Date: Mon, 10 Jun 1996 12:25:24 -0700 Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for June 10, 1996 nn nn AA

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Date: Mon, 10 Jun 1996 12:25:24 -0700 from: Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for June 10, 1996 Reply-To:, nnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn nnnnnnnnnn AANEWS nnnnnnnnnn #59 uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu 6/10/96 In This Edition... * Abortion Politics Continues To Plague GOP * Church Arson Probe: Questions & Selective Indignation? * Israel: Fundamentalist Assault On Reason, Liberty Continues * "Strange Days" and "Strange Bedfellows" In Russia * About This List... WILL ABORTION STATEMENT SPLIT OR UNIFY GOP RANKS? With the Republican convention just three months away, Sen. Bob Dole's statement on abortion last Thursday has re-ignited debate on the controversial issue within party ranks. In his most definitive statement yet on the GOP platform plank which calls for a Human Life Amendment, Dole said that he supports the proposed legislation but wants to include a "declaration of tolerance" for any party members who happen to oppose the ban. Strategists saw the presumed nominee's statement as a way of appeasing the party's powerful religious conservative element which opposes abortion, and a growing chorus of Republican pro-choice moderates. Over the weekend, eyes were watching how various Christian fundamentalist and evangelical groups would react. Pro-choice GOP governors like California's Pete Wilson and New Jersey's Christine Whitman were generally impressed and supportive of Dole's remarks, but neither said they would end their efforts to change the party platform. Meanwhile, Ralph Reed -- director of the Christian Coalition -- said that Dole's proposal "could fly," but only if it was "an expression of diversity...on a wide range of issues." He added that "it is very important for the party to unite and settle this issue once and for all before we go to San Diego," referring to the August convention. Other religious right leaders fell in behind Reed, including Gary Bauer of the Family Research Council and Carol Long of the National Right to Life Committee. All indicated that they would support Dole's "diversity" statement, but -- as Reed said -- only so long as it was not "targeted at or designed to dilute" the party statement calling for the outlawing of abortion. GOP bad-boy Pat Buchanan also fell into line by Friday, which surprised some of the pundits; he had threatened to walk out of the national convention if the wording of the anti-choice plank were changed. Buchanan welcomed Dole's remarks, describing the front-runner's statement as "support for a pro-life plank that is undiluted. On Sunday, though, Massachusetts Governor William Weld promised a possible floor-flight in San Diego. Speaking on the CBS news program "Face The Nation," Weld reiterated his contention that the platform should "give equal time to the pro-choice view." And a New York Times poll released yesterday showed that by more than a 2-1 margin, Republicans say that the party platform should not endorse the Human Life Amendment which would outlaw abortion in the United States. ***************** CHURCH ARSON PROBE: QUESTIONABLE EVIDENCE, SELECTIVE INDIGNATION BEHIND '' INVESTIGATION''? A string of fires at black churches, mostly throughout the South, has some investigators puzzled -- and is rapidly becoming a "bully pulpit" topic for politicians and preachers. On Thursday night, fire destroyed a 93-year old church building in Charlotte, North Carolina; the following morning, local, state and federal investigators were on the scene, and Gov. Jim Hunt authorized a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the individual(s) responsible. It was the 30th fire at a Southern black church in the last eighteen-months. But an analysis of news reports, statements by investigative authorities and other sources reveales a growing gap between hard evidence suggesting a campaign of organized arson and political-religious grandstanding. * The probe into the attacks is becoming one of the biggest Federal investigations in recent times, with some 200 agents -- more than the number involved in the armed Freemen standoff -- investigating the suspected attacks. That number may even be higher with the addition of agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, and local investigators. Despite this enormous effort, investigators still do not know if all of the cases are connected, or involve arson. * While religious groups ranging from the Christian Coalition to the National Council of Churches have "gone public" with demands for a more vigorous probe into the fires, Associated Press reports that federal agents are encountering obstacles from local pastors and congregation members -- something which is making their job a lot tougher. Yesterday, during a meeting with Attorney General Janet Reno and other officials, preachers from some of the burned-out churches complained that investigators were looking into the activities of parishioners. Rev. Mac Charles Jones of the National Council of Churches complained that investigators are giving lie-detector tests, issuing subpoenas for church records, and are looking at insurance policies. Several officials told the ministers that this was standard investigative procedure; but Jones lamented that "They (the preachers) feel that they are the targets of the investigation." * Despite the outcry from religious leaders, not all of the cases may be arson, and not all may be related. Invesitgators now believe that the Charlotte, N.C. fire was deliberately set, but according to CNN "there is no evidency tying it to 29 other suspicious fires at black church in the South since 1995." * The string of possible arsons has become a campaign and religious-propaganda issue, with everyone from President Clinto the the Christian Coalition hopping on the bandwagon. The Coalition recently posted a $25,000 reward in the case, which some see as "bridge building" to the nation's black churches. Indeed, there has been increased talk in some religious-right circles of building a common agenda around "hot button" topics like drugs, alcohol, gambling, school prayer, sex, pornography and other issues. Critics accuse the Coalition of hypocrisy, though, in not supporting American blacks on other key points such as education aid and job training. * Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Il.) has introduced a Church Arson Prevention Act, which singles out religious meeting venues -- including synagogues, temples, churches, and mosques -- for special treatment under federal law. Last week, AANEWS reported that the bill "raises question as to whether religious groups are receiving special consideration above businesses and private individuals." Congressman Hyde is Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, and gets high marks for his efforts on behalf of the Christian Coalition and other religious groups. He is also promoting a school prayer measure in the form of the so-called "Religious Equality Amendment." The proposed bill would extend federal jurisdiction to any fires involving religious venues where there is at least $5,000 or more in damage. In response to the Hyde proposal, American Atheists President Ellen Johnson asked: "What makes a church worth more federal protection than any other building in the country? Why is it more valuable than a private home?" She also questioned Hyde's motives, adding: "When the Ku Klux Klan burns crosses on people's front lawns, does Henry Hyde rush out and demand special legislation?" Johnson pointed out that Hyde, the Christian Coalition and many other religious groups do not seem very concerned about organized terrorism directed against abortion clinics. On Saturday, Ron Barrier, National Media Coordinator of American Atheists, criticized Hyde and the Coalition for promoting the Church Arson Prevention Act. Barrier told AANEWS that "Just this past week in Long Island, N.Y. a cross was burned on the front lawn of a black family that had lived in the neighborhood for two decades. Does Mr. Hyde think that this black family's home is less important than a building designed specifically for religious worship?" Barrier said that in lieu of the record Hyde and others have demonstrated on the abortion clinic terrorism issue, the Arson Prevention Act was political posturing. "Do these christians really care about life and property?," Barrier asked. "No, as long as it is not their." He also expressed the opinion that at least some of the bombings or arsons directed against black churches may be "the work of white christians." Were that the case, Barrier added, "This would only again prove that racism, bigotry and violence are promoted by the same religion that offers itself as a solution to the problems it causes." ************* RELIGIOUS REACTION CONTINUES IN ISRAEL Israel's religious parties, fresh from major victories in the recent elections, continue their efforts to undermine secularism and civil liberties throughout the country. Over the weekend, Ultra-Orthodox religious leaders again demanded that all archaeological digs in the country be licensed by the Chief Rabbi, and that representatives of the Haredi (Orthodox) community be assigned to direct any excavations which happen to be approved. The director of the Hebrew University's Archaeological Institute promptly characterized the demands as "absurd." Ami Mazar to The London Times that "If they (the new guidelines) were accepted, it would mean and end to archaeological activity in Israel. It means that we would have to turn over bones to the Ministry of Religious Affairs for burial the same day we find them," Mr. Mazar added that the religious strictures would "put an end to any serious anthropological study." That didn't change the opinion of Rabbi Avraham Ravitz of the United Torah Judaism Party. He declared than changes in laws regulating antiquities "May be necessary," adding that "what we are doing is simply to honour the bones of the dead." Orthodox Leaders Now Targetting Legal Abortion In a move reminiscent of their American fundamentalist counterparts, Israel's newly-empowered religious leaders are now reportedly targeting even abortion rights for women as part of their agenda to defend the religious "status quo." The Jerusalem Post, while a strong backer of victorious Likud candidate Benjamin Netanyahu, expressed concern and criticized the "intolerable" efforts of religious parties to interfere in the lives of secular Israelis. ***************** ''STRANGE DAYS'' AS RELIGIOUS ORTHODOX BACK ZYUGANOV Go figure. Since the "fall of Communism" nearly seven years ago, political alliances in the former Soviet Union have not been the same. With the Communist Party out of power, new political groups and ideologies have rushed in to fill the vacuum -- and the result has been a strange co-mingling of orthodoxy, authoritarianism, Fascism, Stalinism and new age foolery. At times, it defies categorization. Since last summer, TheistWatch has tracked the "strange bedfellows" coalition consisting of hard-line ex-Communists, ethnic nationalists, and elements of the Russian Orthodox Church. At times, this amalgam has attracted the support and interest of Vladirmir Zhirinovsky's inappropriately-named Liberal movement, and parts of the Motherland "monuments" associations and the "Pamyat" (Remember) group. With elections coming up next Sunday, the tight race between President Boris Yeltsin and Communist candidate Gennady Zyuganov is compelling both candidates to form alliances and win voting blocks in some unusual places. * Zyuganov has jettisoned any talk about secularism and Atheism, opting instead for growing support from the Russian Orthodox Church. While the official Patriarch, Alexi II (thought at one time to have been a KGB operative) supports Yeltsin, many church officials and parishioners see the current President as a symbol of corrupt liberalism and westernizing influence. One Orthodox priest, Alexander Shergunov, told the Los Angeles Times that he is one of over a dozen priests in his area "calling for an end to Yeltsin's experimental democracy." The religious believers are turning against Yeltsin, and toward the candidacy of Zyuganov, for several reasons. "Outrage at new Russia's sexual license plays a part," notes the Times, citing "contraceptives at schools, pornography on the streets, experiments on embryos." The faithful fear that good relations with Europe and the United States has "opened a Pandora's box of imported capitalist evils to pollute their faith." Another factor seems to nationalist politics, long a key element of the Russian Orthodox Church. Even during the height of the Stalin era and World War II, the Church was used to incite support for the "Great Patriotic War" against the nazis. Film clips of the time showed Red Army tracks being blessed by Orthodox priests as they rolled off the assembly line and headed for the front. Even after Perestroika and the "fall" in 1989, Russian Orthodox officials quickly jockeyed for political power; major politicians, including Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin made public declarations of religious conversion, and the Church began to exert some of the power it had back in Czarist times. Hundreds of millions of rubles has been spent rebuilding old churches, erecting new ones, and compensating the Orthodox establishment for its "losses" from the 1917 revolution. But all has not been well. The Russian Orthodox Church, once the "official state church," has had to join the competative free market. Orthodox officials have made no secret of their displeasure with "foreign sects" (a term ironically used by the Roman Catholic Church in Latin America to describe Protestant groups!) ranging from Catholicism to Scientology, evangelicalism, Protestant fundamentalism and new age sects which have sprung up on the new Russian cultural landscape. Zyuganov sees this as the basis of a new, workable alliance between the Communists and the Orthodox "Old Believers." According to the Times, "The Communist candidate has tried to prove his reformed party has Orthodox Christian's welfare at heart. He condemns Soviet religious persecution. He is willing to keep out the foreign missionaries who are flooding into Russia." Not all Orthodox agree, though, that the Church should support Zyuganov. And President Yeltsin has courted the Orthodox vote with his biggest bribe, a giant new Cathedral of Christ the Savior which replaces a church blown up during the Stalin era. One reformist priest told the Times that "Religion is window-dressing for Zyuganov's nationalism...Under Zyuganov, the church might have more privilege, it might even be the state religion again, but it will never be free." ********************* 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 information about American Atheists, send e-mail to: Be sure to include your name and 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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