Date: Wed, 15 May 1996 12:25:24 -0700 Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for May 15, 1996 nn nn AAN

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Date: Wed, 15 May 1996 12:25:24 -0700 Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for May 15, 1996 from: Reply-To:, nnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn nnnnnnnnnn AANEWS nnnnnnnnnn #38 uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu 5/15/96 In This Edition... * Is "Parental Rights" Act Needed? Religious Groups Say Yes! * Quotes From PRRA Testimony * "Defense of Marriage" ~~ Slick Slogan, Bad Idea * Iran & Women: No Olympic Swimmers Here! * TheistWatch: We Finally Succumb... NEW PUSH BEGINS FOR ''PARENTAL RIGHTS'' ACT Religious groups across the country have begun a new effort to pass the controversial "Parental Rights and Responsibilities Act," which is now before the Senate Judiciary Committee. The proposed legislation is a centerpiece in the Christian Coalition's "Contract With the American Family" announced last year. It has drawn support from other religious right groups as well, including the Focus on the Family and the Family Research Council. According to the "Contract," the act would supposedly sanction "the right of parents to direct the upbringing of their children, (which) includes overseeing their children's education, health care, discipline and religious training." In a press release yesterday afternoon, the Christian Coalition cited an article from the April 27, 1996 "Washington Times" which discussed an incident where girls at a Pennsylvania intermediate school were examined by a female doctor. The procedure included a genital examination, which according to School District officials, was "within the parameters" of state health rules. Some parents apparently complained to the District. Mike Russell, Communications Director of the Christian Coalition, said that the incident "is only one of a large number of cases of the usurpation of parents' rights to protect and direct the upbringing of their children." Critics quickly responded however, pointing out that there are already over 2,000 state statutes which protect children from abuse and neglect. While these laws focus on the child, the PRRA deals with the "right of a parent." A Hidden Agenda? Critics of the Parental Rights act say that the legislation is actually meant to promote a religious agenda while scaring people with misinformation. Charges include: * The Parental Rights and Responsibilities Act is really a vehicle for something which many people -- especially those endorsing the idea of "parents' rights" -- are unaware of. School vouchers could well be the primary result of this legislation. A pro-voucher attorney activist, when asked about this possibility, said "It's (PRRA) a very harmonious parallel movement because if you put it in terms of who should be sovereign over children...then you just ease in to choosing where a kid goes to school." Many groups, including educators, warn that the voucher system would effectively gut the public school system which is already suffering from financial cutbacks. There is also the question of whether religious schools should be the beneficiaries of taxpayer monies; the Roman Catholic Church is a major supporter of voucher schemes, and operates the nation's largest network of private, religious educational institutions. * While focusing on "Parental Rights," the Act will result in increased abuse and neglect of children according to child advocacy groups. The legislation would severely curtail the right of social service workers to investigate and deal with reports of child abuse, especially if that abuse if cloaked as a RELIGIOUS right involving "bible based" discipline. Many religious right "family values" activists encourage corporal punishment. The legislation could also end up protecting the "religious freedom" of parents in cults such as Christian Science to withhold vital medical care or engage in other behaviors which place children at risk. * The Parental Rights and Responsibilities Act will "dumb down" school curriculums, especially those dealing with controversial issues like evolution, history, sex education and even AIDS awareness. School Districts will be engulfed in parent lawsuits which take issue with any courses, teachers, texts or other materials which happen to offend their religious sensibilities. Some predict that schools -- already under the budget-cutting axe -- would then have to establish religious courses and other programs as a legal remedy. Curriculum control passes from the hands of school authorities and educators, into those of religious right activists and religious-litigation lawfirms. According to Americans United For Separation of Church and State, religious groups are already targeting everything from books and videos to entire subjects which they intend to challenge if the Parental Rights and Responsibilities Act is passed. One group -- the Eagle Forum, founded by anti-ERA zealot Phyllis Schlafly -- has sent its members a list of 94 topics covering everything from "witchcraft" to divorce. Another list has 111 taboo-topics, and includes even vague categories like "creative problem solving and team management." Is PRRA Even Necessary? Critics charge that many of the alleged problems which the Parental Rights and Responsibilities Act claims to address are already covered by existing remedies. They also note that many "problems" are simply programs and themes which small groups of religious activists often object to -- such as sex education or even AIDS awareness. Making such subjects "taboo" in the school environment does not solve them, and will not magically make problems like teen pregnancy or violence disappear. For these reasons, state-church separationists say that Act is misleading, and can only result in more litigation and divisiveness in communities. Judiciary Committee Receptive? The Senate Judiciary Committee, where the PRRA (S.984) is now undergoing preliminary hearings, could prove to be a decisive factor in whether or not the proposal lives or dies in this session of Congress. Even if the bill makes it out to the floor, though, legislators -- especially if they see considerable opposition to the proposal -- may table it for this election year. ************ RELEVANT QUOTES ABOUT THE ''PARENTAL RIGHTS'' BILL * "The Parental Rights and Responsibilities to 'protect the rights of parents to direct the uprbringing of their children' including providing for their children's education, health care, religious training and discipline'...That, however, is not what this bill is about. This bill is about making it more difficult for public schools to teach our children. It is about lining the pockets of lawyers and draining the scarce educational resources in our schools. It is about putting the health and safety of our children in jeopardy. It is about playing politics with our children... "It will force local school districts into costly legal battles over everything from a curriculum to dress codes. "It will drain scarce dollars from the classroom to the courtroom. "It is an unnecessary, big government intrusion into local decision making, taking debates that belong in local communities and turning them over to the courts. "It will jeopardize health-related programs and character building efforts in schools for fear of litigation. "It will have a chilling effect on schools intervening in abuse and neglect cases. "Finally, it will not achieve its stated goal, it will undermine communication and cooperation between parents and their local schools." -- Sammy J. Quintana, National School Boards Association Remarks before Subcommittee on Administrative Oversight and Courts, Senate Committee on the Judiciary December 5, 1995 ******* "Although I support many of the goals of the Parental Rights and Responsibilities Act, and believe that parents are and should continue to be the primary source for their children's upbrining, I believe the current legislation unwise and unnecessary. Family law and parental decisionmaking, comes primarily from the work of state legislatures and courts. To invade this state responsibility threatens federalism, and for Congress to purport to establish a "fundamental right" encroaches on the judicial branch. Finally,l believe the vagueness of the terminology in the Bill invites both litigation in already overburdened federal courts and paralysis of state and local administrative agencies. Specifically tailored legislation, particularly at the State level, would answer many of the complaints of the Bill's proponents without ossifying the development of family law. Finally, many of the protections its proponents seek have already been guaranteed by Supreme Court decisions." --Margaret F. Brinig, Professor of Law George Mason University Testimony, December 5, 1995 ****************** "DEFENSE OF MARRIAGE ACT'' HEARINGS UNDERWAY As this edition of AANEWS is being sent out, the House Subcommittee on the Constitution is holding a day of hearings on the "Defense of Marriage Act." The proposal declares in no uncertain terms that "marriage is a union between one man and one woman, which seems to restrict somewhat the Universal Webster's definition of "any close or intimate union." Why, you ask, would the resources of the United States Congress be suddenly so preoccupied with this minutia? The answer is twofold; homophobia is under assault by gays seeking equal protection and benefits -- a level playingfield in the bedroom and courtroom, so to speak -- and the religious right is having one of its fits. Lead-off hitter in today's hearings is expected to be Gary Bauer of the Family Research Council, one of a cluster of "pro-family" groups which would just prefer 25 million or so gay men and women ride in the back of the metaphorical cultural bus. Bauer held posts in the Reagan Administration, serving as Under Secretary of Education (July, 1985), Deputy Under Secretary for Planning, Budget & Evaluation (1982), and Director of the Office of Policy Development at the White House. He chaired the Special Working Group on the Family (June, 1986) and was a Senior Policy Analyst for the Reagan-Bush election campaign. Family Research Council has had an on-and-off relationship with the larger, more influential Focus on the Family, led by "Mr. Bible Discipline" himself, James Dobson. Back in 1988, the groups merged, but then had their own organizational divorce in October, 1992. Bauer co-authored the book "Children at Risk: The Battle for the Hearts and Minds of Our Kids," with Focus president Dobson. The category of "Pro-Family Issues" reads like a laundry list of religious right concerns, covering 66 topics. Among them: abortion, abstinence, child custody, contraception, condoms, divorce, drugs (illegal) family-friendly Work Policy, family values, gambling, homosexuality, gays in the military, pornography, school prayer, out of wedlock births, sex education, and even women in combat. The "Defense of Marriage" act is just one thread in a much larger, sinister tapesty woven into the braincells of Family Research Council and its allies. So why the fright? Last month, the Hawaian Legislature voted down a bill which would have banned the licensing of marriage for homosexual couples. Across the country, religious groups immediately swung into action, introducing a total of 34 bills in various legislatures. 17 of those have been defeated or pulled, and only 8 got a nod from the state solsons. As John Heilemann notes in today's rant ("Married to the Status Quo) on hotwired (, "Public opinion on gay marriage turns out to be remarkably squishy." The numbers are split according to opinion polls, "But they're not so different from how the public broke down on the subject of interracial marriage just 30 years ago -- when black-white wedlock was still illegal in many places." GOP nominee-to-be Bob Dole signed on as a sponsor of the Defense of Marriage Act, and it even appears that Bill Clinton -- no dummy when it comes to sniffing out the political winds -- won't be going to bat on behalf of gay rights, at least this time. Clinton may have learned his lesson from the beating he took over the gays-in-the-military issue; in answering the challenge from the right, Clinton movess "further center." On Monday, the White House let slip that the President "opposes same sex marriages," and would "have to look carefully at the legislation that's under consideration." Just as Dole has worked overtime to shore-up his credentials as a social religious conservatives, Clinton has been embracing some of the rhetorical style and appearance of the "family values" crowd. He wants kids in school uniforms, he's pledged to "put street gangs out of business," and hardly a press gathering passes without SOME reference to god, religion and other apple-pie style buzzwords. ************ IRAN AND WOMEN ~~ MORE RELIGIOUS DIS-UTOPIANISM When Islamic revolution swept Ayatollah Khomeni and his fellow clerics into power 17 years ago, the way was paved by throngs of shouting, fist-shaking males waving copies of the Koran, and vowing to sweep away any vestige of western liberalism or secularism. That imagery rings true today, even after the death of Khomeni; and no where is the domestic agenda of the clerical regime better typified than in the status of women in Iranian society. Much of the recent violence in Iran carried out by Muslim fundamentalists deals with the social and family position of women. Last weekend, about 50 Islamic activists ran amok at two Tehran theaters, protesting movies which showed young girls dancing; last month, clerical police raided a private party which was celebrating a woman's educational achievements. There have even been attacks carried out against women riding bicycles in public, something which fundamentalists have openly denounced as obscene and provocative. At this summer's Olyympics in Atlanta, Iranian women will be taking part only in activities which allow them to be fully covered. Reportedly, horseback riding has become not only an approved sport, but a break from the drab routine imposed by Islamic culture and law. Like American blacks four decades ago, Iranian women must ride in the back of public transport buses, and they must stand in separate lines at movie theaters. Anything smacking of public eroticism or sexuality is strictly prohibited; there are no mixed-sex workout gyms. In public, women must wear "modest garb," including the notorious veil -- a habit widely enforced throughout the rest of the Muslim world. Men control most of the parliamentary seats -- even there, candidates for office must first pass inspection by the clerical Council of Guardians, before elections take place. Women occupy a few token positions, though, and Iranian President Hashemi Rafsanjani's daughter sits on the country's Olympic committee. While the Islamic revolution provided some room for women, particularly those who came from poor households, observers say that women are much worse off legally. Girls can be married or "given away" at age nine. A Youth Revolution Brewing? There are subtle indications, though, that women may be helped by a "youth revolution" percolating beneath the veneer of Islamic rigidity. According to CNN's Christine Amanpour, a veteran observer of the region, half of the population is now under the age of 14; for them, the events of 1979 exist not as real-life experiences, but as reports in history books and on propaganda posters. Amanpour notes that the emergent youth culture "feels stifled and bored," and that "breaking rules has fast become a new pastime...The writing is on the wall in Tehran: rap, heavy metal and graffiti replace religious sayings." This process may well be accentuated by technological developments -- direct satellite broadcasts, computer networks like the Internet, even more contact (and black market trading in western goods including books and magazines) with foreigners. Many Islamic countries feel "under siege" to what they consider they "corrupting influences" of western culture. In Saudi Arabia and other countries, for instance, the government has banned the ownership of satellite dishes; the "mutawah" or Clerical Police roam neighborhoods looking for any trace of dishes or other equipment which could violate the law. A number of Asian and Middle Eastern countries have agitated in the United Nations for restrictions on direct satellite broadcast, fearing the influence of international, cosmopolitan media. Women and youth face substantial obstacles, though, especially in Iran. Amanpour quoted one adolescent who said: "We can't be like Europeans because of our country's social and religious beliefs. We can't be free like them, but still we could do more." *********** THEISTWATCH SHORT SHOTS Rmemeber this date. On May 15, 1996, AANEWS lost its journalistic virginity. We're doing a story about O.J. Simpson. We have no comment about evidence, conspiracy, blood DNA or whether Chris and Marsha are still hitting it off. And mum's the word about racial bias and Mark Fuhrman, or whether the gloves really fit. It now seems, though, that religion has become the latest trump card being used by OJ to rehabilitate his much-tarnished public image. Tuesday night, he told Oxford University students in England that "In Jail, what got me through my experience was the Bible. I must have read the book of Job five or ten times." Juice also says that other inmates were shouting out specific bible passages for him to read. Well, that's not quite what WE heard Simpson was up to in the slammer, at least in between take-out meals and visits from Paula Barbieri, but what do we know? Listening to this panegyric of religiosity, one woman in the Oxford Union audience just couldn't take it any longer, and shouted out "Shut Up!" To which Mr. Simpson glibly replied, "They're not interested in religion." *************** A Federal judge has ruled that a Rockland County, N.Y. town must alter its zoning codes to permit the establishment of synagogues in private homes. A group of Orthodox Jewwish residents took their case to court, claiming that the Village of Airmont -- incorporated in April, 1991 as a separate community -- discriminated in allowing them to conduct religious services. The suit maintained that the Village was actually formed in order to keep Orthodox Jews out; indeed, Airmont has a population of some 8,000, and is within the boundaries of the municipality of Ramapo, a town with 94,000 citizens of whom about 25% are Orthodox or Hasidic Jews. Even so, an attorney for the Village declared that "If a group of charismatic Catholics wanted to hold services three times a day every day, the village would not only have a right but an obligation to regulate." The new decision does not dissolve the Village, as the plaintiffs had wanted; the town must re-write its zoning laws, though, and make religious worship an exempt activity. ************************* More on yesterday's AANEWS report about Devils Tower, Wyoming, where Federal park officials are restricting public access in recognition of "sacred" Native American areas during the holy month of June. A U.S. District Court Judge said yesterday that he will issue a ruling in the first week of June. This came after testimony from two elders from the Grey Eagle Society, a Sioux religious group, who said that the presence of climbers and others at Devils Tower during the month of June was "disrespectful." One of the elders compared it to climing a church or some other monument. ********** 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 about American Atheists, send e-mail to: Be sure to include your name and mailing address in the message. Additional background on this list may be obtained by sending e-mail to: Put "info aanews" in the message body. You may reprint, forward or quote from these dispatches, provided that appropriate credit is given to both American Atheists and aanews. Edited and written by Conrad F. Goeringer, The LISTMASTER.


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