Date: Sun, 16 Jun 1996 12:25:24 -0700 Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for June 16, 1996 nn nn AA

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Date: Sun, 16 Jun 1996 12:25:24 -0700 from: AMERICAN.ATHEISTS@listserv.direct.net Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for June 16, 1996 Reply-To: aanews@listserv.atheists.org, AMERICAN.ATHEISTS@listserv.direct.net nnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn nnnnnnnnnn AANEWS nnnnnnnnnn # 66 uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu 6/16/96 In This Edition... * A Special Report and Commentary: Church Arsons, Government Response * About This List... CHURCH ''ARSONS'' RAISE QUESTIONS ON ACCURACY AND CALLS FOR UNCONSTITUTIONAL GOVERNMENT AID Is the spree of alleged "church arsons" a conspiracy? A statistical fluke? A plot by racists, pyromaniacs, or persons who believe that the target church is in the grip of the Antichrist? It may be a combination of all of these factors, according to an investigation by AANEWS. According to reports, while political and religious figures have been focusing on a rash of suspected arsons in black churches over the last eighteen months, federal authorities have also been looking into some two dozen other fires at predominantly white churches and synagogues during this same time period. In addition, out of the 300,000 congregations in the country (most of which have their own building or facility), arson hits at some 600 churches, temples or synagogues each year. According to the National Fire Protection Association, arson is the leading cause of such fires, "as in all public and commercial buildings" according to a recent report in The Philadelphia Inquirer. Of the total arson cases handled each year, only 1% involve churches. Although the current rash of alleged arsons has prompted grandstanding from public and religious leaders -- including President Clinton's call for a $10,000,000 loan-guaranteed trust fund to re-build torched churches -- there continues to be little or no evidence of widespread conspiracy. At least 200 federal agents are still assigned to the probe into fires involving black churches. There continues to be a substantial gap between the claims by religious leaders that this is the result of an organized conspiracy, and facts developed so far in the case. In other news related to the probe: * Last week, AANEWS announced that the Clinton administration was proposing the $10 million loan guarantee program for churches destroyed as the result of "racial or religious-hated" motivations. CNN noted that administration spokesmen said there was "no problem" with the state-church separation aspect of the proposal, but did not elaborate. That news have currently "dropped off the radar screen," replaced by word that President Clinton is hosting an urgent meeting of governors, religious leaders and attorneys general of states where there has been reported or possible arson. That meeting is scheduled for this week. * In Enid, Oklahoma, the First Missionary Baptist Church received direct government assistance, after its building was destroyed by arson. According to a dispatch from Reuters news service, "...a medical unit from the nearby Vance Air Force Base came by to put up canvas tents so the congregation could meet for an evening service next to the site of their church." * The Christian Coalition continues its efforts to "cash in" on news coverage about the alleged arson of black churches. (This seems to be just part of an overall effort by America's religious right to "court" any conservative elements in the black community, especially over issues such as "family values," school prayer, drug/alcohol/gambling abuse, pornography, crime, abortion, single-moms and music lyrics.) The Coalition is organizing a "Pastor's Summit & Press Conference on recent church burnings" scheduled for Tuesday, June 18, 9:30 a.m. at the Atlanta Airport Hilton. A press release notes that speakers at this affair will be "Dr. Ralph Reed" and Rev. Earl Jackson, "director of Urban Development" for the Christian Coalition. The hand-out adds: "The Coalition will bring many pastors of these fire bombed churches from across the nation to a summit to identify solutions that can put a halt to these attacks...At the press conference, Christian Coalition will announce the continued steps it is taking to activate a network of grassroots activists and approximately 200,000 churches nationwide in preventing further attacks." * The Philadelphia Inquirer story of 6/15/96 about the church arsons quotes the president of the Center for Arson Research, Dian Williams, who said that certain individuals who torch churches are religious psychotics: "Sometimes they hear a voice telling them over and over to burn churches in order to avert Armageddon, because the church has become a component of the Antichrist." The Inquirer notes that the Antichrist is the biblical figure "who will rise up against Christ before the Last Judgment." Already, at least one talk show host has blamed the devil for the church arsons, and the old chesnut of "satanic cult activity" has been dragged out for popular media consumption. "Satanic symbols" were allegedly found at the ruins of one arson site, although that fire may be the work of alcohol-drinking teens. The satan-"Last Days" aspect of this story is not lost on those of us anticipating widespread "Millennialist fever" as society approaches the year 2000. *********************** AMERICAN ATHEISTS CONDEMNS CHURCH BOMBINGS, BUT SAYS ''NO WAY!'' FOR CLINTON LOAN PLAN... (The following press released was released on Friday by Ellen Johnson, President of American Atheists...) American Atheists today criticized a plan by the Clinton Administration to establish a special $10 million loan guarantee program to subsidize the rebuilding of churches believed to have been targets of arson. Ellen Johnson, President of the organization, was also skeptical of Clinton's proposal for a meeting next week to involve state governors in possible aid efforts to the churches. At the same time, Ms. Johnson condemned the bombings as possible acts of bigoted intolerance. "As wrong as any arsons may be, the Constitution specifically enjoins the government from aiding or subsidizing religion. In light of Mr. Clinton's remarks concerning the importance of worship and religious belief, it is clear that in proposing this taxpayer-funded program to aid churches, he is clearly promoting a religious agenda." American Atheists also criticized ministers and church groups who were protesting the scope of the federal investigation. Religious leaders have complained that agents have been interrogating church members and ministers for information. Ms. Johnson remarked that: "So far, evidence does not suggest that the 'conspiracy theory' so popular in certain religious circles, has much basis in fact. Investigators need to be able to do their jobs in these cases, wherever the evidence trail might lead." American Atheists is a nationwide movement founded by Madalyn Murray O'Hair for the advancement of Atheism, and to defend the absolute, total separation of state and church. ****************** One Man's Opinion... CHURCH ARSON IS WRONG ~~ BUT SO ARE CLINTON, CHURCHES! It's funny how Atheists, in our role as staunch defenders of the First Amendment and state-church separation, often end up more than anyone else supporting the right of people to freedom OF religion. A surprising amount of religious intolerance throughout history has involved powerful, "established" churches persecuting other religious believers. The intolerance of the Church of England and the British government drove thousands of religious non-conformists to America in search of "religious liberty." Those same people quickly set up governments and official churches which usually began their own persecutions of those who did not agree. Time for a brief history lesson... In many of the original colonies, official "established" churches were set-up, funded at taxpayer expense. One often had to belong to this official religion in order to exercise even minor rights, such as owning property or voting in elections. According to Madalyn Murray O'Hair definitive work "Freedom Undier Siege" (Los Angeles, Tarcher, 1974): "Massachusetts would permit no Roman Catholic to enter the state, and a General Court there declared that any person not freeing himself of suspicion of being a Roman Catholic 'shall be jailed, then banished. If taken a second time, he shall be put to death." O'Hair reports similar policy which existed in Pennsylvania, New York and elsewhere. The American Revolution changed much of that, at least in theory, as churches were "disestablished." Religious leaders protested loudly and vigorously; and decades later, they continued to feud over issues such as which version of the bible would be used for worship and instruction in the public schools. At one point, that squabble led to the "bible riots" of New York and Philadelphia, where troops were eventually called in to prevent mobs of Protestants and Catholics from continuing their blood-fest. Despite the babble over "ecumenism" and "religious unity," the world's religions are still very much divided. Christian evangelicals want the "freedom" to proselytize in the middle east and elsewhere (the "10-30 window"), while Muslims and Hindus want to protect their own theological turf. In Latin America, the Roman Catholic church labels Protestants and other religious groups as "sects." Which brings us back to America, and to this latest rash of alleged church bombings. Many of the bombings discussed in the press, and mentioned by President Clinton and other political or religious leaders, involves churches with mostly black congregations. Religious dogmatism and intolerance have played a major role in the historical oppression of blacks, of course, starting with the enslavement of millions of black men, women and children by Africal tribal leaders, Muslim-Arab traders, and White Anglo-Saxon Protestant slavers. They were transported to America, fed a consistent diet of Christian religion (on the assumption that they were being benevolently "saved", their souls "rescued"), and mentally colonized by the slave-philosophy of the bible. In the history of slaveocracy, many literate slaves were permitted only one book -- the bible. In its pages were found abundant examples of why slaves should not defy their master, and why the master could rationalize his or her own privileged position in neo-feudal society. It is no accident that pro-slavery, and later pro-segregationist movements like the Ku Klus Klan depicted themselves as "defenders of Christianity." Many of the white, racial-nationalists group which today preach violence and hatred against black and other groups often do so from a theological perspective. Members of the Christian Knights of the Ku Klux Klan have been linked to at least one church arson. Religious philosophies like Christian Identity provide a theoretical rationale for race hatred. With all of this mind, here's the AANEWS take, then, on these church arsons... * As Atheists and separationists, we support one's right to freedom OF religion and freedom FROM religion. * Bombing churches, mosques, temples, synagogues or other religious venues -- or using any physical violence against religious groups -- is morally wrong, politically illegal, and does nothing to foster any rational objectives. * Government has no legitimate right in extending special treatment to religious groups; this includes the establishment of special loan funds, material aid (such as the use of tents and equipment from a local Air Force base to help out one congregation), or the passage of special laws such as the Church Arson Prevention Act. * We do not think that a church building or other "house of worship" is entitled to special consideration above private residences, businesses, schools and other facilities. * Blacks, whites and other ethnic groups are victims of religious ideology and mental colonization. The "liberatory" effects of religious ideologies are minimal. In the case of American blacks, while we recognize the limited, positive role that certain churches and religious leaders have played in the struggle for civil rights, we suggest that this contribution could well end up being overshadowed by the negative effects of religion. Hundreds of thousands of dollars are being spent to rebuild decrepit churches; may we suggest, instead, that this sort of money is deperately needed in public schools and scholarship funds aimed at educating black youth, particularly in the areas of science, high-tech and engineering? In fact, it would be a good idea if our society were of sufficient mind to stop building and rebuilding ALL churches, mosques, temples and other "houses of worship." These hundreds of billions of dollars could go for more practical and enlightened programs -- education, space exploration, health care and research. Instead of praying to the stars, we could explore them! * We should be skeptical about claims that the church arsons are necessarily the result of a conspiracy with racial or religious motives. Some of the fires may very well be; but facts are facts, regardless of the wishes of religious leaders and political hopefuls who look upon blacks, religious worshippers and others as "voting blocks." * We should also be skeptical of efforts by religious-right groups like the Christian Coalition to exploit the church arson story for its own theopolitical agenda. White Christian conservatives have had very little interest in blacks until now; not surprisingly, this concern oozes over the issue of religious belief. Religious right leaders such as "Dr. Ralph Reed" of the Christian Coalition have already expressed their belief that they can find common ground with black religious elements over issues such as abortion, censorship, prayer and other "family values" topics. Is this cooperation or cynical manipulation? Are blacks reduced to being bit-players in some theopolitical strategy devised by religious-right leaders? * As Atheists, we should speak out against Bill Clinton's exploitation of the church fires issue. Mr. Clinton continues to position himself for November, using election rhetoric, and constantly mentioning "our country's religious heritage" and the importance of "freedom of religion." He ignores the 25,000,000 Americans -- white, black, hispanic, Asian, Native American, and others -- who are Atheists or non-believers of some sort. Our own ranks are larger than most of the American mainstream religious denominations! What about us? * If religious leaders insist on a massive government investigation, then agents must be permitted to do their job. Church leaders are already objecting to any hint that members of their congregations -- or even they -- may be involved in at least some of the arsons. But the fact remains that arson is often a "for profit" activity. The investigation must be guided by facts, not wishes, religious prejudices or political expediency. * We should resist any attempt to allow the disgusting nature of any church arsons to stampede us into special treatment (or muted criticism) of religious groups and ideologies. ************************* About This List... AANEWS is a free service from 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 on American Atheists, send e-mail to: info@atheists.org. Be sure to put your name and mailing address in the message body. If you are already an AA member, you may participate in our e-mail discussion group, aachat. To join, contact our moderator at: aachat@atheists.org. 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: aanews-request@listserv.atheists.org, and put "info aanews" (minus the quotation marks, please!) in the message body. Edited and written by Conrad F. Goeringer, The LISTMASTER.

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