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

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Date: Sat, 25 May 1996 12:25:24 -0700 from: Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for May 25, 1996 Reply-To:, nnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn nnnnnnnnnn AANEWS nnnnnnnnnn #46 uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu 5/25/96 In This Edition... * High Court Rules Again On School Prayer * Hindu Nationalists Keep A Steak In India * Clinton May Sign "Marriage Defense" Bill * Vatican Tampers (Again) * TheistWatch: (A Laugh For Those NOT On Vacation This Weekend!) COURT SUPPORTS PUBLIC SCHOOL GRADUATION PRAYER BAN Supreme Court May Be Next Step The Third U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reaffirmed a 1993 ban on prayers at high school graduation ceremonies Friday, and the ruling is seen as another step bringing the controversial issue closer to full Supreme Court review. The court ruled in its 9-4 decision that officials at Black Horse Pike Regional School District in New Jersey violated the Constitution's Establishment Clause by allowing "student led" prayer in 1992. The prayer policy was based partly on a vote taken by graduating seniors at Highland and Triton Regional High Schools; a plurality of students supported prayer. But one student -- Edward Ross -- took the issue to court. Four days before the June, 1993 graduation ceremonies, a district judge ruled that the prayer was permissible since school district authorities did not ostensibly try to affect the outcome of the voting. That decision was quickly appealed to the Third Circuit, which overturned the lower court finding and issued a temporary injunction against the student-led prayer. As a result, some students and parents protested at the 1993 Highland graduation ceremony, chanting "We want Prayer" and waving signs. Yesterday's Circuit Court decision means that school districts in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Deleware and the Virgin Islands may not permit student led or "student initiated" prayer; it also means that there is a conflict on school prayer issues involving three of the nation's eleven Circuit Courts, and adds impetus for a final decision from the U.S. Supreme Court. In Friday's decision, the court noted "the prevalence of religious beliefs and imagery" in society, but added that this "cannot erode the state's obligation to protect the entire spectrum of religious preferences from the most pious worshiper to the most committed atheist. These preferences are the business of the individual, not the state nor the public schools it maintains." Important Legal, Social Questions The nation's courts have ruled in several important cases that prayer and bible recitation in public schools, especially when orchestrated by teachers or other school authorities, clearly violate the "Establishment Clause" of the First Amendment. One, Engle v. Vitale, found unconstitutional a "Regent's Prayer" which had been invented by the Board of Education of New York State as a "non-denominational" religious utterance. The "prayer" did not mention the person of Jesus Christ, but did begin with the words "Almighty God." Another case was Abington Township School District v. Schempp, which concerned a Pennsylvania State Statute proclaiming that: "At least ten verses from the Holy Bible shall be read, or caused to be read, without comment, at the opening of each public school on each school day by the teacher in charge." The Schempps were members of the Unitarian religion. Writing in the August, 1995 issue of AMERICAN ATHEIST MAGAZINE, Madalyn O'Hair noted: "The complaint in the case (Schempp) indicated that there was also a unison recitation by students and teachers of the Lord's Prayer. Such recitation was not covered by the challenged statute. The two religious exercises were then followed by students' recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance -- against which no complain was made. One of the Schempp children, Ellroy, contested the Bible reading, refused to stand during the recitation of the Lord's Prayer, and finally requested that he be permitted to leave the room." But with the Schempp challenge, Pennsylvania legislators quickly moved to save at least the Bible reading portion of the school prayer ritual. An amendment to the law was promptly passed, declaring: "Any child shall be excused from such Bible reading, or attending such Bible reading, upon the written request of his parents or guardian." This amendment cleared by 1959 Congressional session in Pennsylvania, was approved by the governor and in October, 1960, the Supreme Court vacated the judgment of a lower court and remanded the case to the federal district court. O'Hair continues: "The same three-judge court then granted a motion to amend the pleading, to include the amendment to the statute. However, Ed Schempp decided 'after careful consideration' that he could not have his children excused from the morning ceremonies for fear that they would be labeled as oddballs or Atheists. He thought that their classmates might 'lump all particular religious difference(s) or religious objections (together) as 'Atheism' 'He opined that at the time of the hearing the word ATHEISM was often connected with 'atheistic communism' and had 'very bad' connotations such as 'un-American' or 'Red" with 'overtones of possibly immorality.' " But it was the case of Murray v. Curlett which had two important consequences in the fight against school prayer. First, the Murray case was filed by Atheists: it not only utilized the "religious liberty" arguments of other cases (that is, government-sponsored prayer may offend the "religious liberty" of smaller sects and un-popular denominations,) but declared openly that the civil liberties of Atheists were being violated as well. In fact, the brief in Murray began with the statement "Your petitioners are Atheists..." and then followed with a statement about Atheist philosophy. Murray also challenged the gamut of prayer and bible recitation in public schools; the 1963 U.S. Supreme Court decision then effectively outlawed this religious rituals in public schools throughout the land. Subsequent decisions upheld the wisdom in Murray and related cases. In Wallace v. Jaffree (1985), the Court overturned a law mandating a "period of silence" which critics charged was simply an excuse to sneak prayer back into schools. In 1992, the Lee v. Weisman case found that prayers at public school graduation ceremonies were indeed a violation of the First Amendment since the practice constituted the Establishment of religion. Why Graduation Prayer Is Wrong Atheists oppose the practice of school prayer -- including "student initiated" or "student led" prayer for a number of reasons. * Graduation ceremonies are an official function of public schools; the same rules which apply to "day to day" business in schools also apply to graduations. There is nothing distinctive or unusual about the ceremony which would exempt it. * School officials, teachers, or school board authorities have no business orchestrating a religious ritual at any school function. * School prayer which is "student initiated" inevitably ends up being "initiated" only by SOME students, and ignores the rights of other students -- including those who are Atheists -- be be free of such a coercive ritual. * The prayer at graduation cannot be "voluntary" any more than a daily prayer in class could be considered a "voluntary" affair. Courts have noted that students who choose to opt-out of the prayer are often subject to harassment, mental, even physical abuse. If students who do not choose to pray are given the "option" of remaining silent, or leaving the classroom/school event where prayer is being recited, why shouldn't the same standard apply to those who do wish to pray? Why shouldn't religious students leave the classroom instead? * Prayer during the school business day, or at a school function, creates the appearance of official sanction by teachers, administrators, or board members. School or other government functions and events are simply not suitable venues for prayer or other religious exercise. * Atheists challenge the irrationality of prayer -- whether Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu or "non-denominational." This ritual is noxious to the 25,000,000 Americans who have no god-belief. * Prayer or religious ritual in a public school setting will act to divide students and teachers on the basis of belief, and the basis of belief versus non-belief. It is divisive and bigoted, especially since the "student led" or "student initiated" prayer often reflects a sectarian bias. School Prayer and "Law 'n Order" Despite clear injunctions against prayer in public schools, the practice is still found throughout the country. Prayer enthusiasts often permit or encourage prayer or religious ritual in some form, until caught and challenged in court. In parts of the U.S. south, school prayer is openly flaunted; in March, for instance, a mother in Oxford, Mississippi had to take the Pontotoc County schools to court when it was learned that a school in Ecru was broadcasting prayers and other religious slogans over the public address system. A preliminary injunction has temporarily stopped that practice, declaring that the school district "excessively involved itself with religion and crossed the line drawn between church and state." Ironically, the practice -- despite court rulings -- is not only defended by "law and order" type conservatives, but encouraged. In the Pontotoc case, the School Superintendent declared "We believe we have the right to pray in schools. We've been doing it for 50-plus years..." Religious proselytizing in schools appears to be one of those cases where breaking local, state and federal statutes is justified "in god's name." The Future: A "Religious Equality Amendment" Friday's Circuit Court ruling will also contribute to the clamor from some religionists for a "Religious Equality Amendment." Two versions of the proposed legislation are currently in the U.S. Congress, and both would amendment the Constitution to permit "student led" or "student initiated" prayer in public school settings, including graduation ceremonies and the classroom. The Amendments are supported by various fundamentalist and evangelical groups, including Christian Coalition, Focus on the Family, and Eagle Forum. ****************** HINDU NATIONALISTS: ''HAIL, MOTHER COW!" A proposed ban on the slaughter of cows resulted in a uproar Friday as India's new parliament concluded its first day of official business. Members of the Hindu nationalist BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) began chanting "Hail, Mother Cow!" as a measure to ban the slaughter of the "sacred" animals was passed. According to CNN, opposition members "loudly bewailed the death of secularism." The legislation underscores growing tension between the new Hindu government of President Shanka Dayal Sharma, and the country's 110-million Muslims, many of whom do eat beef. Cows roam freely throughout India, including the streets of major metropolitan areas, since they are considered "sacred" by the Hindu population, which by some estimates is close to one billion. A former minister of the deposed Congress Party, Mamata Banerjee, walked out of the parliament session after telling lawmakers that "This kind of thing (the ban) will hurt the sentiments of the minorities." The BHP has until the end of this month to assemble a coalition capable of governing the country. The first Hindu Nationalist premier, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, was sworn in on May 15, after the BHP defeated the ruling Congress Party of Narashimha Rao, which had governed India in all but four years since 1947. The BHP is seen by many observers as a fundamentalist reaction to the limited reforms of the Rao era; the Hindu militants have promised to beef-up the country's military posture, seen by many as a challenge to neighborhing Muslim countries such as Pakistan, and continue a program to develop atomic weapons. It is not certain, though, that the BHP can assemble a workable coalition government in time to avoid another round of elections. *************** CLINTON WAFFLES: MIGHT SIGN ''DEFENSE OF MARRIAGE'' ACT President Clinton is under attack from civil liberties and gay rights group, following a White House announcement that the President would sign any bill which denies Federal recognition to same-sex marriages. According to spokesman Michael McCurry, Mr. Clinton also "broadly hinted" that he would endorse and sign the "Defense of Marriage Act" which has been rushed into Congress, and is co-sponsored by the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, Kansas Sen. Bob Dole. That Bill would define marriage as "the union of one man of one woman," and deny any federal benefits such as health coverage or pensions to gay couples. The move is seen as efforts by Clinton to moderate his tone on social issues, and compete favorably with the religious "family values" agenda being pushed by fundamentalists and evangelicals inside of the Republican Party. The N.Y. Times quoted a friend of the President's, fundraiser and gay rights activist David Mixner, who said that the White House announcement was "nauseating and appalling, an act of political cowardice." Mixner also suggested that Clinton was using the issue of gay marriage as "this year's Sister Souljah," an apprent reference to the black rap artist Clinton condemned in 1992 -- a move seen as an effort to appease moderates in his own party. Clinton Under Pressure? Many see Wednesday's announcement as part of a tactical effort by Clinton to respond to GOP pressure on "culture war" issues. Republicans have been pushing the "Defense of Marriage Act," which was rushed into Congress earlier this month following a series of gay-rights victories in the courts. In Hawaii, that state's highest court ruled that the government could not withold granting a marriage license on the basis of sex. This past week, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a controversial Colorado law known as Amendment 2 which had nullified local ordinances protecting gays from public discrimination. Religious groups throughout the country have been promoting both the "Defense of Marriage Act" and various state versions of the proposed federal legislation. The Traditional Values Coalition, a network of 31,000 fundamentalist and evangelical churches, is promoting the measures, and chairman Rev. Louis Sheldon promised last week that "This is going to be a front-burner campaign '96 issue." ***************** VATICAN ADMITS IT BROUGHT PRESSURE IN OREGON CASE Vatican mouthpiece Joaquin Navarro-Valls admitted during a press conference yesterday in Rome that the Church had formally asked American authorities to destroy a taped confession made to a priest by a jail suspect in Lane County, Oregon. The case involved a conversation between the cleric and Conan Hale, who is a suspect in a triple murder case. The local District Attorney had earlier said he was considering using the tape as evidence, but last Wednesday apologized for his remarks and announced that he would not use the recording in court. According to Reuter and other news sources, Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Angelo Sodano contacted U.S. Ambassador Raymond Flynn, "insisting that the tape be destroyed." The Vatican spokesman said that the Church considered it a sacred duty to "safeguard the rights of Catholic faithful to profess their faith, rights connected to religious freedom and respect for conscience." Civil libertarians are mixed in their reaction. Some critics say that the Oregon case should have been the business of American courts, not Vatican foreign policy. Others worry about Ambassador Raymond Flynn, who has been cited by internal State Department investigators for being a conduit for Vatican positions rather than American interest. An internal report cited Flynn's actions on issues such as abortion. The Vatican recently condemned President Clinton for his veto of the so-called "Partial Birth Abortion Act." THEISTWATCH SHORT SHOTS Politics makes strange bedfellows. In the postmodern hullaballoo of Russian intrigue, for instance, Russian nationalists, Orthodox and the just-plain-far out find themselves united against any progressive reforms in that troubled country. Last week, Communist (Democratic Socialist) strongman Gennadi Zyuganov was treated to verbal demands from his own party members that "non-Russians and non-Christians" get the boot from any subsequent Russian government he might control. **************** Speaking of Russia, since the fall of the wall, and vestiges of common sense and clear thinking appear to have taken flight along with stolid Stalinist orthodoxy. Former-Soviet society is awash in a cultural wave bringing everything from religious fundamentalism to new age hokum into the intellectual markeplace. Astrology has made a strong comeback, and it seems that the star-gazing soothsayers are throwing their support behind President Yeltsin as the likely winner in the June 16 election. The head of the Russian Astrological Society has proclaimed that "Astrologically, this is an excellent year for Yeltsin. His sun is in the 10th house -- the house of power and fame and the highest peak of the horoscope." Turns out that Yeltsin is an "Aquarius," and challenger Gennady Zyuganov a "Cancer." How much of the booze IS Boris passing around? ***** It's amazing how hypocritical religious leaders can be, especially in the area of "selective indignation." Take Paris Archbishop Jean-Marie Lustiger, who has built up a clerical career as a bootlicker for Vatican hardliners and an authoritarian in his own right. Yesterday, when it was revealed that seven French monks kidnapped recently from a monestary in Algeria were beheaded by Islamic fanatics, Lustiger loudly condemned the action and held a ceremony at Notre Dame Cathedral covered by the national media. But Lustiger wasn't so compassionate with another victim of Muslim hooliganism, author Salman Rushdie. Back in 1989 when Rushdie's novel "The Satanic Verses" was attracting howls of protest from Tehran, and demands for censorship (as well as the author's own head!), Lustiger joined in the flatulent call for banning the book, declaring that it offended the "religious sensibilities" of Muslims. It seems that Lustiger has two standards -- one for those who promote religious (specifically Christian) superstitition, another for those who dare question it. ************ 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 governmnent and religion. For more information about American Atheism, send e-mail to:, and include your name and mailing address. You may forward, post or quote from this dispatch, provided that appropriate credit is given to AANEWS and American Atheists. For more information on this list, send e-mail to: Put "info aanews" (minus the quotes) in the message body. Edited and written by Conrad F. Goeringer, The LISTMASTER.


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