Date: Tue, 14 May 1996 12:25:24 -0700 Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for May 14, 1996 nn nn AAN

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Date: Tue, 14 May 1996 12:25:24 -0700 Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for May 14, 1996 from: Reply-To:, nnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn nnnnnnnnnn AANEWS nnnnnnnnnn #37 uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu 5/14/96 In This Edition... * Supreme Court: A Cross Is A Cross Is A Cross * Has It REALLY Been "Downhill" Since School Prayer Was Banned? * Coors Group Brews Trouble At Devils Tower * TheistWatch: Includes "Nuns With An Attitude!" * Resources: Wise Up, Folks! SUPREME COURT UPHOLDS RULING: RELIGIOUS GRAFFITI, SYMBOLS ON GOV'T SEALS UNCONSTITUTIONAL Religious symbols on government seals violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled yesterday in a 6-3 decision. The case involved the city of Edmond, Oklahoma, which appealed a lower court finding that its municipal seal depicting a cross had a distinct religious significance. The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had earlier decided that the "meaning of the Latin or Christian cross are unmistakable...We must conclude that the average observer would perceive...endorsement of Christianity. City officials, though, contended that the municipal seal, in use for 27 years, was just "a collage of historical symbols celebrating Edmond's unique history and heritage." The badge shows a covered wagon, an oil derrick and a college building as well. While the majority made no comment in rejecting the appeal, dissenting justices Rehnquist, Scalia and Thomas voted to review the lower court ruling, and had hoped to challenge the legal standing of those residents who had brought the original lawsuit. They include a local Unitarian church and a resident who is Jewish. The three justices said that they wanted to use the Edmond case to resolve conflicting appeals court rulings. Dozens of small communities through the American midwest have city symbols and mottos which still include religious symbols and slogans. ***************** USA TODAY ARTICLE ECHOES SCHOOL PRAYER BAN MYTHOLOGY Monday's edition of USA TODAY included a special section dealing with the American educational system, discussing what's wrong and what's right with the nation's schools. Is enough money being spent? What can be done to reverse the long-term trend in declining test scores? Even with all of the problems in the country's schools right now, though, parents still express confidence to varying degrees in the educational system. But hardly any discussion about public schools does not include the "school prayer myth." In the USA TODAY article, this was ennunciated by a student shown clutching a book with a picture of Jesus and the words to a prayer. Underneath, the student was quoted as saying: "It started with the separation of church and state. Once they took God out of the education system, it went downhill from there. Hey, our country was founded on Biblical principles. I think we need to go back to that." School prayer advocates often use claims such as this to justify either "voluntary" or mandatory prayer in public schools. By their reasoning, a variety of social ills -- everything from rampant drug use to teen-pregnancy and violence -- can all be traced to Supreme Court rulings, especially Murray v. Curlett, which ended prayer and bible recitation in the public schools. But any cause and effect relationship is difficult, if not impossible to prove. There are other, significant social developments that contribute to the sorts of behaviors school prayer advocates blame on the abolition of prayer. And mandatory school prayer wasn't all that widespread in the early 1960's, before the Court outlawed the practice. Only Pennsylvania, Alabama, Delaware, Florida and Tennessee had laws mandating bible recitation. In nearly a dozen other states, the practice had already been ruled unconstitutional; and elsewhere, there were either no laws concerning the practice, or it was left up to local school districts to decide. Religious partisans had been trying for decades to legislate mandatory prayer, however. In cities where the Roman Catholic Church was well organized, schools used the Riems version of the bible as both a spelling-reading book, and a source for prayer. The "Great Awakening", which saw a revival in aggressive Protestant theology, prompted those churches to challenge the practice. In the decade of the 1840's, there were armed confrontations between gangs of Catholics and Protestants, and the local police -- the infamous "Bible Wars." In New York City, school authorities decided that Catholic children could be removed from the daily prayer recitation. Even in the 1850's, the squabble over which version of the bible -- the Roman Catholic or the Protestant "King James" -- continued. In Maine, a Catholic priest ended up being tarred and feathered after he told his parishioners to challenge the law which required mandatory use of the Protestant version in schools. Today's school prayer activists have their precursor in groups like the National Reform Association, which in the early twentieth century labored to pass legislation on a state-by-state basis which would madate school prayer and bible reading. Not all states gave in to this proselytizing, and the result was really a patch-work of different laws and policies concerning the practice. While some states and school districts had prayer legislation on the books, only the five listed above required that all students participate. Seven states allowed students to withdraw from the daily bible recitation with parental permission. Court cases which challenged school prayer did so on the basis of "religious liberty," echoing the earlier objections Protestants and Catholics had with the policy of reading from the other's biblical version. Cases like Abington Township School District v. Schempp took the view that the prayers could violate the religious convictions of certain believers. Another challenge, Murray v. Curlett, however, took the "religious liberty" argument a step further, and pointed out that Atheists and non-believers were having their civil liberties violated as well. Regardless of such differences, though, school prayer was NOT a universal practice throughout the United States. Things did not "go downhill from there." If anything, school prayer advocates began agitating AFTER the legal battles of the early 1960's, sometimes in states which decades earlier had either outlawed or abolished the practice. In Wisconsin, for instance, that state's Supreme Court had ruled mandatory school prayer to be unconstitutional back in 1890, and Nebraska and Illinois followed suit, as did other states. Still, the mythology about the widespread practice of prayer and bible recitation persists, used today as a legend to enforce a "traditional" practice which, in fact, never existed. ********* CREATIONISM STIRS CONTROVERSY IN OHIO PUBLIC SCHOOL In the Lakewood district of Cleveland, Ohio, two public high school teachers have become the focus in another round of heated debate over the issue of creationism and science. On Thursday, attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union warned school officials that they were violating laws by allowing creationism in the school curriculum at Lakewood High School. An investigation by news media revealed that one physics teacher tells students that evolution "doesn't make any sense." He also instructs classes that homosexuality is wrong, and that gays will never go to heaven. Another teacher insists that dinosaurs and humans existed together in history, and that Darwinian evolution should not be considered an accurate account of how life began and spread. Creationism involves a literal interpretation of the biblical account of how the world began and how life was formed. Creationists often insist that evolution is "incomplete," and attempt to find evidence which suggests that all life began simultaneously on earth as the result of divine intervention. Critics point out that creationists (who often call themselves "scientific creationists") often use incorrect information to support their arguments, or simply want to advance a religious -- christian -- agenda. The ACLU letter warned: "It has been nine years since the United States Supreme Court decided...that creation science is not an acceptable academic alternative (or supplement) to the theory of evolution." *************** ''DEVILS TOWER'' CONTROVERSY RAISES FIRST AMENDMENT CONCERNS Is It Also A Case of "Religious Freedom" For Us, Not Them? When Steven Spielberg picked Devils Tower as the site for the UFO mother ship landing in his blockbuster movie "Close Encounters," he probably couldn't have selected a more eye-catching piece of landscape. Rising over 850 feet above the surrounding Devils Tower National Monument in Wyoming, the flat-top structure has become an icon for new agers, tourists and climbers who can't resist the challenge of taking on its steep sides. 450,000 visitors come to the Monument yearly, and about 7,000 each year feel sufficiently in shape to try and make the climb. But last June, prospective hikers and rock climbers ran into something other than sheef cliffs; the National Park Service imposed restrictions to prevent climbers from exploring the Tower during that month, in deference to the religious beliefs of local Indian tribes. A sign near the Tower warned: "Please do not disturb prayer bundles and prayer cloths." Tourists were restricted to pathways which according to reports were "intended to safeguard Indian religious concerns." Now, with the Park Service against contemplating restrictions for next month, the Mountain States Legal Foundation has entered the case, arguing that the government is managing the site for religious purposes, thus violating church-state separation. Attonneys for the group grilled the park superintendent yesterday during a U.S. District Court session, asking: "Do you ask all Americans to respect Native American religion?" Park official Deb Liggett replied "Yes." "Is there a sign asking all Americans to respect the Christian religion at Devils Tower?" asked the attorney. "No," Liggett answered. Selective Indignation -- And a Peculiar Advocate The involvement of a group like the Mountain States Legal Foundation in this case has some observers baffled, especially since the organization seems to be supporting First Amendment separation. MSLF was bankrolled by the Coors family of Colorado, who made their fortune in real estate and Coors beer; the family has been a long time supporter of religious conservative groups. In 1977, Joe Coors put up $25,000 to establish the Foundation, and hired James Watt (later to become Secretary of the Interior under Ronald Reagan) as its director. Joe's wife, Holly Coors, had first met Watt in 1975 through a group known as Christian Ministry, another recipient of Coors funds. MSLF soon became known as a courtroom adversary of environmentalist organizations like the Sierra Club and the Environmental Defense Fund. But it is the connection between Coors and fundamentalist/evangelical activist groups which makes the Devils Tower litigation so interesting. Coors connections include religious-right strategist Paul Weyrich, "Intercessors For America" (a religious homophobic group), and the Council on National Policy. Another recipient of Coors largesse is Pat Robertson, whose American Center for Law and Justice often argues on behalf of "religious equality," and seeks to minimize the impact of state-church separation legislation. There is also the Rutherford Institute, another group which defends "religious liberties" and is part of the prayer-in-school movement. In lieu of this track record, one can only speculate if the Mountain States Legal Foundation would be as enthused for state-church separation if the Devils Tower controversy involved, say, a Christian religious holiday or event, rather than one involving a Native American superstition. One does not see MSLF rushing out to become involved in other First Amendment concerns in the area, such as the use of public facilities in Denver for the Pope's visit there three years ago. ***************** THEISTWATCH SHORT SHOTS And we thought that it only referred to masturbation! Among the many gems of biblical "wisdom" not regularly quoted by religious stalwarts is the instruction "If thy right hand offend thee, cut if off..." Seems that a 32-year old construction worker in Norfolk, Va. did just that after seeing what he thought was the infamous "666" sign on his hand. A "handy" circular saw did the job, and the worker was quickly rushed to Sentara Norfolk General Hospital. There, he refused the advice of doctors who wanted to re-attach the severed body part, reportedly telling them that he would go to hell if the hand was sewn back on. Hospital officials contacted a judge, who advised doctors to follow their patient's wishes. Now, the doctors and the hospital are targets of a lawsuit, which says that they should have contacted relatives in order to over-rule the worker's decision. The suit insists that the patient had a history of psychiatric disorders. **************** Change is coming to Africa and the middle east, if only in small steps. In Algeria, a country plagued by the political activities of militant Islamic fundamentalists, new constitutional reforms proposed on Sunday would institute official separation of government and religion. Under a proposal outlined by President Liamine Zeroual, political groups would be prohibited from making explicit displays of religious militancy. Other reforms include promoting a free market economic system, and establishing a supreme court and a representative assembly. This may not be effective, though, in stopping Islamic fundamentalists, who were on the verge of winning a round of elections in 1992. The military stepped in to cancel the balloting which probably would have resulted in a victory for the Islamic Salvation Front and the establishment of an "Islamic Republic" modeled after Iran. ************** It's sometimes easier to talk about forgiveness than it is to REALLY forgive and forget. Take Pope John Paul II. Monday was the fifteenth anniversary of the attempted assassination of the pope, carried out by Mehmet Ali Agca. JP-2 made world headlines in 1985 when he met with Agca in his prison cell, forgiving the would-be killer for his sins. Agca, of course, had become a "jailhouse" Christian. Soon, even Agca's relatives were schmoozing with the pope as well, and the whole affairs became a media-fabricated showcase for caring, forgiving and, presumably, forgetting. Indeed, the forgetting part seems to have come true, and the Vatican says it will not be pursuing any attempt to get Agca sprung from prison, where he sits out his time serving a life sentence. Even if the Pope did want Agca free, that might lead to some unwanted, embarrassing questions. They involve Agca's links to the Turkish neo-fascist group known as "Grey Wolves," and the former Bulgarian Secret Service which ran a veritable grad-school for international terrorists. There are also some imaginative scenarios linking Mehmet Ali Agca with a diverse range of Italian interests, both left and right. Indeed, for the Vatican, it may be doctrinally correct to "forgive", and strategically important to "forget." ********* Hindu nationalists won big in the Indian elections last week, and there is plenty of evidence to suggest that they don't take well to the importing of "foreign religions" -- including Christianity. You'd have thought that after two centuries or more of religious proselytizing, Christian missionaries could have recruited more followers than the measley 2% of India's population they have managed to attract. There are about 125 million Muslims, but the largest share of the believer-pie in that country goes to the Hindus. The Hindu cult permeates Indian society, and does for that country what Islam does for the middle east; much of daily life revolves around religious rituals and prohibitions. But the more extreme manifestations of religious belief are under both subtle and open attack in india. Economic development which is transforming the country, brings with it westernizing influences -- everything from new TV programming to rock 'n roll and changing attitudes, particularly among the country's young people. Hindu fundamentalists are, obviously, edgy; like this nation's fundamentalists, they feel "under attack" by a wave of secularism. And sometimes they strike back. Which brings us to the story of "Nuns With An Attitude." In the town of Madras, a Roman Catholic convent is running its nuns through a 45-day crash course in karate which includes hand-to-hand combat, and even a procedure to toughen their hands by having a jeep roll over them. All of this has been prompted after several nuns were allegedly threaten while doing social work in nearby villages., and reports of nuns being raped and killed in other parts of the country. It appears that the nun's social activism offends elements of India's fundamentalist community, which detests the lower castes. Even so, the "untouchables" seem to be making progress on their own, without the help of the Catholics; several have been elected to parliament, and a burgeoning civil rights movement for this group is reported. ***** There's still trouble ahead for GOP front runner Bob Dole. Last week, aanews reported on how the abortion flap, and the intransigence of the religious right on that issue, threatened to derail whatever chance Dole had at a shot for the White House in 1996. Everyone from the Christian Coalition to Pat Buchanan's sister was on the horn, warning GOP officials against ANY deviation from the party's tough anti-abortion plank, which calls for passage of the so-called Human Life Amendment. This happened after California governor Pete Wilson joined his fellow Republicans from New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts in calling for an end to GOP anti-abortion zealotry. Now, a CNN/Time poll confirms that when asked who they would like to see as a GOP Vice Presidential candidate, Republicans chose pro-choice candidates. Leading the pack is retired Gen. Colin Powell with 40%, followed by Michigan Gov. John Engler and New Jersey guv' Christine Whitman with 8% each. Both Whitman and Powell insist they don't want the job. In Powell's case, Christian Coalition Director Ralph Reed made it pretty clear several weeks ago that the Gulf war hero was "unacceptable" to the religious right, since he would not support a ban on abortion. Later, Reed nixed Christine Whitman as well. So just who will Dole pick? If he wants the support of the religious conservatives, he has to choose an anti-choice running mate who will uphold the party platform. Who could that be? Stay tuned for more comic relief. ************** RESOURCES FOR FURTHER INFORMATION... The National Center for Science Education publishes "Creation/Evolution", and is an excellent source for materials dealing with the evolution-creationism controversy. They can be reached at PO Box 9477, Berkeley, Cal. 94709. The October, 1986 edition of AMERICAN ATHEIST MAGAZINE was devoted as a special issue to the doctrinal roots of creationism, including "Daniel in the Debunker's Den" by Frank Zindler. For more on the involvement of the Coors family with religious fundamentalist movements, see "The Coors Connection" by Russ Bellant, published by South End Press, Boston. ***************** On-Line Resources From AMERICAN ATHEISTS... You can receive membership information about AA by sending e-mail to" Be sure to include your name and mailing address in the message body. We're still working on the American Atheists site on the world wide web. Thanks for your letters and inquiries about this project. Watch this space! Members of American Atheists can join aachat, our moderated discussion group for topics including Atheism, AA activities, state-church separation and related subjects. If you'd like to participate, send e-mail to:, and include your name and address. ****************** AANEWS is a free service of 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 this list, send e-mail to:, and put "info aanews" in the message. (Leave out the quotes, and check your spelling -- remember, it's "listserv." You may quote, forward or copy these dispatches, provided that you give credit to American Atheists and AANEWS. Edited and written by Conrad F. Goeringer, The LISTMASTER.


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