Date: Tue, 4 Jun 1996 12:25:24 -0700 Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for June 4, 1996 nn nn AANE
Date: Tue, 4 Jun 1996 12:25:24 -0700
Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for June 4, 1996
Reply-To: email@example.com, AMERICAN.ATHEISTS@listserv.direct.net
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
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
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
Now, religious groups are already pushing for enactment of their tough
* 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
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
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
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
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
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
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: firstname.lastname@example.org, 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:
email@example.com, and put "info aanews" in the message
body (minus the quotation marks, please!). Edited and written by Conrad F.
Goeringer, The LISTMASTER.
E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank