Date: Tue, 14 May 1996 12:25:24 -0700 Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for May 14, 1996 nn nn AAN
Date: Tue, 14 May 1996 12:25:24 -0700
Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for May 14, 1996
Reply-To: firstname.lastname@example.org, AMERICAN.ATHEISTS@listserv.direct.net
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
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
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
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.
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