Date: Mon, 20 May 1996 12:25:24 -0700 Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for May 20, 1996 nn nn AAN

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Date: Mon, 20 May 1996 12:25:24 -0700 Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for May 20, 1996 from: AMERICAN.ATHEISTS@listserv.direct.net Reply-To: aanews@listserv.atheists.org, AMERICAN.ATHEISTS@listserv.direct.net nnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn nnnnnnnnnn AANEWS nnnnnnnnnn #42 uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu 5/20/96 In This Edition... * Congressional Calls for "Church Socialism" * Iranian Cleric Echoes Hard-Line * Myths Supporting 'Religious Equality Amemdment' "FORGOTTEN'' LEGISLATION STILL POSES FIRST AMENDMENT THREAT While "hot button" bills such as the "Defense of Marriage Act" and the "Religious Equality Amendment" maneuver their way through Congress, other backburner legislation still threatens the integrity of the wall of separation between government and religion. American Atheists is tracking two bills which have languished in the legislative hopper, both of which concern direct and indirect government aid to religious organizations. The Community Partnership Act would "jointly establish a State grant program for an information network for matching nonviolent criminal offenders and, on a voluntary basis, welfare families as well, with churches, synogogues, and other religious groups. The Bipartisan Welfare Reform Act is designed to "administer and provide services...through contacts with charitable, religious, or private organizations." This is an extension of government policy which uses religious groups to operate social services outreaches, and covers a gamut of programs from feeding services to drug and alcohol rehab. But whereas previous programs (such as Community Development Block Grants) were required to consider the "state-church separation angle," and restircted programs to purely secular activities, the Partnership Act would provide religious groups with taxpayer funds "without impairing the religious character of such organizations, and without diminishing the religious freedom of beneficiaries..." "Religious Privatization" With Taxpayer Monies State-church separationists charge that these policies constitute another violation of the First Amendment, and establish religious organizations through the granting of public, taxpayer funds. Critics maintain that churches and other religious groups should not be receiving public monies, especially when those grants are used to operate social service programs that inevitably take on a religious character. Section C of the Welfare Reform Act says that religious groups may accept "certificates, vouchers, or other forms of disbursement...so long as the programs are implemented consistent with the Establishment Clause of the United States Constitution." But the following section then states that "Neither the Federal Government nor a state shall require a religious (receiving funds) to -- (a) Alter its form of internal governance; or (B) remove religious art, icons, scripture or other symbols: in order to be eligible to contract to provide assistance... Critics charge that this the Act pays cheap lipservice to the First Amendment, then gives religious organizations a wide loophole to mix their tasks of social service provider and clerical proselytizers. A spokesperson for American Atheists charged that the act "blurs the distinctions between religious groups and what should be clearly secular social service programs." Others note that such a funding arrangement constitutes "socialism for the churches." Religious organizations obtain government funding, then take credit for contributing to the "public good" by running a charity. Yet, statistics show that more and more, churches and religious charities depend on taxpayer funding for their operations. Last year, for instance, over 60% of the budget for National Catholic Charities came through government grants. And throughout the nation, Community Development Block Grants -- usually doled out by local municipalities -- fund religious/church operations which give away food, provide counselling, administer health clinics and even establish programs for unwed moms. ********* IRAN CONTINUES CALL FOR ISLAMIC ''REVOLUTION'' Despite reports in some western media and intelligence cirlces, the clerical regime in Iran is stepping up its call for an Islamic revolution throughout the region. Some European negotiators and trade representatives have recently tried to portray the government of President Hashemi Rafsanjani as a moderating force on more militant Shi'ite militants, especially those linked to the Hezbollah, Council of Guardians and the Vanguard group. On Friday, however, a senior Iranian cleric -- Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati -- reaffirmed his country's efforts of behalf of regional de-stabilization and the spread of Islamic Revolution Tehran-style during a prayer sermon broadcast. He said, "The wave of revolution is slowly taking over the land of Arabia and also spreading to other places...the young generation of young theology students are protesting." Jannati was referring to neighboring Saudi Arabia;although the Kingdom is firmly Muslim, it does not support many of the expansionist goals of the Tehran regime, and adheres to a non-Shi'ite interpretation of the Koran. Sunni Moslems constitute the majority in Saudi Arabia, and despite domestic policy difference, allies itself with U.S. foreign policy in the region. Jannati added that "A revolutionary movement is taking root among Muslims, threatening America and Israel's hegemony...over Islamic states." The cleric's remarks come one week after the closing of the annual Haj, a religious event where hundreds of thousands of Muslims make their pilgrimage trek to the "holy city" of Mecca. In past years, Iranian agents have tried to turn the holiday into a platform for political demonstrations aimed at Israel, western countries, and the governing Saud family in Saudi Arabia. Jannati is secretary of the Council of Guardians, a clerical-religious watchdog group established by the Iranian government to filter-out potential opposition candidates during elections, and monitor spiritual affairs in the society. In the recent elections, the Council eliminated nearly 20% of candidates for public office even before the voting began, charging that they were "un-Islamic." His statements also come on the heels of armed attacks and other violent actions carried out by Islamic hard-liners throughout Iran. A good deal of Jannati's sermon focused on Saudi Arabia, however, which has taken a firm stance against Iran's attempts to meddle in its domestic affairs. Four Saudis linked to the bombing last November in Riyah which killed five Americans and two Indians, have confessed ties to Islamic groups abroad. "God does not want this voice to be silence," added Jannati, "or fail to spread beyond Iranian borders." ****** THE THEO-POLITICS OF POPULAR MYTH MAKING; THE RELIGIOUS EQUALITY AMENDMENT Claims Made By Ammendment Supporters Often Turn Out To Be Questionable, False Two versions of the Religious Equality Amendment are currently in Congress, each supported by different factions of the religious right. The differences in wording are subtle, but proponents agree that such a law -- one which ostensibly protect the religious freedom of believers -- is long overdue. They cite not only the alleged need for school prayer, a major objective of the Amendments, but numerous cases where the "religious rights" of "people have faith" have been violated. Such violations have also become a major focus of religious groups like the Rutherford Institute and Pat Robertson's American Center for Law and Justice. They and other organizations paint a bleak, even frightening picture of the status of civil liberties -- at least those related to religious believers -- in the U.S. But is this picture accurate? Are the "rights of believers" really "under attack" by government, schools and other institutions? Critics of the Religious Equality Amendment charge that the specific cases often raised by the acts proponents are exaggerated, even false. The American Bar Association Journal dealt with this problem in its December, 1995 issue, and AANEWS recently received a copy of a letter in response: Dear Editor: The article "Defenders of the Faith" in your December issue got our attention. We wanted to know more about the "cases" featured in the article that were handled by law firms associated with the Religious Right and to discover the basis for the complaint that public schools routine trample on the constitutional rights of religious students. First, we called the author, Mark Curriden. He told us that all his information came from several of the organizations featured in the article. We then called these organizations and, when possible, the school districts. Jasy Sekulow's assistants at the largest of these organizations, the ACLJ, could provide no information about any of these "cases." Mr. Sekulow himself declined to return our calls. We had more success with other organizations. This is what we learned about some of the "cases" reported in your article: 1) 'In Arkansas, a fifth grader was ordered by a teacher to turn his T-shirt inside-out to hide the Bible verse on it.' According to Susan Engle of Liberty Counsel, a fifth-grade girl in Arkansas wore a shirt to school with a picture of a garbage can and the words 'It's no place for a baby' and 'Stop Abortion' on the front. The back said "God made woman with a womb, not a tomb' and 'It's a child, not a choice.' Her teacher asked her to turn the shirt inside-out. She told her parents and they called the Liberty Counsel. Mat Straver told her to wear the shirt again and say that her lawyers said that she had a constitutional right to do so. She did, and that was the end of the matter. Incidentally, we were also told by the Rutherford Institute that it handled a similar matter (the T-shirt had a drawing of a dismembered fetus and the words 'Kind of looks like murder'). Neither of these incidents involves Bible verses and in our view would be more properly described as raising issues of students' freedom of speech rather than freedom of religion. 2) 'A boy in Spokane, Wash. was told by his principal that he violated the separation of church and state when he prayed silently before eating in the school lunchroom.' The Western Center for Law and Religious Freedom told us that a father called to complain that the assistant principal at Glover Junior High School in Spokane told his son and daughter not to pray in the school cafeteria at lunch. The Center told the father this was a violation of the students' constitutional rights but did not know the end of the story because the father had not returned the Center's calls. We called the assistant principal. He told us that the father and the students had met with him and that he had told them he knew nothing of the incident. When the father then asked his children if they were sure it was the assistant principal who told them not to pray, they said 'No' because they had not looked up from their prayers. They said they assumed it was the assistant principal because he usually patrols the lunchroom. It turns out that the students are often teased by their classmates because they pray conspicuously. The father than apologized. 3) 'Another student in Florida had her Bible confiscated by a teacher who saw her reading it during recess.' We cannot find anything to corroborate this story. 4) Bryce Fisher 'was told he couldn't read from his Bible in class.' Bryce is a first-grader in South Bend, Indiana. His teacher told her class to bring in and read from a favorite book. Bryce brought a Bible. The teacher stopped him because, as the assistant superintendent of the district explained to us, she was caught off guard and reacted quickly to prevent what she feared would be a complaint-generating event. The district has now adopted a policy that readings of this sort must be from a selected list of books. It appears to us that the 'outrageous cases' described in 'Defenders of the Faith' are not 'cases' , are not particularly 'outrageous,' and do not really involve religious freedom. It would have been more accurate to say they are anecdotes which, when repeated, tend to cause people to believe that isolated and inaccurately reported incidents reflect typical school policies, tend to confuse people about the law regarding religion in the schools, and tend to lead people to conclude that the Supreme Court's current interpretations of the First Amendment should therefore be changed. While we are troubled generally that debate on these important issues should proceed on the basis of misinformation, we are particularly troubled that a publication such as yours, which reaches a half-million of the most influential people in America, should lend its considerable credibility to this sort of apocrypha and hope you will take this opportunity to correct the record." Very truly yours, Howard Stambor Bruce Lamka David Wright Tremaine ******************* 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: info@atheists.org; be sure to include your mailing address and name. You may obtain additional information about this list by sending mail to: aanews-request@listserv.atheists.org. Just put "info aanews" in the message body. You may also quote, forward or post this dispatch, provided that appropriate credit is given to American Atheists and the aanews. Edited and Written by Conrad F. Goeringer, The LISTMASTER.

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