Date: Tue, 4 Jun 1996 12:25:24 -0700 Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for June 4, 1996 nn nn AANE

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Date: Tue, 4 Jun 1996 12:25:24 -0700 from: Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for June 4, 1996 Reply-To:, nnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn nnnnnnnnnn AANEWS nnnnnnnnnn #55 uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu 6/4/96 In This Edition... * School Prayer In Dixie Gets A Thumbs-Down * Israeli Fundys Target The Big Mac * Due North: State-Church Separation News From Canada * Atheist Media Appearance: Get To That Dial! * TheistWatch: Bloody Marches, More Golden Arches, Quayle & Potatos * About This List... MIXED VICTORY IN MISSISSIPPI SCHOOL PRAYER CASE It was a good Monday for Lisa Herdahl. The 34-year old mother won an important battle in defense of state-church separation, when a federal judge ruled against controversial religious practices taking place in the Pontotoc County, Mississippi public school system. Mr. Herdahl objected to the policy of prayer and bible verse reading over the school's public address system, and maintained that religious indoctrination in classrooms was unconstitutional. Judge Neal Biggers Jr. of the U.S. District Court agreed, noting that "The Bill of Rights was created to protect the minority from tyranny by the majority." He added that the religious activities were designed as "part of a concerted effort" to inculcate the students "into the belief and moral code of fundamentalist Christianity." During the trial, attorneys and reporters found numerous examples of how Herdahl and her children were discriminated against and villified by school officials and religious community zealots: * Herdahl's 7-year-old son was taunted with accusations that he was a "devil worshipper," and a teacher put earphones over the boy's head during the morning prayer. * Her 5-year-old was escorted out of her kindergarten class in front of other students when Bible instruction began. During the trial, it was revealed that for nearly 50 years a committee of local Protestant religious leaders operated a program, and paid salaries, of missionaries who went into local public schools to proselytize students. Herdahl filed her suit in 1994 after school officials refused her request to put a halt to the religious activities. The New York Times noted that in statements to the court and media, Herdahl said she had been "harassed and ostracized," since objecting to the long-standing practice. Herdahl and her children are baptized Lutherans. Yesterday, she told the Christian Science Monitor that "Parents and kids should be able to decide for themselves if they want to go to Sunday school, or what church or synagogue they want to attend. They shouldn't have to battle that out in court." "What they were doing was definitely wrong in my eyes," added Herdahl. "The school's responsibility is not to teach religious viewpoints of any kind of religion in the public schools. It didn't matter what kind of religion they were teaching, it was still wrong." But school prayer supporters voiced their disappointment, and vowed to support passage of the Religious Equality Amendment which would amend the U.S Constitution to allow "voluntary prayer." Earlier this year, prayer advocates held meetings and a mass gathering at the Pontotoc County Courthouse which was billed as a "God and County" rally. Organized by local religious leaders, that event attracted letters of support from Mississippi Governor Kirk Fordice, and from Senators Trent Lott and Thad Cochran, two candidates for Majority Leader in the U.S. Senate. Supporters of prayer raised over $170,000 to held the Pontotoc officials in their case Pontotoc School Superintendent Jerry Horton said that he was upset with the ruling, and added that a decision on whether or not to appeal the case will be made within 30 days. Horton defended the practice of broadcasting prayer over school PA systems, saying "The school did not write any prayers or force anyone to say anything. There has been student-initiated, voluntary activity, controlled by students. If they had not initiated it, there would have been no prayer." Earlier in the year, Horton promised that if the school district lost the Circuit Court fight, they would appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. The case has some important legal nuances; Judge Biggers ruled that while the classroom prayers were unconstitutional, a "voluntary" prayer session held for students in the school gym at the beginning of the day was still permissible. ******************* ISRAELI FUNDAMENTALISTS DISCOVER NEW THREAT: THE BIG MAC There may be a kind of "black humor" in what the New York Times describes as a "cloud of gloom" which has settled over Israel since the election of Likud Party boss Benjamin Netanyahu. Last week, in a hotly contested race with incumbent Prime Minister Shimon Peres, Netanyahu managed to win the nation's top elected post, while a slew of religious fundamentalists corralled seats in the Israeli Knesset, or parliament. While international observers and many secular Israeli's are nervous about what Netanyahu may do to the touchy middle east peace process, they're also expressing fears about the so-called "Knesset Ayatollahs" and their agenda for tough religious laws inside the country. Indeed, the statement by Leah Rabin, widow of assassinated former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin where she declared "All I want to do is pack my bags and get out of hear," is fast becoming a metaphor for the discontent and trepidation felt by progressive Israelis and Palestinians. A Crusade Against The Golden Arches The big winner in last week's election was not only the 46-year old Netanyahu, but the country's various fundamentalist religious partys as well. Their influence in the Knesset is at an all-time high, and they are sure to demand important posts in the Likud cabinet in exchange for their participation in any coalition government. United Press noted that "While the major parties have argued peace and security, education and preserving the religious status quo were more important to the religious parties." The domestic agenda for groups such as the Shas, National Religious Party, United Torah Judaism and the Path of Faith "relied upon the ruling of top rabbis for inspiration." Now, religious groups are already pushing for enactment of their tough spiritual laws. * United Torah is demanding that its support of Netanyahu requires a ban on all operations of the country's El Al national airline during the Jewish sabbath, from sundown Friday to Saturday evening. * Several of the parties want Jewish sabbatarianism made law, a measure which would prohibited all but the most vital work during that time; they also want to end all archaeological excavations which "disturb" sites, especially "sacred" burial grounds. * McDonald's as emerged as a new target for Israeli religious zealots, who want the fast-food chain shut down on the sabbath, and prohibited from engaging in "non-kosher" dietary practices, such as mixing meat and milk products. The end to the cheeseburger or Big Mac, though, has secular Israeli's deeply concerned over how far religious groups will go. Citizens in secular TelAviuv have expressed fears that so-called "modesty patrols" -- a common feature in fundamentalist neighborhoods -- will be expanded. The "patrols" roam streets, restaurants and other public venues accosting women who display "immodest dress" even in the form of exposed arms or legs. Netanyahu himself is already scrambling to appease -- and control -- the militant fundamentalists. Media reports have suggested that the new Prime Minister "is not religious," although he is staunchly nationalist in his foreign policy and attitudes toward the Arabs. In fact, some Orthodox Jews criticized Netanyahu during the election, especially for his admission that he had committed adultery, and his divorce and subsequent marriage to a non-Jewess (who subsequently converted.). On Friday, he did venture to Jerusalem's Western Wall, Judaism's holiest site, where he was mobbed by religious supporters. He waved to groups of bearded Israeli men who chanted "Lift your heads high, the doors of the world have opened and the honorable king has arrived." Netanyahu also acknowledged the presence of women praying on the other side of a partition which segregates them from males. Reuter news service observed that his speech at the Wall was "peppered...with phrases favored by religious Jews, such as 'With God's help'." But privately, even Benjamin Netanyahu may be getting irritated by some of his religious supporters, especially as they clamor for important government posts and money. The Los Angeles Times noted this morning that Netanyahu had met with National Religious Party leader Zevulun Hammer and, "apparently irked by how large a role the religious parties want in his government, issued a thinly veiled reminded that time was on his side." The new Prime Minister has 45-days to cobble together a working coalition, and even his victorious Likud Party is far short of a majority in the Knesset. Meanwhile, Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert has been trying to calm the fears of secular Israelis, and "dismissed the McDonald's threat as posturing." Even so, the fundamentalists are quite serious in the bargaining process. NRP and others want more control over the Israeli educational system; and there is also big money at stake if the government reactivates massive building projects on the West Bank and other areas. Lurking in the wings is Likud kingmaker Ariel Sharon, the former defense minister who has called PLO leader Yasser Arafat a terrorist and murdered, and is "adamantly" opposed to the peace accord. "As housing minister, he built 22,000 housing units for Jews in the West Bank from 1990 to 1992," notes the L.A. Times. ******************** STATE-CHURCH AND RELIGIOUS CONCERNS ABOUND IN CANADA Our new Canadian correspondent sends news of important developments in that country. Last Tuesday, the government announced that it was would attempt to curb the "church-run school system" in the province of Newfoundland. When that province joined Canada in 1949, the accords provided that the public school system would be operated along religious denominational lines. Since then, voters have called for a reform in the educational system, and the Newfoundland legislature has passed a resolution calling for a constitutional amendment. That measure would merge unnecessary denominational schools, and send children to the public school nearest to them. According to Reuter, even considering the proposal means that the Canadian government is "wading into another controversial social issue," a reference to a recent measure which bannned discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Meanwhile, controversy has erupted over the issue of vaccination for measles. A $4.5 million dollar health vaccination program is now being carried out aimed at innoculating those between the ages of 19 months and 18 years. But now, Roman Catholic officials in Vancouver are balking at the program, because of its possible connection to a 1962 vaccine which was made as the result of human fetal tissue research. That has become a hot topic, especially since Pope John Paul II recently blasted such medical research programs which offer breakthrough discoveries in the battle against cancer, aging, athritis and other maladies. Vancouver church authorities are looking into the origin of the measles-rubella vaccine which is now being offered, to try and determine if it originates from the original culture developed over three decades ago. ******************* AMERICAN ATHEISTS PRESIDENT ON OLLIE'S SHOW TODAY Apologies for such a sudden notice, but the omnivorous media appetite for news and comment does not always announce when it is ready to bite! Ellen Johnson, President of American Atheists, will be the featured guest on today's Oliver North radio show which is broadcast on stations throughout the country. If you are in the listening area, Ms. Johnson will be tangling with the Christian Coalition hero beginning at 3:10 this afternoon, Eastern time. Check your local listings. ******* THEISTWATCH SHORT SHOTS Here's more to munch on regarding our story above on McDonalds and the religious zealots of Israel. By the way, ever noticed how so much religious fundamentalism seems to be a "bearded guy" kinda' thing? I'm not just talking about the bearded Charlton Heston in "The Ten Commandments," long before his days as Mr. I'm-The-NRA. Today's "bearded patriarchs" are often squatting in mosques in Tehran, and now they're celebrating in Israel with the election of Mr. Netanyahu, who -- for the time being, anyway -- is clean shaven, tanned, a regular looking guy on the evening news. Anyway, the McDonald's food chain has become the latest target for Israeli religious fundys, but the floodgates of sacred reform may just be opening. Fundamentalist Rabbi Avraham Ravitz is publicizing his disenchantment that what is referred to as "the status quo" has been eroding in a wave of enlightened secularism. The rabbi told Associated Press: "Nightclubs, nightlife, this is not the culture of our fathers." As a start, he and his fellow religionists want everything from movie theaters to restaurants shut down during the Jewish Sabbath -- a prospect denounced by Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Milo. In 1989, one cinema owner challenged the "status quo" in court and won; since then, everything from nightclubs to non-kosher restaurants have opened, and thrived. ************** Our candidate for Dali Lama -- accused shooter and millionaire John DuPont -- yesterday received a setback in his claim to divinity. Recall our contention that Mr. DuPont's insistence that he was the Dali Lama has substance equal to claims by other factions on this religious controversy, which involves everything from reincarnation to the transmigration of the "human soul." Mr. DuPont is considered delusional by some for making so bold a statement. Why, we ask, shouldn't Buddhist authorities, be likewise considered out of their heads? "Who's-The-Dali Lama?" (and a related question of who occupies the number two post of Panchen Lama) is the Buddhist equivalent of "Who's-the-Anti-Chris?," that delightful cottage industry of Christian eschatology. The post of Panchen Lama is now a political question, especially since Chinese authoriies who claim dominion over Tibet, want their candidate officially recognized. On Saturday, hundreds of chanting followers attended a festival to induct one Gyaincain Norbu as the 11th reincarnation of the Lama during a cumbersome but politically correct three hour ceremony. China had earlier enthroned the somewhat bewildered six-year old lad, rejecting the choice of the Dali Lama in exile in India, whom it accuses of fostering political independence for Tibet. The Chinese apparently kidnapped the Dali Lama's choice for godhead after he was selected in May, 1995, and admits that THIS Panchen Lama is currently under "government protection." ******** What seems to work for one person doesn't always work for another. The new Israeli Prime Minister could get away with adultery, but in the world of religious purity the consequences of such a dalliance could be near-terminal. That's why a mini-scandal is rocking (if you will) the booming world of Christian music. It all revolves around former gospel singer Michael English, who dropped out of the religious music scene two years ago after acknowledging that he had (shock!) an extramarital affair. The "scandal" set the industry abuzz, and the religiously correct were asking themselves if Christian music icons could resist the glitzy lure of hormone-charged financial and stage success. Last Sunday, English turned himself into authorities after being charged with assault and theft. The rocker claims that this is part of a plot to embarrass him; seems that ex-girlfriend Tina Wilmurth claims that English shoved her at a club, and prevented her from retrieving possession at his home. ***************** The religious antics during the Moslem festival known as Ashura are becoming even a bit much for Islamic hard liners, including the cutthroats of the Hezbollah "Party of God" movement. Last week kicked-off the festivities as hundreds of young men began marching through the town of Nabatiye, Lebanon, beating themselves with rocks, sticks and swords and waving everything from guns to rockets in the air. It all goes back to the origins of the Shiite tendency in Islam. The virtual rivers of blood that flow off of self-flagellants during this religious holiday commemorate the life and deeds of Iman Hussein, the grandson of the prophet, Mohammed, who was slain in 680 c.e. Hussein was battling religious rivals who refused to acknowledge his claim to leadership of Islam; it marked the final break between those who supported male heirs of the prophet, and those who believed that the question of succession should be decided by election. The blood-letting has become a traditional part of the ten-day religious festival, although some Shiite militants say that it is unnecessary. In fact, Sheik Fadlallah banned the practice in Beirut, but bearded young men have now taken up the ritual and link it to revolutionary theocratic politics and the struggle against Israel and the United States. Some march in double-time cadence, after local barbers inflict cuts above their hairlines to enhance the blood flow. In some cases, young boys barely able to walk are being cut, much to the consternation of local medical authorities. Others march beating themselves on the chest and face with rocks, drawing blood and chanting slogans. Douglas Jehl of the New York Times observed that last weekend's display was accompanied by "the smell of blood and the show of militancy," which "filled the air with reminders of the power of religion." **************** AANEWS recently told readers about the Rise, Fall and Resurrection of former Vice President Dan Quayle, who along with religious hooligan Pat Buchanan fired the first salvos back in 1992 in the infamous "Culture Wars" pitting civil liberties and common sense against the forces of religious superstition. Quayle, who couldn't spell potato, nevertheless had all sorts of moral prescriptions for the Great American cultural hang-over, and took aim squarely at the TV character Murphy Brown. Gasp! A woman who decided on her own to have a child sans the male! Since then, single moms have become the bette noir of religious fundamentalists, who blame everything from teen pregnancy to drug abuse and crime on the institution of non-traditional, childbearing lifestyles. And I thought that honor went to the decision to ban school prayer! But economic reality often clashes with sectarian views of human behavior. Indeed, a new study from the Annie E. Casy Foundation shows that most poor children don't grow up in the clutches of a single mother, but in fact come from families where at least one parent is struggling year round to pay the bills. This class of "working poor" means that kids in such households are "less likely to be fully immunized, less likely to enter school ready to learn, less likely to graduate and less likely to attend college," according to a story in the Los Angeles Times. The study found that children in these "working-poor" households were slightly better off than those in welfare families, but they nevertheless faced "distinct disadvantages as a result of their parents' employment." It may be that Murphy Brown is less to blame for the present condition of American kids than we think. The Foundation report adds that one way to help all kids is through educational reform, which as far as TW can determine means for Dan Quayle & Co. the enactment of school prayer. But prayer won't do the job -- the Foundation adds that kids need better child care, and their parents need better wages, access to cheaper health insurance, and tax credits. ************ 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 your e-mail to:, and put "info aanews" in the message body (minus the quotation marks, please!). Edited and written by Conrad F. Goeringer, The LISTMASTER.


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