Date: Fri, 31 May 1996 12:25:24 -0700 Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for May 31, 1996 nn nn AAN
Date: Fri, 31 May 1996 12:25:24 -0700
Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for May 31, 1996
Reply-To: firstname.lastname@example.org, AMERICAN.ATHEISTS@listserv.direct.net
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
MORE THAN JUST A RELIGIOUS LIBERTY ISSUE ~~
"YOUR PETITIONERS ARE
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
"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
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
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.
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