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

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Date: Wed, 12 Jun 1996 12:25:24 -0700 from: Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for June 12, 1996 Reply-To:, nnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn 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 religious belief. 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 years. 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. Appeal Likely? 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 religious hostility. 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 vandalized churches." * 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 enforcement officials." 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. Satanic Panic? 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 church grounds." 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 religious." 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 voluntary. 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 CDA. 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" that ~ 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 Addison's remonstrance: "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:, and include your name and mailing address. You may quote from, forward or post this dispatch, provided that appropriate credit is given to American Atheists and AANEWS. For subscribe/unsubscribe information, send 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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