Date: Tue, 18 Jun 1996 12:25:24 -0700 Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for June 18, 1996 nn nn AA

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Date: Tue, 18 Jun 1996 12:25:24 -0700 from: AMERICAN.ATHEISTS@listserv.direct.net Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for June 18, 1996 Reply-To: aanews@listserv.atheists.org, AMERICAN.ATHEISTS@listserv.direct.net nnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn nnnnnnnnnn AANEWS nnnnnnnnnn # 70 uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu 6/18/96 In This Edition... * Church, Preservationists Battle In LaLaLand Again * Fires Prompt Calls For Government Aid -- a Follow-up * GOP Abortion Rift Isn't Healed * Israel: Saturday Blah's, Religious Deals * Battling Satan in an Irish Kitchen -- Con, or Millennial Madness? * One Man's Opinion ~ Arsons Don't Justify Trashing First Amendment! * About This List... CHURCH, PRESERVATIONISTS COLLIDE IN L.A. ~~ JUDGE TO RULE TODAY ON FATE OF CATHEDRAL In Los Angeles, the battle over the fate of St. Vibiana's Cathedral -- a 120-year old building which some consider an important piece of local history -- is expected to be decided today following a round of court arguments. A hearing yesterday in local Conservancy Court raised issues of whether local church officials, working with city inspectors, offered misleading information about the condition of the aging building. The local Archdiocese wants to raze the structure, and erect a new $50 million Cathedral in time for the millennium celebration of 2000. Catholic Cardinal Roger Mahoney has threatened to take the new building project out of the downtown area, and possibly even out of Los Angeles, if the church doesn't receive the green light to demolish the present building. At issue yesterday was how much damage the cathedral sustained during the 3.6 magnitude earthquake of May 23. Evidence of severe damage would permit emergency demolition, thus bypassing the usual environment review which is mandated for city-designated landmarks like St. Vibiana's. But in yesterday's hearing before Judge Robert O'Brien, local preservationists bolstered their argument that the church was engaging in power politics. Legal documents charged that the Archdioces was "desperately attempting to conjure up evidence" to support the case for demolition. Meanwhile, representatives from other groups, including an Episcopalian priest, joined to occupy the decaying downtown building. The local Catholic Worker group showed up, and a spokesman told the L.A. Times that: "We're here to cleanse the temple of the robbers and the fat cats." Church lawyers argued that the city historic conservancy is interfering with Catholic religious freedom. A bill has been introduced in the California Assembly which would exempt churches and other religious groups from many preservationist restrictions which apply to home owners and business proprietors. ********************** MEETINGS SCHEDULED TODAY, WEDNESDAY OVER CHURCH FIRES House Bill Expected To Call For Direct Cash Aid To Churches A rash of fires at churches throughout the country is prompting potentially unconstitutional measures from both Congress and the Clinton administration which would use taxpayer monies to re-build churches. Yesterday, a special AANEWS bulletin reported that Senator Edward Kennedy has been given the job of crafting emergency legislation that would compensate religious groups which have suffered the loss of a church, synogogue, temple or other structure due to racial or religiously motivated arson. We have now learned that the Kennedy proposal will call for churches and other religious groups to receive government grants through "victim compensation" funds established by the government. A measure is being crafted in the House of Representatives that would also aid churches, but through direct cash payments. In other related developments: * Two black churches in Mississippi were burned overnight, though it is not known if arson was involved, or who was behind the fires. * As of dispatch time for this AANEWS, the Christian Coalition and invited organizations and ministers are meeting in Atlanta to discuss the church arsons. * President Clinton has invited religious leaders, governors and attorneys general from states where there have been suspected arsons of churches to a meeting scheduled for tomorrow. It is expected that the administration will go public with a government church-aid package. * Ellen Johnson, President of American Atheists, told AANEWS minutes ago that she is contacting leaders of the NAACP and the Anti-Defamation League, urging them to oppose any government aid for rebuilding churches. There are also reports that American Atheists will announce plans for a lawsuit, if President Clinton attempts to implement an unconstitutional church aid package. Ms. Johnson said that "we must be religion-blind when enforcing and defending the First Amendment and the separation of church and state." GOP ABORTION RIFT NOT HEALING Senator Bob Dole's support for a "tolerance" provision in the 1996 Republican platform may have done more damage to party unity than originally thought. Last week, the presumed presidential nominee tried to appease both sides in the touchy abortion fight by inserting new language into the platform which on one hand still expresses support for the Human Life Amendment, but also recognizes the "diversity" of opinion within party ranks. Most religious right groups, including the Christian Coalition and the Family Research Council, expressed conditional support for Dole's equivocation; other groups such as the Eagle Forum denounced the move. On Friday, Dole with be meeting with Rep. Henry Hyde, Congressional poster-boy for the Christian Coalition and a determined abortion foe. Hyde supports the Human Life Amendment which if enacted would ban all abortion in the United States; it has become a staple in the GOP platform since 1980. When he learned that Dole was supporting the "tolerance language," Hyde threatened to quit as Chairman of the Platform Committee. Ralph Reed, Director of the Christian Coalition, quickly jumped into the fray, saying that he would accept Dole's proposal, so long as it applied to all other platform planks as well, not just the provisions on abortion. Abortion opponents claimed that Dole's "tolerance" porposal was singling them out as a liability within GOP ranks; there was even talk of organizing an attempted override on the floor of the upcoming convention. Dole has been trying to downplay the abortion issue, instead concentrating his attacks on Clinton's economic and foreign policy. ************************* NETANYAHU TO DEFEND ''STATUS QUO,'' ENFORCE RELIGIOUS LAWS Prime Minister-elect Benjamin Netanyahu has reached general agreement with the religious orthodox parties which two weeks ago helped win for him Israel's highest elected office. He edged out Prime Minister Shimon Peres in a hotly contested election which many saw as a referendum on the direction of the Israeli-Arab peace process, and the fate of secularism in the country. Major religious parties won a record 32 seats in the Knesset, or Israeli parliament. Groups such as United Torah and the Shas are demanding strict enforcement of religious laws, including official observance of the Sabbath, as part of the price to be paid in exchange for their role in any coalition government. Netanyahu's Likud Party won only 32 seats, and desperately needs the fundamentalists in order to govern. According to reports in the New York Times and elsewhere, Orthodox demands for enforcement of religious laws will "almost certainly be achieved." Stores will probably be shut down on Saturdays, and the importing of non-kosher meat and other products will be prohibited. In addition, people converted to Judaism by either Reform of Conservative synagogues will not be officially recognized as Jews; representatives from these groups will also be banned from membership on councils which oversee religious matters. All archeological excavation is expected to be halted, pending a review. One young Israeli told the N.Y. Times that "We're concerned that things will change...we're afraid they'll close the streets on Saturdays, close down nightspots on weekends." Another expressed fear that "there will be a regression and all the democratic achievements of the past few years will be lost." Some have worried that fundamentalist "modesty patrols" (already active in certain neighborhoods) will be roaming public streets admonishing women about dress and appearance. Neanyahu has been described as "not religious," and more interested in economic and security issues than with spiritual questions. Even so, his Likud movement is permeated with religious fundamentalism; and he needs the Orthodox vote in order to win elections and govern. ************ CHURCH PROBING IRISH LASS WHO BATTLES DEVIL IN HER KITCHEN Is "House of Prayer" Just Pre-Millennium Madness, or $$ Con? Like the Protestant reformer Martin Luther, Christina Gallagher claims that she wrestles with Satan. She also claims that she's pals with Jesus Christ, communes with the Virgin Mary, and has horrific visions of doom and destruction concerning the upcoming millennium. For some, she has become the center of a virtual cult; and Roman Catholic Church authorities are now looking into Ms. Gallagher to see if she's plugged into the sacred cosmos, is mad, or is just running a financial con game involving religious kitsch and chain letters. Ms. Gallagher lives on Achill Island off the western coast of Ireland in a renovated nunnery she now calls the House of Prayer. Her claims of visions and wondrous powers have attracted a growing throng of believers -- and the just plain curious -- to this remote site. It's been good business for local merchants and hoteliers, who count thousands of new tourists flocking to Ms. Gallagher's. According to Electronic Telegraph, "hundreds of pilgrims come by plane, coach and car to see her." During weekend "services," Christina Gallagher schmoozes with admirers and conducts prayer. There is a small chapel at the House of Prayer "decorated in blue, gold and white, festooned with orchids and lilies and overpopulated with statues of the Virgin and Christ." There's also a religious-kitsch gift shop selling "the usual religious trinketry and bric-a-brac -- luminous rosary beads, Mother of God jigsaws," and a growing number of videos which depict Gallagher's visions. "It is gory stuff," notes the Telegraph. "The Virgin weeps blood, the Pope bleeds from a stomach wound, Christ is scourged, Hell is 'an endless sea of fire'." There are predictions of mass-starvation, nuclear war and social upheaval -- the sorts of prognostications which many social scientists expect will increase in number as society approaches the third millennium. The Roman Catholic Church has announced that they will officially be investigating Christina Gallagher and her claims. But Cardinal Cahal Daly, the Vatican's man-in-Ireland, warns of "a proliferation of alleged visions, apparitions and messages" as we count down to the biggest New Year's Eve party ever. He told the Telegraph tha church investigators will focus on Gallagher's claims of miracles cures and "stigmata", a phenomena where believers supposedly manifest wounds in their hands and feet similar to those allegedly suffered by J.C. "on the cross." Oh, yeah, there's another twist to the story. Seems that with all of that ju-ju and mystical power at the House of Prayer, both Gallagher and her "spiritual advisor" -- identified as Father Gerard McGinnitty, want to keep the press and others at arm's distance. The building is locked-tight and has video cameras and an elaborate security alarm system, and according to the Telegraph "Islanders mutter about the profits and point to plans to expand their accomodation and build a restaurant. They also speak of chain-letter prayer with demands for donations." Ms. Gallagher may indeed believe that she is for real. Even so, what WILL she do with all of that money on January 1, 2000? ********************* One Man's Opinion... STATE-CHURCH SEPARATION MUST BE COLOR BLIND, IMPARTIAL There is something peculiar about the recent spat of alleged church arsons which has attracted concern of religious leaders, politicians and the media. There is a gap between perception and facts, and a stampede to exploit the issue for religious and political purposes. In this "rush to judgment", truth and the First Amendment could well become victims. Consider the facts: * While there has been a series of fires at black or mostly black churches throughout the South over the past 18 months, investigators are also probing nearly as many arsons in different parts of the country which involve churches with white congregations. * Despite a task force that now includes 250 federal agents (up from 200 last week), no credible evidence has emerged that some nationwide conspiracy is involved. Morris Dees of the Southern Poverty Law Center has been a voice of reason in this whole melee, noting that while white racist individuals and groups (such as the Christian Knights of the Ku Klux Klan) play a role in some cases, it is nevertheless "a mixed bag" with copy-cat arsonists, "lone nuts," pyromanics and others engaging in destructive behavior. * Thus far, AANEWS has found different statistics about arson in the United States. The National Fire Protection Association claims that about 1,330 fires strike churches, synagogues and temples each year, and 27% of those cases involve arson. Church arsons account for less than 1% of the annual arson total, though. The rest involves private business, homes and other structures. Ralph Reed and the Christian Coalition have hopped on the "arson conspiracy" bandwagon. The CC Director points to the fires as evidence that "religion is under attack in America," a hoary phrase usually dragged out of the rhetorical closet in reference to laws which uphold separation of church and state, and prohibit such invasive practices as prayer in public schools or the teaching of bogus "creationist" dctrines in science classrooms. Now that news media, politicians and religionists are now starting to admit that white churches are supposedly victims of arsons, there is even more danger that calls for government aid to re-build ruined churches or temples will find a broader base of support. It's an election year, of course, and both Democrats and Republicans look greedilly for any issue which can be transformed into political gain; we suspect that the church fires will be exploited for this purpose. Already, Mr. Clinton -- who shamelessly abandoned the "Free Expression" portion of the First Amendment by cheerleeding for, and later signing the Communications Decency Act -- wants to brush aside the "Establishment Clause" of this same amendment by establishing a special loan guarantee program for churches which ostensibly are victims of arson due to racial or religiously-motivated violence. The Republicans haven't been standing by idly, either: Rep. Henry Hyde, who already wants to undermine state-church separation with the Religious Equality Amendment, has pushed his "Church Arson Prevention Act" through the House. This hastilly-conceived legislation is now being rectified in the Senate. As Atheists and state-church separationists, we support both freedom OF religion and freedom FROM religion. We certainly condemn violence against those who profess religious belief, and their churches, mosques, temples or other venues of worship. We disagree with their beliefs and ideologies, but we defend their right and civil liberty to engage in religious proselytizing. We also support the civil rights of Atheists and non-believers, and we recognize the importance of the First Amendment in restraining government from "Establishing" religion in any way. That includes schemes to use government funds -- which, after all, comes from taxpayers -- to re-build churches. Those many religionists who advocate "religious liberty" and support a version of state-church separation, should know that it is in their best interest to refuse government funding in any form. If they wish to retain their independence from the state, they should refuse the state's offer of money or other assistance. We suspect that some congregations will, but many will not. There are 25,000,000 Americans who are Atheists, religious skeptics, or profess no religious belief. Why should we, through taxes, be compelled to pay for the re-building of churches? How would religious groups feel if Atheists asked for public money to construct, or rebuild, Atheist offices, printing plants or meeting centers? Would that be right? Thus far, evidence strongly indicates that the church fires involve a multitude of different people and circumstances, not a nationwide conspiracy. It is certainly not proof that "religion is under attack in America." And Mr. Clinton's statements that religious worship is "the most important right" need to be balanced with the fact that our Constitution affirms OTHER rights as well, rights which are equally important. AANEWS recently carried the story about an Atheist incarcerated in a New York prison, who successfully sued over that institution's use of the Alcoholics Anonymous program. Participation in the AA drug-alcohol rehab program was a factor in evaluating parole. The inmate maintained (and the court agreed) that this was coerced involvement in something which was clearly religious -- a basic violation of rights. No person should be compelled to support, or participate in, any religious activity. That prohibition applies even during times when emotions, tensions and political ambitions are running high, when rhetoric is heated, and when reprehensible deeds -- such as racist arsons -- may be carried out. Atheists -- and other citizens -- should not be compelled to subsidize religion in any way, especially through the use of tax-monies to rebuild churches. We condemn any arson against ANY individual or group. We insist, though, that churches (which account for 1%of arson fires) are no more important than, say, private homes or businesses. None of this diminishes the severity of these arson attacks. But the nature of these crimes must not be exploited by religious and political leaders to again mount their own attack on the First Amendment, and the wall of separation between government and religion. This may not be the most popular situation for American Atheists and other separationists to speak out about; but when defending constitutional rights, all of us must learn to be color blind. ********************** 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 information about American Atheists, send e-mail to: info@atheists.org, and include your name and mailing address. You may post, forward or quote from this dispatch, provided that appropriate credit is given to American Atheists and the aanews. For subscribe/unsubscribe information, 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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