Date: Mon, 20 May 1996 12:25:24 -0700 Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for May 20, 1996 nn nn AAN
Date: Mon, 20 May 1996 12:25:24 -0700
Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for May 20, 1996
Reply-To: email@example.com, AMERICAN.ATHEISTS@listserv.direct.net
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
"Religious Privatization" With Taxpayer
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Very truly yours,
David Wright Tremaine
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