Date: Fri, 28 Jun 1996 12:25:24 -0700 Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for June 28, 1996 nn nn AA
Date: Fri, 28 Jun 1996 12:25:24 -0700
Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for June 28, 1996
Reply-To: firstname.lastname@example.org, AMERICAN.ATHEISTS@listserv.direct.net
nnnnnnnnnn AANEWS nnnnnnnnnn
# 79 uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu 6/28/96
* Holy Sheriff Told to Stop Pushing Religion
* Senate Passes Church-Aid Bill ~~ More on "Arson Epidemic"
* Could "God" Put Humpty Dumpty Back Together Again?
* A Correction
* About This List...
FREETHOUGHT GROUP TAKES ON POLICE ''RELIGIOUS TRACT''
In Onslow County, North Carolina, the local Sheriff's office believes that
it has a dual-mission. "Serving God and Onslow County" -- presumably, in
that order -- is now the stated objective of Sheriff Ed Brown. And
according to a recent dispatch from the American Civil Liberties Union, a
booklet written by Sheriff Brown has "a reference to the sheriff's custodian
as a 'messenger of Christ'."
This has angered the Onslow Freethought Society, which has gotten ACLU
support in its efforts to stop the county officials from distributing the
booklets. The group insists that the sheriff is improperly using his office
to promote religion, and the ACLU attorney working on this case notes that
"The Constitution says no public official may undertake any acts that will
constitute the establishment of religion." Charles Johnson added that: "The
restrictions apply to public officials whether or not they're spending state
Mr. Brown used his own funds to produce the booklet, which is titled "A
History of the Office of Sheriff." But his role as head of the Sheriff's
office suggests that he is using that position to foster religious belief and
obedience. In reaction to the protest from the Freethought group, Brown
declared: "Let there be no doubt as to where I stand. I love God. I believe
in God. I trust in God, and I seek to live by his commandments every day."
We'll follow this case and see if Sheriff Brown is equally enthused about
obeying the First Amendment and state-church separation laws.
SENATE VOTES FOR ''BACK DOOR'' AID TO REBUILD CHURCHES
In a 98-2 voice vote, the U.S. Senate has passed legislation which gives
federal investigators and prosecutors more leeway in dealing with suspected
cases of arsons at churches, temples and mosques, and will make up to
$10,000,000 available in a special guanateed loan program to rebuild houses
The measure is similar to one passed last week in the House of
Representatives 422-0; the Senate version must be approved in conference
committee, and will probably end up being signed by President Clinton, who
supports the legislation. In most respects, the bill (S.1890) is similar to
the Church Arson Prevention Act (H.R. 3525) which cleared the House. Both
pieces of legislation would funnel money to churches, synagogues, mosques or
other religious centers which had been destroyed as the result of arson
motivated by "racial or religious hate."
The House version introduced on May 23 by Rep. Henry Hyde, includes
religious groups in the list of those eligible for compensation under the
Victims of Crime Act of 1984. The wording is somewhat vague, and under the
"Compensation" section, it stipulates: "include such crimes where victims
suffer death or personal injury as 'compensable crimes'." Will
"congregations" be able to insist that they have suffered a collective
"personal injury" in order to qualify for money?
The Senate bill had 38 sponsors and co-sponsors, but according to sources
was written by Senator Edward Kennedy's office. The bill declared that : "The
incidence of arson or other destruction or vandalism of places of religious
worship, and the incidence of violent interference with an individual's
lawful exercise or attempted exercise of the right of religious freedom at a
place of religious worship pose a serious national problem."
Section 4 of S.1890 calls for use of a "Loan Guarantee Recovery Fund"
through the Department of Housing and Urban Development. The HUD Secretary
is authorized to use $5,000,000 from the 1996 budget; subsection D, under
"Limit on Loan Principal" stipulates that "Funds made available by this
section shall be available to subsidize total loan principal, any part of
which is to be guaranteed, not to exceed $10,000,000.
The final legislative produce of both the House and Senate measures will,
in effect, create a special category of penalties for acts of violence
directed at religious institutions. The Senate bill increases the jail term
for church arson from 10 to 20 years, a penalty greater than many other
crimes directed against individuals or private businesses.
Investigation Finds "No Conspiracy" in Most
Despite the allegation in the Senate legislation that violence against
churches and other religious venues has become a "serious national problem,"
a growing mountain of evidence suggests this is not the case. The current
USA TODAY features a front-page lead article titled: "Why are churches
burning?", and concludes that: "A two-month USA TODAY investigation has found
no conspiracy to target black churches." The paper's inquiry uncovered some
* Evidence suggests that "There is no one answer to the frightening
collection of torched churches across the South, black and white." Factors in
the fires include teen vandalism, revenge, insurance and other fraud, drunken
behavior and racial hatred. "But no single thread runs through the black
* 64 black church arsons have been tracked in the South since Jan. 1,
1995. Most of the fires occurred from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m., and most of the
churches involved had congregations of only 100 members or less.
* Of the thirty people arrested for arsons at black churches, 10 --
one-third of the total -- were black. One arson appears to involve a black
* There are two cluster "arson zones" -- North and South Carolina, and a
tri-state areas of Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee. According to the USA
TODAY probe, many fires at churches in these areas appear to be racially
motivated, but there are exceptions. A church fire on May 23 in Cerro Gordo,
N.C. was originally thought to have involved racially motivated arson. "But
the investigation led to the arrest of two black building contractors who
have been remodeling the annex. Alleged motive: to hide that they had
exhausted their money before they finished the work."
* There is evidence linking white hate groups, or individuals with bigoted
beliefs, to some of the arsons. In Greeleyville, S.C., for instance, the
fire at the Mount Zion AME church on June 20, 1995 led to the arrest of two
white men linked to the Ku Klux Klan. Klan members are also linked to a
similar fire at the macedonia Baptist Church in Bloomville. But when 64
church arsons are analyzed and compared, the contention that the fires are a
"mixed-bag" -- a statement made by attorney Morris Dees of the Southern
Poverty Law Center -- seems to be confirmed. Among the descriptions provided
in the USA TODAY study: "Boys in day care set fire"; "Possible diversion for
holdup"; "Inside job suspected"; "9-year old lit storage building"; "Motive
sexual, police say"; "Cigarette butt may be cause." Others are more
disturbing: " 'KKK Rules' graffiti nearby"; "Suspects linked to KKK"; "Racist
graffiti left at scene."
* USA TODAY noted that "Isolated and empty at night, Southern churches are
irresistible to arsonists." One arson investigator says that "A decade ago,
fraud accounted for 80% of all arson. Now, kids start 80% of them. It's...a
Statistics Turned Into a "Conspiracy"?
While an alleged wave of recent arson directed at black churches has been
the subject of news stories for over a year, in March the newsmedia began to
focus more and more on these fires. The invesitgation by the FBI, Treasury
Department and the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department goes back
to 1990, and by April of this year was focusing on more than 40 suspected
arson cases. There are two distinct events, though, that seem to have
accelerated both media interest in the fires, and calls for political action.
The first was the call on April 23, 1996 by the Christian Coalition that
the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms be taken off the arson probe, and
the establishment of a $25,000 reward. As one of the nation's major
religious political groups, this action not only focused more attention on
the fires, but added -- in the public imagination -- a new twist: white
religious groups were suddenly concerned. Of course the arsons had attracted
interest from other religious bodies like the National Council of Churches,
but the Coalition's move was, in retrospect, a major effort to reach out to a
potentially large body of conservative or moderate Black churches. In
covering the Coalition's April announcement, CNN noted that
"African-Americans are not as liberal as generally thought, according to a
survey conducted by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies."
The April statement by the Christian Coalition actually pre-dated
statements made by other white religious groups, such as the United Church of
Christ. On June 10, spokesmen for that group called for "swift, forceful
action" by the government to look into the suspected arsons. And that was
over two weeks following the introduction of the Church Arson Prevention Act
in the House by Rep. Henry Hyde, a major supporter of the Christian
The second development concerned reports in early and mid June that
federal officials were invesitgating arson at over two dozen churches with
predominantly white congregations. These fires had occurred during the same
20- month period when more than 30 black churches were torched. By this
time, the National Council of Church had launched a much-publicized fund
drive to raise money to rebuild the black churches. But news reports were
also carrying other information, namely, that churches account for less than
1% of arson fires. According to the National Fire Protection Association,
arson is the number-one cause of fires in churches, but it is also the
leading cause of fire in all other public and commercial buildings. Other
arson experts said that none of the fires suggested an increase in the arson
rate, and one analyst declared that the "epidemic" of arsons was simply a
rate which was "on schedule" for 1996.
In the last week to ten-days, the description of the alleged church arsons
as a "wave" of "racially motivated" attacks has been embellished
considerably. Immediately prior to meeting with black church leaders in
Atlanta, Christian Coalition Director Ralph Reed provocatively described the
fires as "an attack on religion," not just black churches. At this time,
around June 18, U.S. Civil Rights Commissioner Robert George declared that
the arsons were "an attack on Christianity." Reed followed-up on his
original remarks by insisting that "religion is under attack in America,
including houses of worship for Christians, Muslims and Jews."
Religious Hatred a Factor?
Despite charges that the fires were "an attack on religion" and violated
"religious freedom," some of the cases suggest that certain religious
ideologies may be motivating arsonists. The June, 1995 South Carolina fire
involves two members of the Christian Knights of the Ku Klux Klan; that group
is being sued by Morris Dees and the Southern Poverty Law Center for damages
on the grounds that Klansmen were urged to "commit acts of violence and
intimidation against African-Americans." The possible involvement of racist
Skinheads in any arsons also raises questions about Christian Identity, an
aryan-supremacist religion which often appeals to such individuals.
But the "church arson epidemic" may turn out to be an unfortunate
"pseudo-event" resulting from media over-kill, rush to judgment-style
statements from religious leaders, and bandwagon-jumping by politicians and
groups such as the Christian Coalition. If, at the end of 1996, there is no
significant statistical "blip" in the arson rate -- especially the rate of
church fires -- then, indeed, belief in the "epidemic" and the existence of a
widespread "attack on Christianity" has no real basis in fact.
Unfortunately, the emotional climate which now exists about these fires
makes the subject a touchy and volatile one. It may be difficult for
state-church separation advocates to challenge the use of government funds to
guarantee church rebuilding. Such constitutional concerns can end up being
buried under the rhetorical onslaught of religious groups, right and left,
and the statements of politicians during a crucial election year.
NEW ARGUMENT FOR GOD ~~ HUMPTY DUMPTY ?
If all the king's horses and all the king's men couldn't put him back
together, maybe God could. At least that's what a committee of Catholic
bishops now says concerning the cremated remains of Catholics.
At the recent National Conference of Catholic Bishops, the group's
Committee on the Liturgy urged that the church appeal to the Pope to lift the
ban on bringing the ashes of the dead into church. While Rome has not banned
the practice of cremation, it has generally frowned upon it; during funeral
masses, the ashes of the deceased had to be left outside in the hearse.
But changes in American culture -- including the high cost of elaborate
funerals, caskets, burial plots and other rip-off schemes -- are causing the
U.S. clerics to reconsider the policy. Associated Press quoted Monsignor
Alan Detscher of the Liturgical Committee as declaring: "If the Lord can
resurrect a body, he can certainly get all the parts back together again."
It was more than a twelve-hour day after we got the final part of the
"Nightowl" AANEWS out onto the net late last night, and the coffee just
didn't hold up. As a result, we goofed in numbering the dispatches, and
affixing dates. The first part of the "Nightowl" should have read "#77", and
should have been dated 6/27/96. Our apologies for any confusion.
About This List...
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