Date: Fri, 31 May 1996 12:25:24 -0700 Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for May 31, 1996 nn nn AAN

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Date: Fri, 31 May 1996 12:25:24 -0700 from: Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for May 31, 1996 Reply-To:, nnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn nnnnnnnnnn AANEWS nnnnnnnnnn #52 uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu 5/31/96 In This Edition... * Florida Prayer Bill: It ISN'T Just For Church Anymore! * "Your Petitioners Are Atheists..." ~~ The Legacy Of Murray v. Curlett * "Knesset Ayatollahs" Threaten Civil Liberties * TheistWatch: OUR Candidate For Dali Lama! * Info On This List... D-DAY ARRIVES IN FLORIDA SCHOOL PRAYER CONTROVERSY Today, Florida Governor Lawton Chiles must decide on whether he wants to sign a controversial school prayer proposal, veto the bill, or allow it to become law without his signature. After two months of debate, beginning with hearings before the Florida Senate Education Committee, the legislation has landed on Chile's desk, setting off a round of campaigning by advocates on both sides of the issue. Making the school prayer proposal even more controversial is the fact that it is attached to an education reform bill which many see as an important step in addressing many of the state's school problems. The prayer issue as, as usual, has divided the state. Opposing the measure are groups such as the American Jewish Congress, and even the Florida Council of Churches which represents about two dozen religious groups. The school prayer measure has become a major goal, though, of other fundamentalist and evangelical groups, including that state's giant Christian Coalition chapter, which has flooded the newsmedia with press releases and letters. The Coalition claims to have 180,000 members throughout Florida; but according to the Thursday edition of the St. Petersburg Times, only 17,000 letters and phone calls have come into the governor's office, "almost evenly split between supporters and opponents." And yesterday, the Times reported that the governor's general counsel, Dexter Douglas, wrote a memo to Chiles stating that prayer legislation would be a "major harmful event." Douglas added "I believe the welfare of each citizen, every family unit and each religion existing in Florida would be best served by withholding your approval" of the legislation. That memo was quickly criticed by Frank Brogan, the state's Education Commissioner. A supporter of school prayer, Brogan earlier this week defended the controversial practice when he declared: "By emphasizing the importance of invocations and benedictions at school functions, our classrooms just might become more disciplined as our students learn to become more tolerant of each other." Brogan also reminded the media -- and presumably the governor -- that the prayer measure is tied to educational reforms, including requirements for higher grade point averages if students are to graduate high school, and completion of certain courses such as algebra. The prayer bill with give local school boards the power to adopt resolution permitting "student-led" or "student initiated" prayer at graduation ceremonies, athletic contests and "non-mandatory" assemblies. "Students would decide what to say," noted yesterday's Times, "without interference from school officials." Critics, though, insist that "student led" prayer is simply a ruse to circumvent rules which outlawed the practice decades ago in Supreme Court decisions like Murray v. Curlett, Abington Township v. Schempp, and Engel v. Vitale. They note that events connected with school activities are not an appropriate venue for religious ceremonies, and offend the conscience of minority religious believers and Atheists. Last week, a U.S. Cuircuit Court ruled that student orchestrated prayer at a New Jersey high school violated the separation of church and state. The Florida bill puts Governor Chiles in an uncomfortable spot. USA Today noted on Thursday that if he signs the bill, "he antagonizes Jewish and liberal groups that helped him win a narrow re-election bid against President Bush's son, Jeb, in 1994." A veto could have equally bad political consequences, though, especially with the presence of well-organized fundamentalist groups throughout the state. That fact was not lost on many of the Florida legislators; Republicans need only four seats to take over the state House of Representatives, and all members face re-election in November. The GOP already controls the state Senate. Representatives for the governor describe Chiles as "a very spiritual man, someone who prays often has relied on prayer throughout his life." He is 66, and by law is barred from seeking a third term. Chiles has said that he has no further amibitions for political office. Today's decision is just another round in a school prayer battle which has become a major cause celebre for religious conservatives. Observers note that the Florida controversy has attracted an "unusual" amount of opposition to the prayer bill, though. Other states have enacted similar legislation. They are: Delware, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, Georgia, Arkansas and Louisiana. ****************** MORE THAN JUST A RELIGIOUS LIBERTY ISSUE ~~ "YOUR PETITIONERS ARE ATHEISTS..." Although much of the criticism directed against school prayer legislation uses a "religious liberty" argument, many individuals who are affected by compulsory or coerced prayer rituals are not religious. Many groups oppose school prayer because the practice -- even when student led -- can offend members of small, "minority" religious sects, including Jews or Muslims. But one group with a membership far larger than most "minority religions" is the 10% of Americans who consider themselves Atheists or religious skeptics of some kind; that would translate into roughly 25,000,000 people. Even cutting that number by 50% still yields a social group far greater than the membership of the Mormon Church, the Episcopal religion, the number of Jews and certainly the numbers which reflect participation in "minority" sects such as muslims, Seventh-Day Adventists and others. While many cases decided by the U.S. Supreme Court have challenged the practice of prayer and bible recitation in public schools, the most prominent -- Murray v. Curlett -- was introduced and fought by an Atheist. Plaintiffs in some legal cases tried desperately to associate themselves with religion, and the supposed existence of "religious freedom" -- ignoring the more fundamental point that true freedom also applies to Atheists and others who have serious doubts concerning religious orthodoxy. (One plaintiff even worried that, as a Unitarian, his actions might end up being associated with Atheism -- as if Atheists were not entitled to civil rights!) The Murray v. Curlett case resulted in Madalyn Murray (later Madalyn Murray O'Hair) earning the dubious achievement of being "the most hated woman in America" -- not just because she challenged prayer and bible recitation, but because she was a woman and because she was an Atheist. Her book, "An Atheist Epic," tells the story of how the Murray case came to be, and how it became a landmark precedent in both state-church separation law AND the history of Atheist civil rights. What follows is the preamble in the suit Murray v. Curlett: "YOUR PETITIONERS ARE ATHEISTS and they define their life-style as follows. An Atheist loves himself and his fellowman instead of a god. An Atheist knows that heaven is something for which we should work now -- here on earth -- for all men together to enjoy. An Atheist thinks that he can get no help through prayer but that he must find in himself the inner conviction and strength to meet life, to grapple with it, to subdue, and enjoy it. An Atheist thinks that only in a knowledge of himself and a knowledge of his fellowman can he find the understanding that will help to a life of fulfillment. "Therefore, he seeks to know himself and his fellowman rather than to know a god. An Atheist knows that a hospital should be build instead of a church. An Atheist knows that a deed must be done instead of a prayer said. An Atheist strives for involvement in life and not escape into death. "He wants disease conquered, poverty vanquished, war eliminated. He wants man to understand and love man. He wants an ethical way of life. He knows that we cannot rely on a god nor channel action into prayer nor hope for an end to troubles in the hereafter. He knows that we are our brother's keeper and keepers of our lives; that we are responsibile persons, that the job is here and the time is now." April 27, 1961 ************** ISRAELIS WORRY: ''KNESSET AYATOLLAHS'' THREATEN LIBERTY (Editor's note: As this edition of AANEWS is sent out, news services report that election officials in Israel have certified Likud party candidate Benjamin Netanyahu as the winner in the recent contest for Prime Minister.) The apparent victory of Benjamin Netanyahu in a closely fought contest with Prime Minister Shimon Peres has many secular, liberal Israelis concerned about their civil liberties, and the new, powerful role for the country's religious parties. Today's London Times quoted several Israelis who are worried about possible changes in the "relatively relaxed lifestyle" which has been enjoyed under the Labor government. They are now bracing for a wave of "enforced Jewish religious norms," especially with the presence of new religious lawmakers in the Knesset, or Israeli parliament. The elections gave these religious parties their greatest numerical strength in the 48-year history of the Israeli state. * One Israeli expressed fear that as Orthodox Jews begin moving into more cosmopolitan neighborhoods such as the French Hill area near Jerusalem, female residents might be subjected to "modesty patrols." Already, Orthodox men roam religious neighborhoods, and there have been cases where women displaying bare arms or legs have been stoned by fundamentalist Jews. * Others now worry that certain access to certain proscribed non-Kosher foods, including pork and shrimp, may be limited or banned outright. The Times also reports that some Israelis active in the progressive peace movement are considering emigration. Even Leah Rabin, wife of slain Prime Minister Yitzak Rabin, told Israeli television that she is worried about a fundamentalist backlash. "All I can do is look at where I keep my suitcases, and I feel like packing them and disappearing from here very quickly. It is that bad." One secularist, civil rights advocate Shulamit Aloni, has already described the bearded leaders of the various religious parties as "Israeli Khomenis." Others are talking about the "Knesset Ayatollahs" who are promising to enact tough new legislation governing social life, including emphasis on additional religious indoctrination in schools. **************** THEISTWATCH SHORT SHOTS Vintage AANEWS and TheistWatch readers have probably followed our on-going coverage of the latest pop-culture religious game, "Who's the Dali Lama?" This is the new age version of the fundamentalist cottage-industry preoccupation known as "Who';s the Anti-Christ", where various personages in history -- Atilla The Hun, Hitler, Stalin, Ronald Reagan, the Pope, even Barney -- are cited as candidates for various roles in the Biblical stage show known as The Final Days. In "Who's the Dali Lama?", though, different Buddhist sects compete with each other for the coveted role of having THEIR pre-pubescent candidate elevated to near-godhead. At present, at least two candidates are in the running. The judgment in this important decision is all supposedly base on the nuances of Buddhist doctrine, including a series of "questions" which monks ask of bewildered children who -- we're told -- are not even aware that they are the incarnation of some wise man. Pretty dumb, eh? I mean, after transmigrating one's soul from one corporeal body to another, presumably through walls, the restrictions of a coffin, certainly the travails of long-distance teleportation, you would expect that so powerful a "soul entity"could at least implant some memories and neurological awareness! But we have a new candidate for the post of Dalio Lama -- accused murder suspect, and somewhat eccentric wrestling officianado John du Pont. To explain: the 58-year old heir to the vase chemical fortune got into a Freemen-style siege last January outside of his Philadelphia area estate with police. This followed allegations that he had shot Olympic wrestler David Schultz. Du Pont had underwritten various wrestling events throughout the countrty, but had been "acting strange" in the days immediately prior to the shooting. Anyway, du Pont barricaded himself in his sprawling mansion, talked about various visions he was having (including the claim that "faces" were appearing to him out of the walls), and was then nabbed by police as he stepped outside to check his water heater. The whole media circus blended elements of the Waco standoff with a Marx Brothers comedy. John has been spending time in court and a psychicatric hospital, but now declares that he is the Dali Lama. Is he serious? The prosecutor thinks not -- that the "Dali Lama defense" will join other dubious pleas in the courtroom (such as the "Twinkie" strategem) -- but who is to say? Is John du Pont really any LESS qualified in his claim to monkhood than some poor kid in Seattle who doesn't even know what's going on? Who is to say? Some group of monks? Stay tuned. ************ In Taiwan, the latest civil liberties fight isn't about political platforms or relations with the Chinese mainland -- it's about guided tours of the spirit world. (And we don't mean the distillery kind!) There are now nearly a dozen competing television shows featuring channellers and Taoist priests who are claiming to operate a kind of spiritual 1-900 line to the dearly departed. The most popular is a program known as "Descend into the Spirit World," which involves trances and seances. According to news reports, skeptics are upset with this latest fad, and charge that the "priests" are engaging in clear fraud. One TV producer said that the program has "healing effects and moral lessons." Like apparitions from the Virgin or Jesus, the "spirits" don't have much to reveal to living humanity that is useful for everyday life, or would tend to establish their bona fides. Producer Hang Chung-yi said that "Most of the dead people advise their loved ones to stay away from vices such as gambling or fooling around with women." Hey, we can get that sort of advice from real live TV preachers! **************** We seem to have legislative gridlock on substantive issues such as a balanced budget, tax reform, rebuilding the country's infrastructure and other weighty issues, but when it comes to the "family values" and "culture war" placebos which yield more immediate political benefits, well, the cosmic speed limit seems to give way. Consider the latest outburst of concern over "gay marriage." One never imagined that elected officials could move so fast in protecting the social fabric! * In Washington, a Defense of Marriage Act is moving along faster than cash envelopes from lobbyists. Yesterday, the House Judiciary Committee approved by an 8-4 margin the measure which would define marriage as a "legal union between one man and one woman," and give states the authority to reject the validity of gay marriages recognized in other states. It's a favorite rallying point for religious fundys, including the Christian Coalition. * In Michigan, the legislature has passed a bill banning same-sex marriage. It now goes to Gov. John Engler to sign or veto. Michigan now joins 11 other states which have passed similar measures in the past year. **************************** About This List... 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. You may post, forward or quote from this dispatch, provided that appropriate credit is given to AANEWS and American Atheists. For subscribe/unsubscribe information, send e-mail to:, and put "info aanews" (minus the quotation marks) in the message body. Edited and written by Conrad F. Goeringer, The LISTMASTER.


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