Date: Tue, 21 May 1996 12:25:24 -0700 Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for May 21, 1996 nn nn AAN

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Date: Tue, 21 May 1996 12:25:24 -0700 Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for May 21, 1996 from: AMERICAN.ATHEISTS@listserv.direct.net Reply-To: aanews@listserv.atheists.org, AMERICAN.ATHEISTS@listserv.direct.net nnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn 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 public services? 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 decision. 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 anti-discrimination coverage. 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 public schools. 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 institutions." 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 Churches. 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 bathroom." 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 religion." 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, biblical verse. *** 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 Tehran. 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 events. "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 oppressing people." 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 total, absolute separation of government and religion. For more information about American Atheists, send e-mail to: info@atheists.org, and include your name and mailing address. For information about this list, including instructions on subscribing or unsubscribing, send e-mail to: aanews-request@listserv.atheists.org and put "info aanews" in the message body. 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.

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