Date: Fri, 5 Jul 1996 12:25:24 -0700 Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for July 5, 1996 nn nn AANE

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Date: Fri, 5 Jul 1996 12:25:24 -0700 from: Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for July 5, 1996 Reply-To:, nnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn 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 They're baaack... 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" literature. 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 $33 million. 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, either. 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 activity altogether 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 churches. ***** 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 findings: * "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 Louisiana. * 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 conspiracy thesis. 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 altogether." 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, theopolitical agenda. 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. ******************** Erratum... For those of you counting editions of AANEWS, our dispatch of July 3, 1996 should have been identified as #85. Our apologies. 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 on American Atheists, send e-mail to:, and include your name and postal mailing address. You may post, forward or quote from this dispatch, provided that appropriate credit is given to American Atheists and AANEWS. For subscribe/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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