Date: Tue, 21 May 1996 12:25:24 -0700 Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for May 21, 1996 nn nn AAN
Date: Tue, 21 May 1996 12:25:24 -0700
Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for May 21, 1996
Reply-To: firstname.lastname@example.org, AMERICAN.ATHEISTS@listserv.direct.net
nnnnnnnnnn AANEWS nnnnnnnnnn
#43 uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu 5/21/96
COLORADO INITIATIVE HAS CHURCHES JOINING IN ''BATTLE''
A controversial ballot initiative in Colorado would levy taxes on
churches, fraternal groups, and other nonprofit organizations, and -- say
supporters -- raise nearly $70 million in badly needed revenue.
But according to yesterday's Denver Post, religious groups across the
state are joining forces to make sure that doesn't happen. In fact, they're
trying to raise $750,000 to combat the initiative which would make Colorado
the first state to tax churches and other nonprofit groups.
The initiative is headed by Colorado Springs attorney John Murphy and
Luther Bridges. The men have formed Coloradans for Fair Property Tax, which
seeks to address what they claim is an unfair situation for taxpayers.
Private individuals, businesses and corporations are all taxed -- so why
shouldn't religious groups be taxed as well, especially if they receive
The proposal has a number of religious groups concerned, however,
especially in a town like Colorado Springs have become an organizational
mecca for some non-profits. Over two dozen religious sects, including the
giant Focus on the Family, have set up headquarters there, and some estimate
that such organizations employ close to 10,000 persons, and pump in some
$60,000,0000 each year to the local economy. One fear is that if Colorado
begins to tax the non-profits, they might well relocate elsewhere.
Initiative supporters, though, say that the costs of such a move may not be
worth it, and predict that many groups would stay in Colorado.
The so-called "Murphy Initiative" has created a strange alliance of
religious groups, though. The Post noted that "Fundamentalist, evangelical,
Catholic and mainline Protestant churches, as well as Jewish, Muslim and
Hindu groups have united to fight the proposal that will be on the November
ballot." Focus on the Family, the giant religious right organization headed
by James Dobson, has kicked in its support, along with the Colorado Council
of Churches and the Church Management Association. According to the Post, a
strategy session which took place last week devised a plan to raise
$5,000-$10,000 contributions to derail the proposal from regional
denominational groups. The figure of "several thousand dollars" from Focus
on the Family was mentioned. A spokeswoman for the Council of Church's "task
force on legislation" added that "We'll have lots of volunteers" to help
defeat the fair tax initiative.
SUPREME COURT RULINGS DRAWS RELIGIOUS FIRE
Religious conservatives are fuming at yesterday's U.S. Supreme Court
decision which shot down a Colorado constitutional amendment barring efforts
to protect gay men and women from discrimination. In a 6-3 ruling, the high
court said that no state may "deem a class of persons a stranger to its
laws," and declared that Colorado had no basis for precluding homosexuals
from "legislative, executive or judicial actions designed to protect people
based on their sexual orientation."
Reaction on capitol hill and throughout the country was quick and blunt.
Rep. Charles T. Canady (R-Fla.) who heads the powerful House Judiciary
Committee told the Washington Post that "American citizens should be outraged
by the court's decision," and said that his committee will hold hearings on
the matter. Tony Marco, president of Colorado for Family Values -- the group
which originally helped promote the amendment in 1992 -- said that he will
encourage legislators to re-write the law in hopes of conforming to the court
According to USA TODAY and other news sources, the court ruling was also
good news for a beleaguered business community in Colorado, which has lost
tens of millions of dollars due to boycotts organized by human rights groups.
Thirty two large conventions have been cancelled since the proposal -- known
as Amendment 2 -- was passed. In Denver alone, an estimated $38 million was
lost, and the head of the Metro Convention and Visitor's Bureau declared
"We're happy to not have that (the amendment) hanging over our heads."
Amendment 2 nullified several gay rights, anti-discrimination ordinances
which had been enacted in Aspen, Boulder and Denver.
While civil libertarians and gay rights groups were celebrating
yesterday's ruling, though, religious right organizations weren't pleased.
Gary Bauer of the Family Research Council said that the ruling came from "an
out of control unelected judiciary" and "should send chills down the back of
anyone who cares whether the people of this nation any longer have the power
of self-rule." A spokesman for Focus on the Family told a press conference
that the ruling was intended "to disparage the moral views of the people of
California. And Jim Woodall, an officer with Concerned Women for America,
pledged to continue the fight. "We'll stop at nothing. We'll redouble our
efforts at the grass roots."
Fuels Same Sex Marriage Debate
While the court's majority and minority findings dealt mostly with the
legal nuances of whether Amendment 2 overturned "special rights" for gays,
the ruling is also fueling the controversy over same sex, gay marriages.
Some believe that yesterday's decision reflects a more tolerant, educated
court; others fear that it will pave the way for other gay-rights initiatives
such as same-sex marriages. Opponents of gay marriage are "digging in"
throughout the nation; CNN quoted Georgia State Senator Ed. Gochenour, who
helped pass an anti-gay marriage bill in that state, as promising to combat
any attempt to alter that legislation.
Other developments in this story:
* The city council of Normal, Illinois rejected a proposal to add gay men
and women to the towns anti-discrimination ordinance earlier this month.
*Religious groups continue to organize against both gay marriage and the
inclusion of homosexuals in anti-discrimination ordinances. In Lansing,
Michigan, "Majority Opposed to Special Treatment" is working to rescind an
ordinance enacted in March which included homosexuals in the communitity's
CWA -- Combative Christianity
Behind much of the anti-gay campaign throughout the country is the
Concerned Women of America, an organization headed by Beverly LaHaye, wife of
evangelist Tim LaHaye. Its literature states that "The purpose of Concerned
Women of America is to preserve, protect and promote traditional and
Judeo-Christian values through education, legal defense, legislative programs
and related activities which represent the concerns of men and women who
believe in these values." The group has over 600,000 members organized into
"Prayer/Action Chapters", who lobby against abortion, gay rights, numerous
proposals of the U.S. Department of Education, and work for passage of the
Religious Equality Amendment which would restore prayer and bible reading in
The LaHayes have a long track record with religious right efforts and
organizations. Beverly LaHaye took as her role model the efforts of numerous
interests in Brazil, who in the early 1960's organized groups such as the
Institute for Economic and Social Research, and overthrew the administration
of Joao Goulart. LaHaye was fascinated by the "womens cells" which organized
marches and other demonstrations, thus bringing about the 20-year rule of a
military dictatorship. But it was hubby Tim LaHaye who worked with 70's era
evangelists and fundamentalists like Jerry Falwell in organizing the Moral
Majority, and then groups such as the American Coalition for Traditional
Values, laying the political groundwork for later religious right successes.
A favorite bogey-man of the LaHayes and Concerned Women for America is
"secular humanism," which they describe as "man's (sic) attempt to solve his
problems independently of God." Sara Diamond's book "Spiritual Warfare" adds
that in the book "The Battle for the Mind," a tract distributed widely by the
old Moral Majority, "LaHaye proceeds to develop and elaborate theory on the
humanist conspiracy, linking the ACLU, the NAACP, the National Organization
for Women, Hollywood movie producers and even Unitarians to the impending
downfall of modern civilization. The solution, LaHaye argues, is for
Christian moralists to seize control of political and ideological
The LaHayes and CWA have also been active in the notorious "textbook wars"
waged by other religious activists such as Mel and Norma Gabler of Texas.
Combing texts for any references to homosexuality, abortion, Atheism,
"anti-Christian" themes, even evolution, groups of "concerned parents"
complain to school boards and file law suits to have the offending texts
censored or removed. One CWA effort resulted in a controversial 1987 ruling
where a judge in Mobile, Alabama banned 44 textbooks from the local schools
on the grounds that they promoted the "religious of secular humanism": the
decision was quickly overturned by a higher court.
CWA has also been at the forefront of other religious battles as well,
including "sidewalk counselling," anti-abortion protests, the home-religious
schooling movement,efforts to stop condom distribution, as well as the sale
of "pornography" in convenience stores. A new theme for the group is the
effort to stop legalized-gambling in the United States, whether at casinos or
through state lotteries; it has found a wide range of allies in this
effort,from the Christian Coalition to the more liberal National Council of
Concerned Women for America brands homosexuality "an unnatural and
unhealthy lifestyle," adding that it has "no place in America's schools."
Legal experts are still analyzing the court's language used in yesterday's
finding about gay rights.There is evidence that, in part, the ruling
concerned "equal rights" and the ability of local government bodies to
selectively enforce law; it remains to be seen how or if this same ruling
might apply to other questions such as same sex marriage. Even so, religious
right groups such as Concerned Women for America, will remain active at the
local and state levels doing everything possible to stop any gay marriage
legislation; they are also supporting the "Defense of Marriage Act"
introduced last week in Congress.
GIDEONS FACE NEW COMPETITION IN TRACT ''PLACEMENT'' WAR
In the grocery business, it's called "spotting." Distributors often pay
big bucks for giant supermarket chains to "position" their products on
eye-level shelves, or through attractive marketing displays. It can make or
break an item, from bar-b-q sauce to soup.
But in the holy book placement game, the prize has usually gone to the
Gideons, a Nashville, Tn.-based religious group which has its special
Christian bible in 3.4 million hotel rooms throughout the country. Whether
its a four-star rated hotel in the AAA handbook, or an "economy" flea bag for
the night, you'll probably find a Gideon bible tucked away in a drawyer next
to the bed.
Until now. Don't look for major changes right away, but the Gideons are
getting a little competition in the holy book "placement wars" which to many
observers simply reflects the growing religious pluralism in the American
belief-bazaar. The Gideons still remain the heavyweight favorites, but there
are some upstarts:
* The Church of Scientology has their "Way to Happiness: A Common Sense
Guide to Better Living" in 350 hotels, a total of more than 90,000 rooms.
According to Christianity Today Magazine, the 96-page tract is "a
secular-themed booklet by the group's founder, L. Ron Hubbard," which
"encourages moral and ethical conduct and is placed in hotels by members of
an affiliated secular organization, the Way to Happiness Foundation."
* Christian Science -- the folks who have those "reading rooms" in
shopping centers and churches throughout the country -- has a "Scripture
placement" program. Thus far, "Science and Health with Key to the
Scriptures" by founder Mary Baker Eddy, is in more than 2,000 bookstores and
has been showing up in some hotels and motels as well.
* An estimated 2,500 motel rooms now have a volume of Buddhist scripture
placed by the Tokyo-based Society for the Promotion of Buddhism. Leading the
way is the Nikko hotel chain, which places the Teachings of Buddah next to
the Gideon Bible.
* Muslim groups, including the American Muslim Council, hesitate to place
copies of their holy book -- the Koran -- in hotel rooms. According to
Christianity Today, "Muslim scholars say one factor is fear that a reader
would take the Qur'an (Koran) into an 'inappropriate place' such as a
In addition to the Gideons, there is the New York Bible Society, which
has been placing bibles in hotels for nearly 60 years.
An Atheist Response?
How do Atheists respond to the presence of a bible in a hotel room?
AANEWS talked to several Atheist activists, and found a wide range of
opinion. Spike Tyson, office manager for American Atheists, said "I'm always
outraged by it. It wouldn't do any good to put Atheist literature in it,
because people who pick up that book already have their minds made up about
Another Atheist, Terry Gerych, said :"I don't mind the religious putting
out their propaganda. If someone wants to put the bible in hotels, that's up
to them, but if someone wanted to put Atheist literature, that should be
acceptable too. I'm not for censoring the bible out of rooms, though, since
censoring is what religious groups often do."
During annual conventions of American Atheists, the presence of religious
tracts in hotel rooms was often mentioned. Some hoteliers discreetly removed
the Gideon bibles, others left them for conventioneers to read or not read as
they chose. Some Atheists put copies of "A Spiritual Guide to Gracious
Living" in the books, an AA Press tract with outrageous, but rarely quoted,
MUSLIM CLERICS MAINTAIN PRESSURE ON FEMALE ATHLETES
In much of the Islamic world, women sweating, working-out and
participating in athletic events is a social and political no-no. And no
country seems to be taking a harder line against women's sports than the
clerical regime in Iran.
Last week, AANEWS reported the growing activism of muslim fundamentalists
throughout that country against any signs of "western decadence," including
movies and liberalization of that nation's tough religious laws. Groups of
zealots also attacked women and couples who happened to riding bicycles in
There is evidence that clerics and their allies are even more concerned
about the possibility of women showing off well-toned muscles, though, than
we originally reported. Last week, Ayatollah Hussein Muzaheri told the Sobh
newspaper that the Koran fobids women to "show off" themselves by engaging in
athletic activities. The cleric also said that Muslim men may not watch
female athletes -- presumably from other nations -- even in televised
"Not only are such deeds forbidden in essence because they offend Islam,
but they are also forbidden because of their implications," the Ayatollah
declared. But what about male coaches looking at women athletes from a
performance standpoint? "Even if such scenes were not provocative and did
not have a corrupting influence, they would still not be compatible with the
purity of the holy Islamic Republic system."
It is believed that this latest blast of indignation comes in response to
reports that women may be permitted to take part in select, public activities
under a new "reform" initiative being promoted by the government of President
Rafsanjani. These include rowing, horse-riding, jogging and bicycling,
activities which can be performed while fully clothed and in accordance with
the ultramodest dress code which the government tries to enforce.
THEISTWATCH SHORT SHOTS
Just how solid the so-called "Catholic vote?" Not very, according to
recent developments and polls. For instance, Catholics may not be voting as
some kind of monolithic block as their ecclesiastical shepherds would like
them to. And growing numbers seem to be straying -- look at the dilemma of
Nebraska Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz who's facing a theological rangewar in his
threat to ex-communicate followers who won't resign from any of a dozen
proscribed groups. Now, there's a poll which shows that in Ohio -- an
important battleground for votes -- Bill Clinton leads Bob Dole by 51% to
42%. Considering all of the emphasis that Ralph Reed of Christian Coalition
and his counterparts in the National Bishop's Conference put on issues like
abortion, that doesn't say much about the "sheparding" done by priests and
other church overseers!
To follow up on last week's story about the Chupacabras or "Mexican Blood
Sucker," more reports continue to pour in about this mysterious beast which
is attacking people and animals throughout the country. We say it's just
so-much public hysteria, of course, which dovetails conveniently with UFO
sightings, apparitions of the Virgin and other triggers of pre-Millennium
angst. Now, it seems that parents are pulling their kids out of school in
fear of their lives, and, according to the LA Times, "computer designers have
produced widely published composite drawings of the creature."
So what? Just because a fable, lie, hoax or hallucination is pictured on
a computer doesn't make it "more real" -- but it may render it more
believable for a credulous population, since it mixes high-tech with ages old
superstition and fears. And there's a second web site up and running about
the Chupacabras...but then again, in the world of cyberspace, there's plenty
of cyber-lunacy. Meanwhile, The Times quoted Mexican author and social
critic Guadalupe Loaeza commenting on the Chupacabras hysteria, saying "It
says a lot about fantasy and our culture."
Ok, we can laugh at some Philippinos and Mexicans for their displays of
religious absurdity, pseudo-science credulity and just plain 'ol everyday
gullability, but "NotreAmericanos" are equally foolish when given the
opportunity to wallow in superstition.
Evangelical churches througout the country are becoming more involved in a
peculiar sort of "religious community activism" which blends social concern
with proselytizing. Take Brockton, Mass. AANEWS just received a report
describing efforts by 100 or so "prayer warriors" who have been organizing
Jesus marches through some of that town's roughest, most impoverished areas.
One pastor was quoted by AP as insisting that "The evil that we see here in
the world is a manifestation of the devil's work. Wherever you see a lot of
crime, drug abuse or prostitution -- this is evidence of demonic influences
It's more than just religious rhetoric, though; these folks actively
believe this stuff.
The idea for such "assaults" and prayer walks was popularized by a guy
named Frank Peretti, whose books are "Christian best-sellers" in religious
bookstores throughout the land. He's ground out titles like "This Present
Darkness," "The Tomb of Anak," and "Escape from the Island of Aquarius." The
blurb for "Darkness" says that "Ashton is just a typical small town. But
when a skeptical reporter and a prayerful pastor begin to compare notes, they
suddenly find themselves fighting a hideous New Age plot to subjugate the
townspeople, and eventually the entire human race."
If this sounds a bit like Stephen King, well, don't be quite sure. King
is a writer of FICTION, and presumably his fans know that. Peretti's
audience is different, though. they often believe this stuff, literally.
"This Present Darkness" comes out under the Crossway Books label, a division
of Good News Publishers, a religious printing house feeding the burgeoning
Christian bookstore market.
What's scary in Paretti's writing isn't the plot or character development,
but the credulous stereotyping of purported villans said to reflect real
events in the real world. Many evangelicals really do believe that satan,
angels, demons and other phantoms are squabbling over the "hearts, minds and
souls" of human beings, as if we were some top door prize in a Manichean
free-for-all. In Peretti's novel, archangels hover and converse while good
Christian "prayer warriors", locked in battle with the forces of Darkness,
try to break Satan's grip on their neighbors.
If this all sounds very militant and military, it is. The Brockton Prayer
assault had all the planning of a military re-enactment where "Organizers
divided the city into four quadrants, then divided in again into groups of
streets. The prayer volunteers had strict orders: no jewely, no expensive
sneakers and no 'enticing' clothes -- for women, that is." One "prayer
warrior" insisted "I feel like I'm walking through Jericho."
All of this is offensive on several levels.
People trapped in a cycle of poverty aren't necessarily going to be helped
by doses of "feel good" evangelical religion. Nor is anyone's status as a
human being affirmed by proselytizing which claims that those who manifest
certain behaviors we don't approve of are simply "possessed" by the sorts of
sinister characters lurking in the pages of Peretti's books. And just what
does it mean to say that these prayer walks "draw the power of Jesus" to a
geographical area? Do federal job grants follow? More teachers? A sudden
influx of union-scale jobs? We doubt it.
Once the "prayer warriors" head home to their pews and churches, of
course, things will pretty much return to the way they were in the sinful
parts of town. Indeed, the prayer assaults are just so much "feel good"
religious theatre for the participants who reach an exuberant high chanting
slogans and mantras in public, and dealing with less fortunates as objects of
some spiritual salvage project akin to bringing up the Titanic.
AANEWS is a free service of American Atheists, a nationwide movement
founded by Madalyn Murray O'Hair for the advancement of Atheism, and the
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Go ahead! Quote from this dispatch, or forward it; but please give
appropriate credit to American Atheists, and to AANEWS. Edited and written
by Conrad F. Goeringer, The LISTMASTER.
E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank