Date: Sun, 16 Jun 1996 12:25:24 -0700 Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for June 16, 1996 nn nn AA
Date: Sun, 16 Jun 1996 12:25:24 -0700
Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for June 16, 1996
Reply-To: firstname.lastname@example.org, AMERICAN.ATHEISTS@listserv.direct.net
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
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
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
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
* 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
* 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...
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founded by Madalyn Murray O'Hair for the advancement of Atheism, and the
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