Date: Wed, 29 May 1996 12:25:24 -0700 Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for May 29, 1996 nn nn AAN

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Date: Wed, 29 May 1996 12:25:24 -0700 from: Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for May 29, 1996 Reply-To:, nnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn nnnnnnnnnn AANEWS nnnnnnnnnn #49 uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu 5/29/96 In This Issue... * Squabble Over "Character Education" Looms * American Atheist Media Appearance * Atheist Morals: You CAN "Do The Right Thing" Without "God" * Israeli Elections: Religious Parties Battle For Power * Episcopal Flap Over Gay Ordination Renewed * TheistWatch: Buchanan, And How To Threaten A Government * Information On This List ''CHARACTER EDUCATION'' GREETED WITH MIXED REVIEWS A burgeoning "character education" movement designed for public schools which attempts to teach kids a system of values distinguishing right from wrong is getting a mixed reaction throughout the country, and suspicion from some religious movements. Programs dealing with character development have become popular; in the last three years, parent-teacher projects have been launched in New York, Washington, Albuquerque and even smaller areas like Battle Creek, Michigan. Operating under names such as Character Counts!, the programs seek to teach students basic moral virtues from a secular perspective. Proponents see these efforts as a badly-needed alternative to the questionable "self-esteem" fads of the 70's, and a response to deteriorating social conditions that affect the nation's schools and the 62.6 million Americans with children at home. Character education has been accepted by many baby boomers with gusto. President Clinton and his wife Hillary have hosted two White House conferences on the subject, with a third scheduled for next month. During his State of the Union message last January, he urged schools "to teach character education: good values and good citizenship." Similar sentiments were voiced by former New York Governor Mario Cuomo, who as far back as 1986 was urging greater emphasis on the teaching of values in public schools. All sides of the issue seem to agree that efforts such as "values free" educational efforts are doomed; the argument now seems to focus on the broader questions of whether the "values" promoted through character building programs will be secular, or based on religious ideologies. Many materials used in the character and values programs come from the Josephson Institute on Ethics, which several years ago organized a conference of diverse groups and issued a statement known as the Aspen Declaration. The Character Education Partnership has become a vehicle for developing the Declaration and other concepts into a workable program for use in schools. Among the points emphased by Charles Haynes, a leading exponent of character programs: * "By teaching civic virtue and democratic culture, schools become training grounds for participation in the public square of America...Civility allows for vigorous debate over deep differences, using persuasion and not coercion, accompanied by willingness to seek the common good." * "A recognition of...inalienable rights must be joined to a commitment to guard those rights for all others." * "By civic virtue, we mean living by the guiding principles of our nation's framing documents that are at the hear of our common compact as citizens." * "We are a responsibile society if we guard the fundamental rights of all citizens and carry out the obligations of citizenship by working toward a common vision for the common good." * "By moral character, we mean living by core values held widely in our society, such as caring, honesty, fairness, responsibility, and respect for self and others." Character programs also emphasize what it being called the "Seven Cornerstones" including honesty, citizenship, fairness, caring, responsibility, respect and self-discipline. Major organizations such as the American Federation of Teachers, the YMCA, National Education Association and even the American Youth Soccer Organization have all come out in support of the Character Education Partnership and related programs. That fact alone has raised some red flags on the religious right. Charles Haynes told the Los Angeles Times last week that "The trust level among religious conservatives is so low that even the most carefully crafted character education initiative can blow up when religious beliefs and religion are not taken seriously." Indeed, preparation by AANEWS for this story uncovered widespread hostility to character building programs from religious movements which fear the secular character of the materials, and the fact that "god" is often not mentioned in connection with the ethics and moral standards. According to the Times, "Many conservatives are offended at the idea that right and worng would be taught as if they have no grounding in religious belief. And many more are simply deeply distrustful that the schools would intrude on an area they consider the exclusive province of churches and parents." Character programs often seem to reflect an effort at constructing an almost eclectic mix of values; Michael Josephson of Character Counts! says he wants "to return to times when people feel guilt and shame." Others worry that the rhetoric of the character building movement is vague, or could even provide cover for schools to teach religion or "homogenize" thought. As these programs continue to spread, though, religious fundamentalists and evangelicals may well step up there own attacks on "secular" value teachings. The question of who defines these values, and upon what standards, may become another "hot button" controversy along with sex education, evolution, condom distribution and prayer in the public schools. ************** From The Editor... AMERICAN ATHEISTS PRESIDENT TO DISCUSS CHARACTER AGENDA Ellen Johnson, President of American Atheists, will be on NewsTalk Television today between 4 and 4:15 p.m. eastern time, to discuss the character building program and its religion-based opposition. Listeners may fax in any questions or comments during the program to 1-800-450-0019. *************** A QUESTION OF CHARACTER ~~ ARE ATHEISTS LESS MORAL THAN THEIR RELIGIOUS COUNTERPARTS? Given the opposition to the growing character education movement, it is fair to ask whether religious training necessarily results in more ethical standards of conduct and behavior. Atheists and even those who for other reasons may advocate some form of secular ethical education in schools are often attacked as not having a "basis for morality" in their lives. Ethicists and philosophers are generally agreed today that one can have a non-theistic basis for morality. Does god-belief result in better behavior, though? According to the Josephson Institute of Ethics and an article in the San Jose Mercury News printed in September, 1993, the findings of studies concerned with that question "run counter-intuitive to what many people expect." Michael Josephson told the News that "There's a general assumption that people make that religious people are more honest than non-religious people." He adds that "They are. Slightly." The study found, for instance, that 13 % of strong religionists -- those who consider faith as "essential" in their lives, lied to get jobs, that 36% had cheated on exams in high school, and that another 30% cheated in college tests. Those percentages were slightly below the responses of non-religious individuals: 15% of this group lied in order to obtain employment, and the 39% of "irreligious" respondents say they had cheated on high school tests. But only 29% of the non-religious reported cheating in college. Other surveys have attempted to measure differences in conduct between believers and non-believers. In 1992, the Gallup poll suggested that church members were more likely to engage in charitable works than their non-religious counterparts. But other studies indicate, for instance, that Atheists constitute only about 2% of the population in prisons, and that religious people don't always attempt to analyze how their own beliefs may be translated into everyday action. The News story quoted Richard John Neuhaus, editor of a religious journal who said that "One would like to believe that people who think of themselves as devout Christians would also behave in a manner that is in according with Christian ethics. But pastorally and existentially, I know that this is not the case -- and never has been." ********************* ISRAELI ELECTION ~~ CLOSE CONTEST, AS RELIGIOUS PARTIES CONTEST POLITICAL POWER The voting is still going on in Israel as the country's 3.9 million eligible voters choose who will occupy the Prime Minister post and 120 seats in the Knesset or parliament. The top contest pits incumbent Prime Minister and Labor Party leader Shimon Peres against Benjamin Netanyahu of the religious conservative Likud. Both candidates have made their campaigns a referendum on the status of the peace process with the Palestinians and the future of any independent Palestinian state. Polls say the race is too close to call, and both men are predicting victory. Security has been beefed-up throughout the country, with more than 26,000 troops being deployed around polling stations. This election marks the first time in the country's 48-year history when the prime minister will be elected by a direct popular vote; formerly that post was filled by an appointment from the nation's president, who in turn was elected by the Knesset. But whoever wins has only 45 days to cobble together a coalition government; without a clear majority in the Knesset for either Labor or Likud, the power of Israel's militant religious parties then becomes crucial. In addition to Labor and Likud is the ultra-orthodox Shas or "Sephardic Torah Guardians" group, the fifth largest of the political parties following the 1992 elections. There are currently six Shas seats in the Knesset, and members believe that "God is the supreme authority over any government." The dominionist sect is led by Arieh Deri. The Moledet party of Rehavam Ze'evi is a nationalist-religious party which evolved from the Kach movement of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane. Kahane, a rabid religious zionist, founded the Jewish Defense League in New York, and later emigrated to Israel and was elected to the Knesset. The Moledet is considered slightly less extreme than the Kach, though. United Torah Judaism is another dominionist group, supporting the establishment of Israeli settlements on religious grounds. The party is headed by Meir Porush, and believes that all government policy should be strictly based on Jewish theological law. United Torah is expected to retain all of its four seats in the Kenesset. Backing the Likud in supporting Netanyahu is the National Religious Party. NRP supports only local control of certain areas for Palestinians, opposes any Palestinian state, and seeks to expand the controversial Jewish settlements in conquered territories. Religion has been a major factor in the campaign. Critics of Mr. Peres accuse him of abandoning the sanctity of the Jewish homeland by negotiating with the Palestinian Liberation Organization, but fundamentalists have also attacked Netanyahu for his extra-marital affair which he admitted to during a TV broadcast several years ago. Mr. Netanyahu is considered more of a religious conservative, especially in connection with foreign policy; it is not known, though, what changes if any he would make in the Israeli domestic policy in terms of secularism. Voting results may not be known for days, especially if the election is extremely close. **************** EPISCOPAL - GAY RIGHTS CONTROVERSY NOT OVER? The fight within the Episcopal Church over the ordination of gays into the priesthood may not have been resolved, despite an ecclesiastical court's decision to not press heresy charges against a bishop who admitted that he did ordain a gay man. On May 15, an Episcopal tribunal ruled in a 7 to 1 decision to dismiss charges against Bishop Walter Righter for his ordination of Barry Stopfel as a deacon in the Diocese of Neward in 1990. In the church hierarchy, a deacon ranks slightly below a full priest. The court ruled that the church had no "core doctrine" barring Righter from ordaining a "non-celibate, homosexual person living in a faithful and committed sexual relationship with a person of the same sex." Yesterday, Bishop John Spong of the Diocese of Newark hailed the ruling again, comparing the decision to the roots of the church and King Henry VIII's move to sever religious ties with Rome, 1533-1535. But now, others within the hierarchy are speaking out; a group of 10 Episcopal bishops is now declaring that they will reject the court's decision, although they were not seeking to force a schism in the 2.5 million member church. Instead, they will take their case to the church's General Convention which meets in July, 1997 in Philadelphia. Among the ten bishops is William C. Wantland of the Wisconsin Diocese, one of those who filed the original accusation or "presentment" against Bishop Righter and called for a heresy trial. During a press conference held late yesterday in Dallas, Texas, Bishop James Stanton called the decision "deeply flawed and erroneous," and added that it "swept away two millennia of Christian teaching regarding God's purpose in creation. While the Episcopal sect is numerically small, it is nevertheless considered a powerful and influential "mainstream" religion in American protestantism. It has produced more U.S. Presidents than any other faith, and includes within its ranks former President George Bush. After the court's decision on May 15, it is also the largest Christian church in the country to permit the ordination without penalty of noncelibate homosexuals. That policy could change, however, in 1997. ************* THEISTWATCH SHORT SHOTS On the political front, don't count out Pat Buchanan, who still intends to take his "family values" and "America first" morals crusade to the floor of the upcoming GOP National Convention. Party honchos are desperately trying to find a way to keep the Buchanan organization within the ranks, and keep other fundamentalist-evangelical religious conservatives happy as well. Buchanan is still being promoted for a third party slot by the Christian reconstructionist US Taxpayers Party. And over the weekend, a flap about the upcoming Washington state GOP gathering may have provided the pundits and observers with a preview of what's coming for the national Republican shindig in California. . Buchanan told the media that he would make "no deal" with Washington state GOP officials for an opportunity to address their gathering, in exchange for a giving a clear endorsement of presumed party standardbearer Bob Dole. State Chairman Ken Eikenberry had send Buchanan a letter of invite to the state meeting, but only if Pat agreed to certain conditions. In addition to the explicit support for Dole, Buchanan would have had to agree to shut down his campaign phone banks and sign a GOP "loyalty oath." Word is that nationwide the Buchanan apparatus is very much in-tact, with supporters ready to mount an effort within a third party. ******** Seems that the Vatican has more than its share of worries in Poland. The political picture there has changed considerably from the heady days of the "Walesa Revolution" which brought the Solidarity movement -- and, according to some, the Roman Catholic Church -- to power. While not wanted to return to Soviet-style government, there has been a distinct secular backlash in the country, with many poles worried about the invasive antics of Mother Church, especially over issues such as abortion, the educational curriculum and freedom of the press. The defeat of Walesa's apparatus by Aleksander Kwasniewski and his SLD or Alliance of the Democratic Left hasn't made things easier for the Vatican; During a hard fought campaign, the Church's Radio Maria and other religious media unleased racist propaganda campaigns against Walesa's opponents, and called for believers to support only politicians who espoused Christian (i.e. Catholic) and "patriotic" values. As a result, the new Polish government is now balking at a proposed Concordant with the Vatican. So last week, the Pontiff turned up the heat again, telling a gathering of Polish "pilgrims" that "Today in Poland we are seeing the trivializing of religion and a threat by authorities to the church." He added his own formula for Poland's salvation, saying the country needed "men of conscience, Christian families who can testify to the valor man, love, faith, the sanctity of marriage and the passion for life." Look for even more pressure as the Vatican attempts to meddle in Poland's internal affairs -- as it does with other country's, including the United States'. The Pontiff is holding his planned 1997 visit to the city of Wroclaw "hostage" if the government doesn't sign the Concordant, which critics fear gives the Church far too much control in Poland's domestic affairs, including the educational system. Bishop Tadeusz Pieroned hinted earlier this month that the SLD-led government had better sign, just like the Israeli's did. He told Reuters that "It shows how smart the Israeli government is," and added that the Roman Catholic Church also opposes a new draft constitution which omits all references to a god in its preamble. ********************** 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:, and put your name and mailing address in the message body. To receive subscribe/unsubscribe information about this list, send e-mail to:, and put "info aanews" in the message body. You may post, forward or quote from this dispatch, provided that appropriate credit is given to AANEWS and American Atheists. Edited and written by Conrad F. Goeringer, The LISTMASTER.


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