Date: Sat, 13 Apr 1996 12:25:24 -0700 Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for April 13, 1996 nn nn A
Date: Sat, 13 Apr 1996 12:25:24 -0700
Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for April 13, 1996
Reply-To: email@example.com, AMERICAN.ATHEISTS@listserv.direct.net
nnnnnnnnnn AANEWS nnnnnnnnnnnn
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
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,
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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Edited and written by Conrad Goeringer, the LISTMASTER.
E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank