Date: Fri, 5 Jul 1996 12:25:24 -0700 Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for July 5, 1996 nn nn AANE
Date: Fri, 5 Jul 1996 12:25:24 -0700
Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for July 5, 1996
Reply-To: firstname.lastname@example.org, AMERICAN.ATHEISTS@listserv.direct.net
nnnnnnnnnn AANEWS nnnnnnnnnn
# 86 uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu 7/5/96
In This Edition...
* School Board Won't Challenge First Amendment in Mississippi
* Church Groups Move To Deny Voters Say on Legal Gambling
* Church Arson Update: Declining Interest, "Colonization" by Religious Right
* We Goofed!
* About This List...
SCHOOL DISTRICT WILL NOT CHALLENGE PRAYER BAN
Officials of the Pontotoc, Mississippi School Board have voted to not
challenge a June 3 District Court decision which declared unconstitutional a
policy of broadcasting prayers over a school PA system.
Judge Neal Biggers ruled last month that the practice violated the
separation of church and state. The policy was challenged by Lisa Herdahl,
34, a mother of six, who said that her five children who attended the North
Pontotoc Attendance Center were harrassed and ridiculed for not participating
in the prayers. Herdahl, a Lutheran, said that her kids receive religious
training at home and at a Pentacostal Sunday School.
Even so, her children were quickly labeled as "devil worshippers" and
"Atheists." School Superintendent Jerry Horton told media and the court that
the prayer broadcasts were simply an expression of free speech initiated by
students. Local citizens and religious groups helped raise $170,000 on
behalf of the Pontotoc School District for legal defense, and the court
proceedings drew sympathetic demonstrators for both sides. A "God and
Country" rally on behalf of school prayer and bible verse recitation
attracted 3,000 including Sen. Trent Lott (now the new Senate Majority
Leader) and Mississippi Gov. Kirk Fordice.
Judge Biggers noted in his decision that: "The Bill of Rights was created
to protect the minority from the tyranny by the majority." While he struck
down the prayer broadcasts, he did leave undisturbed pre-school morning
bible readings and prayer sessions held in the school's gymnasium at which
attendance is voluntary. Biggers said that students with parental permission
can attend such events.
Coercion Didn't Work?
Pontotoc County School Superintendent Jerry Horton had been an
enthusiastic supporter of both the prayer-bible meetings and PA broadcasts of
prayer and verse. Immediately following Biggers' ruling, he vowed that the
district would appeal. Now, he appears to have done an about-face. While he
was hostile to Ms. Herdahl's initial suit, he told reporters earlier this
week: "We believe that the net effect of the court decision is that there
will be more religious expressions by students now than before the lawsuit
was filed." He noted that 1,200 students have atended the daily prayer
sessions, although that number reflects total, not daily attendance.
Horton's statement seems to suggest that attempts at coerced prayer using a
"bully" pulpit or PA system are ineffectual at getting students to pray.
CHURCHES ORGANIZE TO STOP GAMBLING MEASURE IN OHIO
If you thought that "liberal" churches had hopped on the "progressive
politics" bandwagon and abandoned the old religious policy of protecting
people from their own alleged vices, think again. In Ohio, churches from
across the political spectrum -- led by the mainstream Council of Churches --
are organizing to make sure that voters there don't even get an opportunity
to vote on whether or not casino gambling should be permitted in the state.
Last week, the Council began holding training sessions for anti-gambling
activists who will be encouraging people to not sign petitions which would
put a gambling initiative on the November ballot. That anti-democratic
attitude was defended by an Episcopalian Bishop, Robert Kelly, who told news
reporters "We take victories any way we can get them." Churches are asking
parishioners to put signs in their front yards, distribute literature, and --
if the measure does come up for a ballot vote -- to get out "Vote No"
Rev. John Edgar of Columbus, Ohio said that propaganda being distributed
by churches lists "moral, social and economic disadvantages to gambling." He
mused that " There are a half million Methodists" in the state, and that
400,000 of them were registered to vote.
In September, the Church Council will hold a series of 100 anti-gambling
meetings throughout the state. The group represents 17 different
denominations, although some defend limited gambling such as bingo which is
often a money-making scheme for churches.
Competition From the Right, Secular Society
Gambling, prostitution, drinking and other "victimless crimes" have become
newly discovered causes for America's mainstream, even liberal religious
movements. Crusades against such activities have usually been the moral
turf of fundamentalist and evangelical right-wing church groups, which have
built an energetic theopolitical agenda around these issues. Faced with
pressure from the religious right, and stagnant or declining enrollment
within their own ranks, liberal to moderate church groups like the National
Council of Churches have moved into a dangerous alliance with their more
conservative brethren. The opposition to legalized gambling seems to have
grown along with lottery and casino fever. Gambling revenues have become an
important funding source for many state governments, and whole communities
have been revitalized by the gaming industry. But there have been problems.
A Glittering Downside?
While the market for casino gambling seems to be expanding in places like
Atlantic City and Las Vegas, in other towns the lure of big bucks and jobs
hasn't always panned out. 48 states have some form of legalized gambling,
and 25 have casinos on land, riverboats or Indian reservations. The
November, 1995 bankruptcy of Harrah's Jazz Company, a New Orleans-based
consortium which filed for chapter 11, suggested that in some places the
market for entertainment may be saturated. Harrah's invested nearly $825
million in its Big Easy operation, and took in earnings of only $13.1 million
per month in the first six months, far below expected monthly revenues of
And some critics say that gambling is not the quick-fix in communities
devastated by corporate layoffs, downsizing or relocation. The service
industry jobs which are created do not always replace the lost, higher-pay
manufacturing jobs. Unions are not well represented in the gaming industry,
But where gambling has worked, it has generated jobs and revenues for a
whole new industry. Many Native American tribes are enthused about casino
gambling, and at the same time consider opposition to such an industry as
just so-much anglo hypocrisy. In Arizona, for instance, Indian casinos
employ Native Americans and fund scholarship programs, health care facilities
and other activities. In Louisiana, the Tunica-Biloxi Indians sponsor a
popular, high-stakes tournament featuring the card game known as bourre
Church Bullies Together?
On January 17, the Christian Coalition and the National Council of
Churches held a press conference to announce that they would combine efforts
to end the spread of legal gambling in the United States. CC Director Ralph
Reed spoke at the event, which also marked the opening of the Washington
office of the National Coalition Against Legalized Gambling.
Religious efforts to stop gambling spread far beyond Ohio, though. In
Missouri, churches tried to stop initiatves to permit slots and riverboat
gambling; one religious businessman leading the anti-gambling effort
purportedly had ties to neo-nazis. And the National Coalition is pushing
hard for a proposed national commission which would "study gambling" and its
alleged, associated social ills; civil libertarians and gambling enthusiasts
see that as an excuse to impose new taxes or regulation, or even ban the
In the meantime, anti-gambling sentiment dovetails with earlier religious
crusades against drinking and other "vice" activities. Usually, horrific
annecdotal testimony is used; in the case of gambling, that could include
focusing on the small percentage of "compulsive" or "addicted" gamblers,
prostitution, or criminal activity. Or perhaps the whole issue is resentment
-- Americans are packing gaming halls and casino theme parks, not the pews of
CHURCH ARSON UPDATE ~~ IS THE FOE AN ''ANTI-RELIGIOUS''
CONSPIRACY, OR LACK OF INTEREST ?
A spate of church fires which has occupied considerable media and
political attention for the past month continues to generate discussion and
controversy; but none of the evidence supports belief in a nationwide
"anti-religious" or racist conspiracy directed specifically against churches.
Last week, USA TODAY ran a three-day special report on its invesitgation
of church fires throughout the nation. That was followed by an Associated
Press study reported today; the AP probe included interviews with arson
investigators, law enforcement agents and insurance experts. Among the
* "There is no evidence that most of the 73 black church fires recorded
since 1995 can be blamed on a conspiracy or a general climate of racial
hatred. In fewer than 20 cases is racism the clear motivation."
* The number of fires at white churches in states such as Florida,
Georgia, Tennessee, Oklahoma and Virginia has actually exceeded the number at
black churches in 1995 -- 75 for the former, 73 for the latter.
* The AP study confirmed the USA TODAY report that there are "clusters" of
fires with racial motivation, particularly in Alabama, Mississippi and
* Race is not a factor in 15 black church fires; in fact, black suspects
were named in nine cases (one was a Church Deacon!) and another six churches
involved arson sprees at both white and black property. In one case, a white
arsonist torched his own apartment, then burned a local black church.
* Many cases involve drunken teens, burglars using fire to cover their
tracks, and three unrelated cases where firefighters set the blazes they
helped later to extinugish.
* "Insurance industry officials say this year's toll (of church fires) is
within the normal range."
* Loretta Worters of the Insurance Information Institute told Associated
Press that: "The number of arson fires that have broken out this year are
wiithin the norm." Even more striking, some data shows that since 1980, the
number of church arsons has actually declined from an annual high of 1,420.
But in 1994, the figure had dropped to about 520, or ten a week.
At a conference held last week at Howard University and broadcast on
C-Span, fire investigators and state attorneys general met with the media and
religious leaders. The split was fairly obvious; religious representatives
discussed everything from a nationwide conspiracy to lack of attention to the
problem. A spokesman for the Christian Coalition blamed the fires on
intolerance and hatred. But a long parade of professional arson
investigators and insurance experts told a remarkably different story.
Alabama's Fire Marshall, John Robison, carefully delineated fires in his
state and broke them down into categories. Like representatives from other
states at the conference, he found little or no evidence to support a
Today's Christian Science Monitor carries a story, though, which supports
a thesis which AANEWS has advanced -- along with legitimate concerns about
racially-motivated arson (often from individuals linked to hate groups with a
religious agenda of their own, such as the Christian Identity movement),
there are other factors driving the conspiracy theory. A monitor story by
Sam Walker is headlined "Black Churches in America Battle Another Foe:
Inertia." It notes that many black churches have "noticed a decline in the
number of young faces, mostly males, in the pews." Along with some successes
achieved by the civil rights movement, contributing factors include "more
opportunities for leadership in government and business." As a result, "the
church's appeal has waned."
Archbishop Augustus Stallings, Jr. of the African American Catholic
Congregation declared that "Historically, churches were the only institutions
blacks controlled. As more opportunities have become available to blacks,
it's not as much of an all-emcompassing institution. We need a new youth
movement." He also pointed to the success of competing religious groups,
notably the Nation of Islam led by Louis Farrakhan, and the perception among
black youth that the churches have lost their "activist fire," identified
with the old civil rights movement.
But there are other forces at work, too. "To religious scholars," says
the Monitor, "the declining political efficacy of black churches reflects a
larger trend in American religious life; increasing political
diversity...many congregations have made a point of avoiding topics that
might divide church members, even dropping political and social advocacy
As blacks move into the middle-class, evidence suggests that they move
away from religion, at least the brand found in many black churches. Some
have a derogatory view of people still living in poverty. Others are more
consumed with new goals, such as job advancement and education.
Black Churches Being "Colonized" by Religious Right?
In the early days of the modern civil rights movements, black churches
became one of the few relatively secure organizing bases for activists --
and a natural target for white hate groups. Hundreds of churches were bombed
or shot at, often by individuals tied to the Ku Klux Klan. But now, the
threat may come less from an amorphous "conspiracy" than it does from an
effort by the religious right to coopt black religious groups into a larger,
Ralph Reed -- the man who wears two hats as a spiritual leader and a
political strategist -- is the moving force behind the religious right effort
to "colonize" black churches in the United States. Part of this strategy
involves identifying a "common ground" as "people of faith," focusing on
issues such as abortion, prayer in school, vouchers for religious schools,
gambling, drugs, violent crime and mass media. Reed knows that many black
religious leaders and their congregations are socially conservative on many
issues. In Philadelphia, for instance, black ministers were the first group
to universally condemn Mayor Ed Rendell when he decided to extend insurance
benefits to same-sex couples, when one partner was employed by the city.
Black churches have become increasingly active -- and strident -- in efforts
to shut-down local stores selling cigarettes or alcohol, or deface
advertising for "sin" products. Often, this has brought local blacks into
conflict with new immigrant groups, such as Koreans and Vietnamese. Some
black leaders see abortion and birth control as part of a "genocidal
conspiracy" directed at poor people and blacks; and even the rhetoric of
Louis Farrakhan at times resonates with the emphasis on "family values"
promoted by groups on the religious right.
How successful these "colonization" efforts will be remains to be seen. At
a meeting hosted by the Christian Coalition held two weeks ago in Atlanta to
discuss the church fires, many black leaders were skeptical about this
gesture of friendship and support from Reed and his fellow religious-right
operatives. But others were eager to accept support, money and advice.
Reed's own 'mea culpa" and apologies for the past sins of white Christian
evangelicals may prove yet to be a masterstroke of political expertise.
In the meantime, the media and politicians continue to focus on the church
fires. The Howard University meeting emphasized, however, a growing gap
between the empirical findings of arson investigators and the expectation of
religious leaders. Some political leaders, including individual attorneys
general, spoke of a "conspiracy which has not yet been found." Reed and the
Christian Coalition continue efforts to broaden what was first described as a
"racist conspiracy" against black churches into a wider, more diffuse
"anti-religious" plot. An additional $27,000,000 has been appropriated for
efforts by federal agencies, including the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and
Firearms to continue their investigation into the fires.
Interestingly, while there have been arson attacks by individuals linked
to white hate groups, only two attacks seem to involve an organization -- the
Christian Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. Militia and survivalist groups which
are frequently discussed as possible elements in a church-fire conspiracy are
conspicuously absent. In fact, last week's arrest of 12 members of the
Arizona "Vipers" Militia, brought revelations about a range of targets and
individuals not related to churches of any kind. The "Vipers" appears to
have focused on government buildings; and their possible role in a train
de-railment a year ago is under investigation.
For those of you counting editions of AANEWS, our dispatch of July 3, 1996
should have been identified as #85. Our apologies.
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