Date: Wed, 17 Apr 1996 12:25:24 -0700 Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for April 17, 1996 n nn AA

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Date: Wed, 17 Apr 1996 12:25:24 -0700 Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for April 17, 1996 From: AMERICAN.ATHEISTS@listserv.direct.net Reply-To: aanews@listserv.atheists.org, AMERICAN.ATHEISTS@listserv.direct.net nnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn nnnnnnnnnn AANEWS nnnnnnnnnn #15 uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu 4/17/96 "PARENTAL RIGHTS'' BATTLE SPREADS; AN AGENDA FOR RELIGIOUS CONTROL OF CHILDREN? Another part of the "culture war" is heating up, as so-called "Parental Rights" legislation pops up in legislatures throughout the country. It's all part of a national effort to enact a Federal constitutional amendment which declares: "The right of parents to direct the upbringing and education of their children shall not be infringed." Parental rights advocates insist they are limiting the power of government, and keeping big brother out of family affairs. But critics charge that this is obfuscation; they insist that parental rights is simply a way for religious groups to ensure that children are not exposed to "sinful" or contrarian teachings in public schools, especially concerning issues like evolution, sex education, cultural diversity and other bogeymen of the religious right. Others charge that parental rights would permit fundamentalist parents to abuse children through corporal punishment (beatings) and other "bible-based" disciplinary procedures. Some child advocates point to the fact that certain religious sects have a history of brutal child abuse. The "Parental Rights Amendment" is also being dubbed the "Beat 'Em Up Law": parents could justify physical punishment of children on religious grounds. Is the idea far- fetched? Not necessarilly. Courts have been grappling with the issue of religious parents who withold medical care from children for religious reasons, especially if they are members of groups like Christian Science. But parental rights legislation also highlights a wider debate taking place concerning public schools. Religious conservatives object to numerous "hot button" topics being discussed in schools, including homosexuality, abortion, or secular treatments of death, marriage, ethics and tolerance. The Colorado Fight Last week, the Colorado House approved two bills concerning children's and parent's rights. Ironically, the parental rights movement seems to coincide with a trend of "get tough" measures dealing with juveniles. One proposal, House Bill 1037, approved the declaration that "the rights of parents to direct the upbringing, education, discipline and values of their children shall not be infringed upon by government." The other, HB 1006 also drew enthusiastic support, and was dubbed "the juvenile-justice bill." It lowered the minimum age for imprisonment from 14 to 12 for serious offenses, and dropped the minimum age for juvenile detention from 12 to 10. It also raised concern among civil libertarians by eliminating jury trials for juveniles accused of lesser felony offenses. HB 1037 is considered a major victory for religious conservatives; it makes it easier to permit religious parents to educate their children at home on a curriculum which may not meet state guidelines concerning subjects like science and social values. It also puts a stamp of approval on curriculums for religious and "charter" schools, making it easier for them to circumvent state Department of Education requirements. Critics warn that home schooling, religious schools and other religious right goals masquerading as "Parental Rights" are simply a way to have children insulated from uncomfortable or controversial topics covered in public schools which parents disapprove of. In lieu of outlawing the teaching of evolution, for instance, or instituting pseudo-scientific "creationist" doctrines in public schools, some religious groups instead are opting for their own private educational facilities. Critics point out that this exercise has less to do with "parental rights" than with short-changing children, and allowing them to be indoctrinated in a religious environment. Who's Behind "Parental Rights"? Among those backing Parental Rights legislation are the Christian Coalition and the Rutherford Institute. Founded in 1982 by John Whitehead, a Rutherford Statement posted on the group's web site declares "We are living in an age of religious apartheid -- religion has been systematically removed from American public life, and we no longer enjoy true religious freedom..." Rutherford is just one of several conservative religious groups including Pat Robertson's American Center for Law and Justice dealing with the issue of "religious rights." Such organizations insist that American government and institutions have become hostile towards "people of faith" Among Rutherford Institute's current court battles has been an case to overturn a Clark County, Washington decision which shut down a Baptist Church for alleged zoning violations. Still another involves religious students who object to participating in a mandatory subsidized health insurance program through the University of California, which happens to cover abortion services. Earlier this month, a Rutherford Regional Coordinator, Brad Dacus, testified before a California Judiciary Committee on behalf of the Parent's Rights Amendment (ACA 30). Many Rutherford cases involve situations in schools where religious parents clearly object to the inclusion of AIDS awareness, sex education, or discussions concerning homosexuality and diversity. The "parental right" to control the education of children, then, becomes part of a larger phenomenon -- the collision between religious teachings and the need for children to become aware of situations in the real world. ***************** "GOD ALLOWS U-TURNS; BUT SHOULD COPS? When Atheist Kevin Green of Tulsa, Oklahoma spotted a religious bumper sticker on the back of a police department patrol car, he did what any good state-church separation activist would do -- he complained! His letter to the Chief of Police and Mayor of that city tells the whole story... 02 April 1996 Chief of Police Palmer Dear Chief Palmer, On Friday 3-22-96 at 5:12PM, while driving home from work, I happened to pull in behind a Tulsa Police Dept. cruiser (license plate 3-33032). While stopped, I noticed that this cruiser had a black bumper sticker with white lettering that read: "If you're heading in the wrong direction, God allows U-turns!" The sticker also had a small fish symbol. I am deeply concerned, for several reasons, that such a bumper sticker would be allowed on an official government vehicle. After discussing this with several people, I decided that I should alert you to this situation and ask that you address it. This sticker should be removed from the cruiser, for the following reasons: Constitutionality The bumper sticker appears to give an endorsement of a particular set of religious values by a secular organization charged with upholding the law. This would clearly violate the doctrine of church-state separation. T.P.D. policy violation I cannot help wondering if application of personal bumper stickers and such is a violation of Tulsa Police Department policy on appropriate use for a public vehicle. Moreover, if statement decals are allowed, at what point is it restricted. Are hate decals from neo-nazi sympathizers allowed? Are rude or vulgar decals allowed? I sincerely doubt it. Just as police cruisers depicted in the pin-up calendar a few years ago, they all give the incorrect impression, diminishing the authority of the police, and deface public property. Offensive We live in a society of very diverse backgrounds and cultures. Many people in our community do not share the "Christian" belief expressed on the decal in question, and may find it offensive. I can only wonder how a Buddhist or Catholic citizen who needed police assistance would feel in the presence of a police officer who blatantly expressed his own philosophy. Of course, as a private citizen, the officer may put any bumper sticker he wants on his own vehicle. In his official capacity, more restraint is necessary. It is inappropriate for any public vehicle to display anything other than official emblems and colors. Therefore, as I stated above, I would like to request the removal of the bumper sticker in question. I also would like to request an official response from your office confirming its removal. Thank you for taking the time to review this issue, Respectfully, (signed) Kevin S. Green cc: Susan Savage, Mayor, City of Tulsa Kevin's effort on behalf of the First Amendment paid off. On April 9, he received the following reply: Dear Mr. Green: I am in receipt of your correspondence dated April 2, 1996. On April 4, 1996, the Operations Bureau Deputy Chief contacted the Commander of Uniform Division Southwest to have this particular sticker removed from the police vehicle. The sticker has been removed. Sincerely, (real signature!) Ronald Palmer Chief of Police *********** (Thanks, and a tip 'o the aanews hat to Kevin for making sure that religious sloganeering isn't official policy in Tulsa!) **** THEISTWATCH SHORT-SHOTS According to Church & State, a Wisconsin state law designating "Good Friday" as an official holiday "for the purpose of worship", and closing all government offices, is unconstitutional according to a Federal court. As in so many other First Amendment cases, government attorneys argued that while Good Friday WAS religious, it really WASN'T -- it had been "secularized." That's what they say about "religious" displays at Christmas time, crosses in public squares, and other "religious" events. We're just waiting for some government lawyer to put in plain words, "this ain't what it is!" ************** We ocassionally discuss the Reconstructionist movement on aanews; that's the extreme Christian group that wants to "reconstruct" all of society along strict, Old Testament biblical lines -- eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth, death to whores, adultuerers, those who disobey their parents. A recent article in the Reconstructionist magazine "Chalcedon Report" had the title: "Should Christians Support A Woman For The Office Of Civil Magistrate?" The answer was pretty obvious. "Only men have been called of God to exercise rule in the civil sphere," insists the author. "To assert that it is permissible for a woman to hold civil office and that Christians have the liberty to support a woman for the position of civil magistrate means that one has to deny the biblical teaching on the headship of man..." That seems to confirm, again, my own perception that most religion is a "guy thing." Look at those those beard-sporting Muslims dudes waving copies of the Koran in the air and parading around the streets of Tehran? Or the "rah! rah!" atmosphere of the Promise Keeper's rallies, in that most traditional of all male venues, the athletic stadium! Or all this stuff in the Million Man March or other excrescences of religious belief, where guys have "authority" as "head of the household." If I were a woman, I'd be quick to note how good a job males have done as "heads of households" and "heads of states" for the past twenty centuries or so. Wars, pollution, over-population, violence, superstition. And women say that even after decades of agitation for "Women's Rights", they STILL can't get us to wash the dishes, or even lift the toilet seats. No wonder. Ladies, you'll just have to face facts. Most men will come up with ANY excuse, even citing "god's law", to keep the "guy thing" going. If any of you happened to married to some man spouting off about "god's law" or "the responsibilities of Men as Fathers and Heads of Household," just count the number of times HE does the dishes. *************** How constipated can our society get over things having to do with nudity, erotica and other natural bodilly states? We argue over whether thong-bikinis at the beach are too risque (when perhaps something should be done about all of the guys swaggering around with the beer belly guts hanging out, but...) Is there too much flesh in a movie shot? In a Philadelphia gallery showing last month, artist Jack Thompson was surprised to discover that some of his sculptures were missing. That's because several of Jack's ceramic pieces depicted various Egyptian and South American figures in the tradition of Priapus. Check your mythology; Priapus is the Greek-Roman symbol of potency and generation, the son of Dionysus and Aphrodite; he is usually depicted as having an enormous penis. Gallery owners had, at the last minute, decided to remove the offending pieces. Local art afficianados tried hard to dismiss the idea that Philly was "too conservative" for such artistry, and noted that the Mapplethorpe exhibit came off without any problems. Perhaps. But we can only observe that hundreds and even thousands of years ago, the public portrayal of deities with pronounced genitalia -- both male and female -- suggested a somewhat more enlightened view of sexuality than what we have today. And for this "de-evolution" in human consciousness, we must surely thank the Judeo-Christian tradition. **** It's hard to stay current with all of the repressive and theocratic acts being carried out in Utah, but here goes our latest attempt. The State Senate there has approved a measure aimed mostly at teachers which prevents them from "promoting homosexual acts and other illegal conduct," according to the Salt Lake Tribune. See, homosexuality is technically still "illegal" in Utah, so a teacher who might suggest the preposterous, anti-Mormon notion that gays have rights, could be threatened with a charge equal to,say, suggesting that he told students to rob the local convenience store. There have also been squabbles over whether clubs for gay high schools students should be permitted. At one point, ALL clubs were disbanded -- students marched and picketed over this clear infringement of civil liberties. One of the movers-and-shakers in the battle to keep Utah minds clean and pure is State Senator Craig Taylor. A Mormon and graduate of BYU, Taylor is one of the most zealous lawmakers in that stronghold of Latter-Day Saints conservatism, pushing as many as 30 separate pieces of legislation at any time. Many of his bills have to do with sex and bodilly fluids -- he abhors "sodomy" and according to the Associated Press considers homosexuality to be a sickness and an abomination; he also thinks that gay people can change their sexual orientation. Senator Tailor also worries about companies which provide adult "talk" lines, and would "pass the buck" on the personal responsibility issue by permitting families of drug addicts and others "hurt by the trade" to sue drug dealers. That's the deepest-pocket principle at work. He also supports proposals made by a group called Citizens for Positive Community Values which would restrict public nudity and nude dancing." But why all the worry? Read on... ******** It seems that with all of the self-righteous yapping about public morality, Utah has plenty of customers for things like nude dancing, sex toys and other things of interest to vice cops and bluenose community busy-body types. A recent dispatch on Associated Press gives us the impression that business is booming in Mormonland for adult bookstores and related business -- "In part...because of publicity generated by efforts to get rid of strip clubs, adult-book stores and peddlers of adult videos, magazines and sex toys." We direct your attention to the constant repetition of the word "adult." The latest buzz phrase for religious authoritarians has been "protecting children," a simple euphemism for total censorship, but which is applied to everything from the Internet to late-night television. But the "kiddie porn" issue is just so much of a ruse. Activities by consenting, mature adults, be they heterosexual or homosexual, are still a no-no for religious snoopers. But even snoopers have a hidden side; one recalls the scene in the movie "Elmer Gantry" where Rev. Gantry leads a police raid on a brothel, as the Madame reminds the head cop that she already made that month's protection payment. In a state which tries constantly to institutionalize so many taboos, there is bound to be widespread proof of the "Law of the Forbidden": surrounding a thing like sexuality with an aura of taboo and prohibition, and people become inquisitive and curious. That's what happening in Utah. Anyway, the Associated Press report tells us how one adult store owner is delighted; after just four months in business, he has already surpassed his sales goal for the two-year mark, and plans to open another branch. "A lot of our customers are everyday people making a living, and for whatever reason want to spice up their lives or make things more interesting." With all of those squeeky-clean Mormons in Utah, there sure is a lot of looking for spice! ********** This issue's story about Tulsa Atheist activist Kevin Green brings us to another controversy. If we don't permit religious symbols and messages on bumper stickers displayed by municiple vehicles, what about their use on official City seals? Several years ago, American Atheists took the City of Zion, Illinois to court for their use of a religious symbol and motoo on their official emblem. Now, the U.S. Supreme Court faces a similar case involving the town of Edmond, Oklahoma. That seal depicts a covered wagon, an oil well, a train, a collegiate building and a Christian cross. The Mayor of Edmond insists that this is not an "endorsement" of religion, and claims "The cross on the seal is part of our heritage. The people who want to remove it want to re-write history and remove all religious symbols from public life." His Honor also noted that "The seals of 70 other cities in Oklahoma have religious symbols" as well. A Jewish automotive dealer and some local Unitarians are challenging the Edmond seal in court. They got some legal ammunition from a Denver-based Federal appeals ruling which observed that "the cross had at times symbolized outright oppression and persecution of Jewish people," and might have some distasteful associations for Muslims or even Protestants from Northern Ireland, or even American Indians. They might recall "those who sought to extinguish their culture and religion," noted the court. All of these are good, solid arguments -- and we hope the Cross of Edmond bites the dust, along with the "seals of 70 other cities." A widespread wrong is not suddenly right simply because it is widespread! But we must add that it is not just "other religionists" who might find a religious symbol, by chance, to be offensive. Up to 10% of Americans describe themselves as Atheists, rationalists, skeptics or some other label to suggest that they either reject, or strongly doubt, the validity of religion. That's over 25,000,000 Americans! And it's a sizeable "minority" by anyone's count. We find ALL religious symbols inappropriate in public life; for us, religious should be a private affair, not a public policy. ********** Are you a current member of American Atheists? If so, you might want to join the on-line members of aachat, a discussion forum about AA, Atheism, First Amendment concerns and related topics. For more information, contact aachat@atheists.org. Be sure to include your name, address and zip code, and our Moderator, Margie Wait, will get back to you! *** 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. Please include your name, address and zip code. Additional background on this list may be obtained by mailing to: aanews-request@listsev.atheists.org, and putting "info aanews" in the body. You may forward, quote or reproduce this dispatch, provided that credit is given to American Atheists and aanews. Edited and written by Conrad Goeringer, The LISTMASTER.

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