Date: Fri, 28 Jun 1996 12:25:24 -0700 Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for June 28, 1996 nn nn AA

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Date: Fri, 28 Jun 1996 12:25:24 -0700 from: Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for June 28, 1996 Reply-To:, nnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn 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 money." 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 of worship. 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 Fires 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 interesting facts: * 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 church arsons." * 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 church deacon. * 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 serious sickness." 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 Coalition. 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." ********************* A Correction... 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... AANEWS is a 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 more information on American Atheists, send e-mail to:, and put your name and postal address in the message box. You may forward, post or quote from this dispatch, provided that appropriate credit is given to aanews and American Atheists. For subscrib/unsubscribe information, send mail to:, 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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