Date: Wed, 12 Jun 1996 12:25:24 -0700 Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for June 12, 1996 nn nn AA
Date: Wed, 12 Jun 1996 12:25:24 -0700
Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for June 12, 1996
Reply-To: firstname.lastname@example.org, AMERICAN.ATHEISTS@listserv.direct.net
nnnnnnnnnn AANEWS nnnnnnnnnn
# 62 uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu 6/12/96
In This Edition...
* Wyoming Judge ~ Park Officials Violated First Amendment
* Are Religious Leaders Trying to Influence Church Arson Probe?
* Judge Supports Inmate: AA Program IS Religious
* "Decency Law" Gets a Well-Deserved Boot!
* TheistWatch: Drink Good Booze, Avoid Solar (Temple) Exposure
* About This List...
--------- News, Commentary and Analysis for Atheists and Separationists
JUDGE RULES THAT ALL MUST HAVE EQUAL ACCESS TO DEVILS TOWER
A Federal Judge in Wyoming has ruled that the National Park Service may
not prohibit commercial tours and climbs at the famous Devils Tower monument
because of concerns for Indian religious beliefs. During hearings held last
month, plaintiffs argued that it was unconstitutional for Park authorities to
restrict access during the month of June, a period considered "holy" for some
Native American religionists, because this essentially promoted and endorsed
The court did rule that Park officials may encourage all recreational
climbers to voluntarilly avoid certain formations at Devils Tower out of
respect for Indians. And Park Superintendent Deb Liggett told yesterday's
Rocky Mountain News that "We think the majority of the climbing community
will continue to respect the voluntary closure, and we hope the court's
ruling will not change it."
U.S. District Judge William Downey wrote that "The ( climbing plan)
'coerces' the support of some American Indian's religious practices by
threatening mandatory closure of all climbing during the month of June. Such
regulations require climbers to conform their conduct in furtherance of those
American Indian's religious necessities. This amounts to impermissible
governmental entanglement with religion."
Devils Tower was popularized in the hit movie "Close Encounters of the
Third Kind." But if the aliens in Steven Spielberg's script found the venue
attractive as a landing spot, many Indian tribes have considered the 1,270
foot rise of igneous rock to be a sacred element in their religions. They
refer to it as "Mato Tipi," or the Bear's Lodge; and June is an important
month in the celebration of the annual Sun Dance, the most important of the
seven Lakota tribe ceremonies throughout the year. Sympathizers say that the
Indians have been performing the Sun Dance at Devils Tower for over 10,000
The imagery of Spielberg's mother ship from "Close Encounters," though,
gave others a first-time view of the spectacular rock monument, and may have
prompted an explosion of hiking and climbing. In 1973, only about 300 people
a year made the trek up Devils Tower, but by 1994 that number had soared to
16,000. A total of 40,000 people each year visit the monument.
The passage of the 1978 American Indian Freedom of Religion Act, seems to
have rekindled interest by Native Americans in their religious roots -- and
brought some Indian groups into conflict with the realities of modern day
American culture. The Devils Tower has been littered with everything from
netting and pitons left by climbing enthusiasts, to prayer blags and talisman
bundles from the Indians who went their to pray. Climbers and hikers argue
that their sport combines a number of skills and that they, too, have a right
to the challenging rock formation.
George Bourland, president of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, told media
yesterday that it is unlikely the legal battle will end with the latest
Circuit Court finding. Bourland says that this ruling conflicts with a May
24 executive order issued by President Clinton which specifically protects 50
sites throughout the nation as "sacred" to Native Americans. All are on
Federally owned land. And the Devils Tower case is now being linked to
another squabble in Arizona, one which has been going on for over a decade.
There, the University of Arizona and the Vatican Observatory have
constructed a vast complex of astronomical research facilities and
telescopes atop Mt. Graham, a site which some Indians consider holy.
CHURCH ARSON PROBE PITS PERCEPTIONS AGAINST REALITIES
Media coverage and political reaction to what some say is a pattern of
church arsons throughout the South may be highlighting a growing chasm
between public fears and hard, sober facts.
Weekend fires in Texas appear to be the latest in a spat of 32 blazes, all
involving black churches, since January of 1995. Despite the assignment of
over 200 federal agents, and a small army of local investigators, there seems
to be no evidence to support the allegation of many religious leaders, that
the blazes are related or part of a broad-based conspiracy.
Some of the fires probably involve members of white hate-groups such as
the Ku Klux Klan, or possibly even members of racist religious sects like the
Christian Identity Movement. But that hasn't stopped everyone from
politicians, including President Clinton, to many of the nation's religious
leaders from insisting that the blazes are all linked and involve racial and
Morris Dees, director of the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery,
Alabama, is one of the few sober voices. His group tracks various
hate-groups and uses civil litigation to gain compensation for victims. Last
Friday, SPLC filed suit against the Christian Knights of the Ku Klux Klan;
two Christian Knights are being held on charges of torching two black
churches in South Carolina.
But Dees has a skeptical attitude about the pattern of bombings. He told
the Christian Science Monitor yesterday: "I think it probably started off as
an isolated incident here or there," and that those who have caught on arson
charges so far represent what he terms a "mixed bag." He noted that one
person busted for a church fire in Alabama is a mentally unstable pyromaniac.
Meanwhile, there are other new developments in the church arson probe:
* Three men questioned in connection with fires at black churches in
Greenville, Texas have been released for lack of evidence. Two of the men
were anglos, aged 18 and 22, and the other an 18 year old Hispanic.
* President Clinton has announced that he will be visiting a the burned
ruins of a black church tomorrow in Greeleyville, South Carolina. According
to CNN, the President is expected to urge "cooperation to help rebuild
* A Church Arson Prevention Act introduced by Rep. Henry Hyde clear the
House yesterday in a voice vote; it makes it easier for federal agents to
investigate violence against "houses of worship," including temples,
synagogues, mosques and churches. Current law requires that vandalism must
exceed $10,000 in order for the federal government to investigate the crime,
and Hyde's original draft lowered that amount to $5,000. According to
Associated Press, though, the bill was further amended yesterday to reduce
the amount to zero.
* Attorneys General in Southern states have announced that they are
forming a "multi-state task force" to probe the suspected arsons. According
to South Carolina Attorney General Charles Condon, the "first action" will be
to have a summit meeting in Virginia "with religious leaders and law
Pressure For a More "Selective" Probe?
Meanwhile, Federal agents from the FBI and the Treasury Department
continue to encounter resistence from church leaders who want the
investigation deflected from certain areas including possible insurance fraud
or "insider" arson for publicity or other motives. A group called the Center
for Democratic Renewal which has substantial affiliation with religious
officials, has announced that it intends to file complaints with the
government alleging misconduct by agents. The National Council of Churches
and the Christian Coalition have both called for federal efforts to solve the
crimes, and have offered hefty rewards in the case. The NCC announced that
it plans to begin a $2 million drive to rebuild destroyed churches.
While a number of religious groups insist that the arsons are all linked
and involve ethnic/religious hatred -- and apparently demand that any
investigation make the same assumption -- there are new "conspiracy theory"
elements beginning to appear.
In Charlotte, North Carolina, emotions -- and media coverage -- concerning
the fire at the Matthews Murkland Presbyterian Church have been running high.
But the New York Times noted today that "There was no rejoicing among the
church's parishioners over the investrigation's early findings and theories.
While there was some relief in the news that the fire did not appear to be
part of the pattern of racially motivated church fires, it was tempered by
the knowledge that, just since their own fire on Friday night, two more black
churches were burned."
It now appears that the Charlotte fire involved a 13-year old white girl
who was "making an anti-religious statement" according to police. The
incident is also supposedly linked to devil worship: the Times said that
"Satanism, not racism, played a role in the crime." The girl is being
described by authorities as "troubled," and comes from a wealthy Charlotte
neighborhood near the church. The Times also reports that "Satanic symbols
had recently been painted on the church, and one man who lives near the
church said he had seen white teen-agers coming in and out of the old
santuary. The man also said he had seen people dressed in black robes on the
But to those familiar with "satanic panic" theories of the late 1970's and
80's, the theme of devil worship raises questions of credibility. Reports of
past satanic cult involvement in murders, drug dealing, beatings, child
abductions and sexual abuse have usually turned out to be a combination of
misrepresentation and public hysteria. Critics in the Charlotte case also
note that the "church" was, in fact, the OLD CHURCH building which was being
used for storage purposes.
Even so, the church arsons are not only media hot copy, but political
fodder for public officials and wanna' bes. The Monitor reports that "the
arson issue (is becoming) a major US political and racial concern," and
politicians are trying to out-do each other in showing concern. Still,
Federal officials say they have no evidence that the burning are linked,
although some indeed may be racially motivated.
ATHEIST/AGNOSTIC WINS CASE AGAINST STATE PRISON
OFFICIALS OVER ALCOHOL REHAB PROGRAM
Prison officials in New York may not penalize an inmate who doesn't want
to attend Alcoholic's Anonymous programs due to their religious
proselytizing, the state's highest court ruled yesterday. In a 5-2 ruling
justices supported the case of David Griffin, a former heroin addict who is
an Atheist, who said his rights were violated when officials tied his
eligibility for a family reunion program to participation in the Alcoholic's
Anonymous program at Shawangunk State Prison.
According to the New York Times, Griffin presented evidence that "he held
both views" (Atheism and agnosticism) "at certain times."
The court finding noted that "A fair reading of the fundamental AA
doctrinal writings discloses that their dominant theme is unequivocally
The justices also concluded that "Adherence to the AA fellowship entails
engagement in religious activities and religious proselytization."God is
mentioned in five of the twelve steps which are the basis of the AA program,
and the Court found that meetings of the group were "heavilly laced with at
least general religious content."
The decision noted that the prison system should not scrap drug and
alcohol abuse problems like AA, but that participation should be entirely
Meanwhile, Gov. George Pataki's office blasted the decision. Attorney
General Dennis Vacco said "The ruling defies common sense" and "erodes the
authority of correction officials to set certain requirements in order for
inmates to enjoy their prison perks." But Norman Siegel of the NY Civil
Liberties Union pointed out that the ruling was "constitutionally correct,"
adding "It's important that the court is recognizing the fundamental
principle that government can't force people to participate in religious
activities that violate their own tenets."
CYBER-RIGHTS VICTORY! COURT STRIKES ''DECENCY'' LAW
In a major victory for civil liberties, a special U.S. Court decided
yesterday that the so-called Communications Decency Act was invasive and a
violation of the constitution. It issued a preliminary injunction against
enforcement of the law, which supposedly was designed to prevent the
dissemination of "indecent" material on the internet which might happen to be
seen by children. The three-judge panel declared that "As the most
participatory form of mass speech yet developed, the Internet deserves the
highest protection from government intrusion."
The Act became law thanks to a signature from President Clinton, as part
of the wider Telecommunications Reform Bill. Opponents of the legislation
charged that it violated the First Amendment, was practically unenforceable
and threatened the unique freedom inherent in "cyberspace" communication.
The "Decency Bill" was a major plank in the Christian Coalition's "Contract
With the American Family," and enjoyed the backing of other religious groups
and politicians -- including the Clinton administration. Dozens of civil
liberties and cyber groups, even on-line services, joined the suit against
The government is expected to appeal -- at taxpayer expense, of course.
THEISTWATCH SHORT SHOTS
Remember, you read it here first!
Your hum'bl correspondn't predicts that the next outcry from religious
prudes (both left and right) -- along with their coterie of political
bootlickers -- will be over the decision by Seagram Liquors to begin
advertising its top-shelf brands on television. The firm is already running
ads for it's Crown Royal in Texas, thus breaking a half-century old voluntary
prohibition on TV commercials for hard booze; that industry ban was dreamed
up in 1936, following the social hang-over of a ridiculous religious
experiment known as Prohibition.
A Seagram's exec told Associated Press that "We believe that distilled
spirits should be able to access advertising in a responsibile way on
television and radio in the same manner as beer as wine."
But guess what? Even beer and wine ads are becoming a favorite target for
nosey religious groups (including the Christian Coalition), and busy-body
professional governmentalists who have a cow every time somebody indulges in
movie theater popcorn or a suggary-caffeine drink like Jolt! cola.
We are indeed a nation of constipated prudes, despite our veneer of
tolerance and sophistication.
Of course, it may be observed that most Americans simply don't know how to
drink, an observation made by the late and esteemed H.L. Mencken in his
criticism of the hi-ball. William Blake declared in "The Little Vagabond"
Then the Parson might preach, and drink, and sing
And we'd be as happy as birds in the spring
And modest Dame Lurch, who is always at church
Would not have bandy children, nor fasting, nor birch
It is ironic that Seagrams has chosen Texas, a state (and perhaps I am
unfair in this characterization!) known for certain notorious brews and cheap
whiskeys which rot the brain and skew the personality. Would more of those
red necks save their pennies for some DECENT liquor! The point is that while
Americans drink, they don't know how to imbibe; it is the difference between
between a typical American dive and a corner pub in England, between the
thundering maelstrom of a rock 'n roll club and a German beer house. In
France, all are students of the grape, and in Australia, beer -- not the
wattery, flaccid American brands -- is an exlixir. Indeed, researchers at
the University of Western Sydney announced recently that men who drink beer
live longer and are less likely to suffer heart problems. The same applies
to women beer drinkers -- they were unfairly barred from establishments until
20 years ago.
We hear so much anti-alcohol propaganda (much of it using worst-case
examples) that we are loosing perspective. Moderation, designated-drivers
and decent booze should be one's guide when inbibing. And remember John
"The first glass for myself, the second for my friends, the third for good
humor, and the fourth for mine enemies."
AANEWS has informed readers about the current Antichrist craze sweeping
the nation of Columbia. First, anonymous pamphlets (allegedly by
Protestants) led to fears that last Thursday -- June 6, 1996 or 6/6/96 -- the
Beast was about to snatch all children who had not been baptized into the
smothering boosom of Mutha' Church. Horror classics like "Rosemary's Baby"
were broadcast, and the churches were doing a thriving trade, although Roman
Catholic officials tried to distance themselves somewhat from all the
hysteria. Soon, the devil-fear was being transfered to President Ernesto
Samper, charged with corruption and being in the pay of drug lords. Church
officials have positioned themselves well -- as they did in the philippines,
first backing and then opposing the dictator-in-fashion -- to lead the
emerging reform movement.
Yesterday, church spokesmen kept up the drumbeat against Samper who,
judging by the evidence, did indeed accept drug money to finance his
presidential campaign. It's interesting to see, though, how active the
Church has become on this issue. CNN noted that yesterday's developments,
which included debate in the Columbian legislature, were "another defiant
response to mounting pressure for his (Samper's) resignation from many
quarters, including the Catholic Church.
Joining in was the Archbishop of Bucaramanga who said "We are not tolerant
in the face of crime."
Colombia seems to be yet another example of a pattern Church "reformists"
often engage in. For a long period, the Church backs the powers-that-be,
usually in exchange for control of the country's educational system, tax
exemptions and other favors. As popular discontent grows, Church officials
strike a more reform-minded pose, even becoming "symbols of revolution" (as
in Poland and post-war Italy). Under a new regime, the Church moves to again
achieve maximum power. No sooner was the late Philippine dictator Marcos out
the proverbial door, than Cardinal Jaimie Sin and his fellow clerics were
trying to manipulate the new President, Corrie Aquino, into laws banning
abortion, enforcing censorship, and giving the Church control of the schools.
Will the same happen in Colombia?
The Order of the Solar Temple is back in the news. That's the group that
has slowly been putting itself out of business since 1994 when 51 cult
members, including leaders Jos DiMambro and Luc Joret, committed suicide in a
grisly ritual. As in Jonestown, some of the victims were children, and some
had apparently been coerced into participating.
Now, French police have detained Michel Tabachnik, a well-known Swiss
musical conductor whose first wife perished in the initial kill-in. An
anti-cult group charges that "It appears Mr. Tabachnik played an important
role at the heart of the Order of the Solar Temple."
The Solar Temple doomsday cult, like the Aum group in Japan, was
surprisingly wealthy and was based on uncritical faith in and obedience to a
leader. Sound familiar? Look for more bizarre cults and doomsday-related
activities as we count down to 2000 and the Big Millennial celebration!
TW takes the position that the squawk over Indian religious rights at the
Devils Tower monument COULD be resolved if society would face-up to some
stark realities. That "sacred land" once belonged to Indians, and was taken
by force, coercion and trickery. At least some of it should be returned to
Native Americans in compensation.
But don't expect even conservative or liberal religionists to go along
with the consequences of such a plan. After all, Indian control would be
Indian control! If it's THEIR land, they should have the right to decide
what goes on there. In New York, Arizona and elsewhere, the Great White
Fathers and their Priests are upset because Native Americans have developed
some business savvy and are setting up lucrative casinos to raise money.
Uncle Sam and the churches have pretty much treated the native people's as a
bunch of child-like saps in need of constant indoctrination, guidance and
paternalistic rule; but when the Indians play -- and win -- on the white
guy's turf, well, the rules quickly change!
Arizona Governor Fife Symington doesn't like Indians having the right to
operate casinos, and uses every paternalistic and condescending phrase he and
the local Archbishops can conjure to argue against the new entrepreneurs. In
New York, the State wants more control over the "reservations."
This could all be resolved by a simple principle, dear to our American
tradition. Try private property. A man's (or woman's) house is his/her
castle. Give the Indians their land and be done with it. And if the
Christian Coalition doesn't like the Indians getting what's theirs back with
a roll of the dice, well, they don't have to play the game.
As noted above, President Clinton is rushing down to South Carolina
tomorrow to schmooze with religious leaders and attend the dedication of a
re-built church destroyed earlier by arson. Now, were the American Atheist
offices in Texas torched by some bible-toting or koran-swearing fanatic and
rebuilt, do you think he and the First Lady would trot over to OUR dedication
ceremony? Do you think that public officials would be so vehement in their
cries for "justice" and "apprehending those responsible?" We think not.
And Ron Barrier's remarks bear repeating. It seems that last week, a
fiery KKK-style cross was burned on the front long of a black Long Island,
N.Y. couple who had lived in the neighborhood for two decades. And last
month, a black family was run out of a Philadelphia neighborhood; their house
was vandalized by racist spray-paint graffiti and rock-throwers. Is their
property, and life, any less valuable than the churches which belong to
American religious groups?
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: email@example.com, and include your name
and mailing address.
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