Date: Fri, Apr Oct 1996 12:25:24 -0700 Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for April 19, 1996 nn nn

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Date: Fri, Apr Oct 1996 12:25:24 -0700 from: Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for April 19, 1996 Reply-To:, nnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn nnnnnnnnnn AANEWS nnnnnnnnnnn #17 uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu 4/19/96 UTAH LEGISLATURE ACTS TO BAN GAY, LESBIAN CLUBS ON CAMPUS Dissenting Senator Charges: "Another Moral Witch Hunt In Our State." In special session yesterday, the Utah State Legislature enacted a controversial bill that specifically bans gay and lesbian clubs from public high schools. This morning's edition of the Salt Lake Tribune called the legislation "a legal minefield." Even so, the bill passed by a 21-7 vote in the Senate, and by about midnight cleared the House by a 47-21 vote margin. The bill was sponsored by Sen. Craig Taylor, a religious conservative Mormon activist; he cited the controversial finding of a medical doctor who claims that homosexuality is an "illness." The special session was called by Gov. Mike Leavitt, who supports the anti-gay legislation. It was a victory for numerous religious groups who had supported the bill. Much of yesterday's debate involved passionate rhetoric, especially from Rep. David Bresnahan; he urged passage of the legislation while invoking the memory of his late brother who died from the AIDS virus. Bresnahan declared that his brother had been "recruited" into homosexual activites while in the Boy Scouts, and warned ominously: "They're out there are they're after our children." The new legislation is expected to face immediate legal challenges which could cost the State of Utah over $1 million. Even so, another bill supporter, Sen. Joseph Hull defended his vote by saying "Let's give the power to the local school boards to set limits and deny certain behaviors we should be denying anyway. If it takes a lawsuit, then let's have a lawsuit." Back Room Maneuvering? The bill apparently reached many of the lawmakers only hours before the voting deadline. Some objected that there had not been sufficient public input on the issue; Rep. Byron Harward of Provo insisted "If this bill doesn't deserve some kind of public input, there is no time and no bill that should have such input. His proposal to delay action passed by a 35-2 margin -- but then, something happened. According to the Tribune, "furious negotiations ensued" as the Governor and key legislators began applying pressure. Rep. Kelly Atkinson reported "blackmail and threats" in order to "twist people's minds into voting differently." By midnight, it was all over, and the Taylor proposal had passed. During his speech to the Senate, Taylor asked: "Who are the ones who really care and have compassion? Is it those who encourage youth to follow a very unhealthy destructive and potentially fatal lifestyle? Or is it those who point out that they may be headed down the wrong path?" But Senate Minority Whip George Mantes called the anti-gay legislation "another moral witch hunt in our state," and compared it efforts to ban abortion. *********** UTAH ANTI-GAY BILL -- AN EXAMPLE OF SELECTIVE ''RELIGIOUS RIGHTS'' Religious groups throughout the country, especially Christian fundamentalists, have a new catch-all phrase to describe their social agenda for America -- "Religious Rights." Separation of church and state, even an official policy of government neutrality toward churches and religious groups, is interpreted as "hostility" to "people of faith." But "Religious Rights" seem to have little to do with the more historically-based liberties found in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. "Religious Rights" seems to mean "rights" only for believers, not for citizens who hold differing views or lifestyles. Utah is getting to be a case iin point of this selective interpretation of what rights are all about. For over a decade, conservative Christian groups tried to find legal ways which would permit Bible clubs and student prayer groups to meet in public schools. Utah Senator Orrin Hatch came up with an answer -- the 1984 Equal Access Law. This legislation was widely interpreted to guarantee ANY group the right to assemble, including religious clubs. But now, Hatch says that some groups are a bit more equal than others. Using the law to justify giving gay and lesbian students the right to meet on high school campuses is "crazy". He adds: School board authorities can and should be able to ban homosexual and heterosexual clubs, especially if they fly in the face of community standards." Many organizations supported Hatch back in 1984, including the National Council of Churches and the Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs. Even the National Education Association and the ACLU signed on, thinking that the Equal Access Law would make it easier for any group to exercise First Amendment rights on campus. But yesterday's legislation aimed at restricting gay and lesbian clubs in Utah schools is only the latest in a round of efforts to selectively eliminate , or circumvent disquieting provisions of the 1984 law. It seems that "equal" applies only to those who agree with certain religious standards. A University of Utah law professor, Edward Firmage noted: "The Constitution of the United States guarantees these rights to us as Americans, not as citizens of the sovereign state of Utah." Freedom of speech, assembly and other rights, "should travel with citizens from state to state." A Warning? There is other legislation at the state and Federal level promoted as part of a "Religious Liberty" or "Religious Rights" agenda. The Religious Freedoms Restoration Act gives churches and religious groups special privileges, and protects certain behaviors which are considered part of a religious creed. Two versions of the Religious Equality Amendment challenge long-standing protections on behalf of state-church separation, permitting prayer in public schools. While religious activists often appeal to libertarian notions about freedom and civil rights, however, interpreting the scope of those rights often involves a good deal of selectivity -- as in Utah. Legislation which would prohibit bible-reading clubs, for instance, would be denounced as an invasion of personal privacy and First Amendment guarantees, including the right of people to assemble. But with gay and lesbian students, a different standard is used -- religious creeds, community bigotry and sexual prejudice. *************** UTAH SENATOR USING PSEUDO-SCIENCE TO JUSTIFY BAN ON GAYS? Yesterday's special legislative sessions offered a bit of stage entertainment from Mormon Senator Craig Taylor -- he offered "proof" that gay and lesbian students are psychological basket cases. Taylor cited the work of Charles W. Socarides, president of the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality, who declared "The introduction of gay a detrimental act." Socarides is the author of a controversial book titled "Homosexuality: A Freedom Too Far", which has become a best-seller in religious conservative circles. In 1973, he tried to promote a membership referendum within the American Psychicatric Association on behalf of his theories about gays, and have homosexuality considered a "mental illness." His efforts failed. Socarides insists that homosexual orientation is the result of "smothering mothers and abdicating fathers." His son Richard Socarides, though, is not convinced; he happens to be gay, and serves as a consultant to the Clinton administration on gay-lesbian issues. *************** A Note to AANEWS Readers... AANEWS urges you to forward and copy these dispatches. You may also quote from AANEWS, provided that credit is given to American Atheists and aanews. ********* Are You an AMERICAN ATHEISTS Member? If so, consider participating in aachat, our moderated discussion forum dealing with topics such as Atheism, State-Church separation, AA activities and related issues. Just send e-mail to, and be sure to include your name, address and zip code; you will be contacted with further instructions. *** 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: Please include your name, address and zip code. 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