurate, with no basis in fact. Even so, last August the Clinton administration ordered the Department of Education to send out legal guidelines to the nation's 16,000 school districts delineating the do's and don'ts of religious practice. Both sides on the school prayer issue saw it as a bit of a compromise. The guidelines clearly stated that school officials could neither mandate nor organize prayers during events like graduation ceremonies, or have official prayer as part of the regular business of the school day. But the document did stress that individual religious students had the right to prayer and religious ritual on their own time, during class breaks, lunch and other periods throughout the day. Likewise, they were permitted to read and cary Bibles or other religious books, and even wear clothing such as yarmulkes and scarves which constituted religious dress. The guidelines also admonished teachers and school administrators to maintain "official neutrality regarding religious activity." Crucial to the guidelines (and many court decisions) has been the notion of students being a "captive audience." When students were "on their own time" during activities such as lunch, or walking to and from classes, prayer would be permissible. But during situations where students were compelled to be in attendance (thus constituting a "captive audience"), "Teachers and school administrators should ensure that no student is in any way coerced to participate in religious activity." The effort for "student initiated" prayer, though, is seen as a disingenuous attempt to circumvent the official role of teachers and administrators, and create the impression that the prayer is a "free speech" issue and that all students are clammouring for it to be practiced. This is not the case; while the official aspect of "student initiated" prayer is minimized, there is still the fact that the students as a whole are a "captive audience." Critics ask: What about the non-religious students? Even if another student is "initiating" prayer, does that make it right? A Wider Agenda Behind the obfuscation of the "student initiated" prayer at graduation and other events, though, lurk bigger issues. Two versions of a "Religious Equality Amendment" introduced by Representatives Istook and Hyde are in Congress and would legalize a wide range of prayer and other religious activities in public schools. Atheists, state-church separationists, and even some religious groups are fighting the proposed amendments. On the other side is a coalition of mostly fundamentalist, conservative organizations including Christian Coalition, Concerned Women for America, American Family Association and Focus on the Family. Some of these groups have split on the question of WHICH amendment to support. The Hyde version includes a provision for the government to give tax aid to religious schools; but that legislation has been attacked by some as being "ambiguous and meaningless." Hard-liners seem to be throwing their support behind Istook's version, H.J. Res. 127. Either "Religious Equality" Amendments would substantially erode restrictions on just how far government may go in promoting or fostering religion and religious belief. Combined with legal challenges in the court system, they are attacks on how widely the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment is to be interpreted. For instance, in decisions like Lee vs. Weisman, the court affirmed its support of the so-called "Lemon Test" which arose in a previous case. It declared that government may not engage in any activity which has the primary purpose of fostering religion, may not act so as to give preference of one religion over another, nor take any action which results in "excessive entanglement" between government and religion. Religious conservatives consider the Lemon (or "three-pronged" test) to be a major obstacle not only to school prayer, but to a wider use of religious belief in the school curriculum as well. ***************** LET 'EM PRAY... BUT DOES IT REALLY DO ANY GOOD? Many critics of school prayer -- especially those associated with groups which support a kind of state-church separation, but for RELIGIOUS reasons -- often emphasize the fact that students can pray on their own time. In what purports to be a sophisticated, technologically advance culture, though, we might instead ask why anyone would want to. Who Are They Praying To? Prayer ritual is a component in all leading religions; it is a way of appeasing or imploring a deity (or deities). But the fact remains that religious believers pray to different gods -- a fact which Bertrand Russell once used in backing his assertion that people are inevitably "99% Atheists." After all, even the most devout Muslim, Christian or Hindu dis-believes in most of the gods which have been worshippped throughout history. That Muslim, Christian or Hindu believes in his or her "own god", not the "other god(s)" worshipped elsewhere. Does "God" Need To Be Reminded? Presumably, an all-knowing deity would already know what the requirements were of his or her various followers. They should not have to pray in order to make needs or desires known. Does god require positive reinforcement? God(s) as "Perk" Giver If a student prays for a good grade, does that student expect "god" to suddenly implant knowledge which will give the correct answers on a test? If athletic teams pray, what exactly are they asking for -- more points? What is BOTH sides in a contest, even a war, are praying? Gets a bit confusing, doesn't it? Is Prayer Delusional? Is there any really good evidence that the god or gods being prayed to exist? If it or they exists, is this entity paying attention? A good deal of prayer involves selective bias. For instance, when prayers are "answered", that is cited as proof that "god is hearing our prayers." When the opposite occurs, though, no one (except for Atheists) points out that god must be loafing on the job. Indeed, the failure of prayer is then confabulated to be evidence that "God is working in ways we do not understand." Tragedy, disaster, misfortune, accidents -- the sorts of things believers often pray about -- are cited as evidence of a "greater plan" which we just do not comprehend. But maybe there is no plan at all. But Doesn't Prayer Help Us? Prayer-boosters now like to claim that this practice is beneficial in helping people recover from physical or emotional problems. Some even insist that when prayer or some other religious or mystical ritual is used in hospitals, patients seem to benefit. Unfortunately, the verdict on this question is far from in. It may be that it is the RITUAL OF PRAYER that has some role in affecting the body's biochemical response to damage; in that case, a prayer to the Easter Bunny would be as efficacious as a prayer to Jesus, depending on the mental condition of the believer. For that matter, there may be more direct ways in affecting any hypothetical "mind-body" (really a "brain-body") link, such as certain types of mental exercises. We just do not know conclusively at this time. There is evidence, though, that some "spiritual", new-age based medical programs simply do NOT work. Critics challenge that faddist regimens like Therapeutic Touch do not live up to their claims. Any evaluation of prayer as a healing methodology would have to be done in controlled experiments with rigorous protocol. And while "prayer" may seem to work in certain cases, that does not mean that a deity or deities happened to be involved. "But Prayer Makes Me Feel Good!" So can jogging, eating certain types of food, ingesting specific drugs or any other number of activities including sex. The "good fealing" may well be a change in brain chemistry. Snake-handling fundamentalists "feel good" while playing with venemous reptiles; Pentacostals hyper-ventillate during their frenetic singing and dancing. So what? Religions throughout the world have long been linked to the practice of estatic rituals creating a change in the consciousness of the participants. Some use prayer, other use drugs, or a combination of these elements. ********************** THEISTWATCH SHORT-SHOTS Under the microscope -- GOP front runner Bob Dole. Word is that groups like the Christian Coalition have already warned Dole that if he wants their support, he must choose an explicitly anti-abortion running mate in his contest with Bill Clinton. NOT acceptable VP choices would be Colin Powell or N.J. Governor Christine Whitman. In a recent address in Florida, CC Director Ralph Reed insisted that there exist "two stark moral choice," meaning the religious way and... well, you can imagine the alternative. Reed also said that the religious way demands someone in the White House who will legalize school prayer. ********* Ironically, there's another example of what happens when you let the government "Establish" religions, and it can be found in the People's Republic of China. This writer for one has always been skeptical of communist regimes which label themselves, or are labeled by western observers, as "atheistic." Often, these authoritarian States replace the cult Jesus or some other deity with a "cult of personality" revolving around charismatic leaders, bureaucrats to uncritical reference for a "Party." (A fellow named Vladimir Lenin even warned against this "god building.") In fact, the word "charisma" defines both a "special quality of leadership" and "in Christian theology, a divinely inspired gift." These "official Atheistic" States haven't been a very good bulkwark against religious foolishness, either. As quickly as the Soviet Union decomposed, people in large numbers began turning back to religious orthodoxy or started indulging in an orgy of new age-style superstition. The religious market in Russia is so prolific, in fact, that the Russian Orthodox Church finds itself in a turf-war for new believers, battling challenges from Catholics, Protestants and other sects. It seems that "Official Atheism" really served to glorify the Party, which wanted no competitition from churches, instead of innoculating the populace against superstitition and mysticism. In China, one of the last bastions of state communist orthodoxy, the "atheist" government is desperately trying to check insurgent Christian movements, and the challenges of regional mystical "war lords." Sounds like the earlier civil war, doesn't it? There, the government sanctions "official" churches and religious movements, including the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association. Formal ties with the Vatican were severed in the early 1950's. But now, there is evidence of secret diplomatic exchanges between Rome and Peking; there are critical differences over a number of issues (including the appointment of bishops and the status of Taiwan), but the Chinese government has apparently cracked down on "unofficial" Catholic groups, a move thought to be useful as a bargaining chip. Estimates of the number of Catholics in China range from 15 million to 60 millions; there is evidence that an "independent" Catholic movement could become the nucleus for a wider popular movement, one which could possibly challenge the Chinese government itself. The Vatican has some potentially chips of its own. Opposition to state-mandated population limits resonates with Catholic ideology, and so does the desire for church members to take direction from the Pope rather than the Politburo. Despite the tension, Catholicism seems to be thriving. Easter services in Bejing went off as planned in that city's 14 Roman Catholic Churches. The Vatican may be looking far down the road at its options -- collaboration with the government, or a Polish-Solidarity style revolution. Either way, it will be interesting to see what special status the Church might enjoy once the dust settles. **************** Speaking of Easter, remember those sado-masochistic crucifictions in the Philippines which take place every year when this religious festival rolls around? While that nation is regarded as a hot-bed of Catholicism (with a bit of evangelical Protestantism thrown in), older religious groups still thrive. Easter is also when practioners of "black magic" and nature cults celebrate their own religious prowess, particularly on the central Philippine island of Siquijor which enjoys a reputation as a center for magical shamanism and witchcraft. On Good Friday, for instance, believers bring together their herbs and other ingredients with small portions of earth taken from cemeries. A brew is concoted and in various forms sold as everything from a healing to a love potion. According to Reuters news service, there are reports that among the clients for such magical concotions are Imelda Marcos (she of the thousands-of-pairs-of shoes-fame) and at least one cabinet minister in the government. And why not? Sounds more exciting that a dreary mass? ***************** The precarious situation is Bosnia is being made worse by the presence of Iranian agents and secret military training camps, with ties to the Bosnian government. Two weeks ago, a NATO raid on a ski chalet near Dusnia uncovered a huge cache of weapons, explosives, and booby-trapped devices disguised as children's toys. Now, there is evidence that Iranian Revolutionary Guards and intelligence agents are blending into the Bosnian army disguised as civilians. Others lurk in a new secret-police and intelligence unit euphemistically called the Agency for Investigation and Documentation, which is responsible to Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic. Still, many Bosnians and people identified as "muslims" are demanding that the new government maintain a multi-ethnic, open and democratic society -- an objective definitely at odds with the government in Tehran. ***************** With all of the religious talk about "family values" and the need to deep-six encumbrances like the Bill of Rights in order to "protect children," it's good to see that real, true-blue American families are fighting back. Case in point -- 150 families have now formed a group known as FAIC (Families Against Internet Censorship), and joined with others in opposing the so-called Communications Decency Act. FAIC members declare, "We oppose censorship because we want the Internet to remain the priceless educational resource it has become, instead of being turned, by the political power of less responsible parents, into yet another mindless electonic baby-sitter just like radio and television." Other FAIC activists that that "It is ironic that as all the politicians are calling for less government...they go and legislate the big eye on our computers." Opposition to this Act is spreading; groups ranging from the American Library Association to CompuServe and Apple have joined the lawsuit to prevent its implementation. Alas, this Communications Decency Act was signed by Bill Clinton, who feels the need to pander to some of the excesses of the religious right, and even those big-bro' types at the other end of the political spectrum. Jump in and join the fight! A good way to begin is to point your browser to htto://www.hotwired.com for the latest on this important issue. ******************* Speaking of Bill Clinton, while we admire his guts for vetoing the "Partial Abirth Abortion Ban", the prez is working over-time to establish himself as a paragon of religious virtue. The Oklahoma City bombing gave him the opportunity to mention god and prayer more than we'd like to hear; and now we learn that the biggest chunk of the Clinton's deductions on this year's tax return comes from contributions to religious charities and churches (we're working on getting a list). Hardly a public occasion is permitted to pass without a "god bless you" coming from Clinton's lips, or some little homile about the virtues of religiosity. Apparently, Clinton feels the need to do his utmost and shore up his image as a respectable family man. He may be ahead of some of the GOP competition on this count. The Nation reports, for example, that one of those mentioned as a possible Dole running mate, Ohio Congressman John Kasich has the spectre of a recent divorce hanging over him. For that matter, Bill Dole and Phil Gramm were both down that road, along with approximately 40 percent of the American electorate. And don't forget Newt Gingrich and California governor Pete Wilson. Says The Nation: "It seems the only prominent leader still married to his first wife is Bill Clinton." ************** Finally, a correspondent sent us some e-mail with the dubious title "Actual Announcements Taken From Church Bulletins." Misspellings and other goofs are included: 1) Don't let worry kill you -- let the church help. 2) Thursday night - Potluck supper. Prayer and medication to follow. 3) Remember in prayer the many who are sick of our church and community. 4) For those of you who have children and don't know it, we have a nursery downstairs. 5) The rosebud on the alter (sp) this morning is to announce the birth of David Alan Belzer, the sin of Rev. and Mrs. Julius Belzer. 6) This afternoon there will be a meeting in the South and North ends of the church. Children will be baptized at both ends. 7) Tuesday at 4:00 p.m. there will be an ice cream social. All ladies giving milk will please come early. 8) Wednesday, the ladies (sp) Liturgy Society will meet. Mrs. Jones will sing, "Put me in My Little Bed" accompanied by the pastor. 9) Thursday at 5:00 p.m. there will be a meeting of the Little Mothers Club. All wishing to become little mothers, please see the minister in his study. 10) This being Easter Sunday, we will ask Mrs. Lewis to come forward and lay an egg on the alter (sic). Well, there's more. But you'll have to wait...too much of a good thing. ************** Note from The LISTMASTER; If you are a member of American Atheists, you may wish to participate in our internal discussion list, aachat. This list is a forum to cover topics such as American Atheist activities, Atheism, problems of living as a non-believer in society and other related subjects. To participate, send mail to: aachat@atheists.org and be sure to include your name, mailing address and zip code. You will be contacted by the moderator. ***** AANEWS is distributed by 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 more information on American Atheists, send e-mail to: info@atheists.org . Include your name, mailing address and zip code. Additional background on this list may be obtaining by mailing to: aanews-request@listserv.atheists.org ,and putting "info aanews" in the body. You may forward this dispatch; material may be quoted or reproduced, provided that credit is given to American Atheists and aanews. Edited and written by Conrad Goeringer, the LISTMASTER. ******************

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