#118 - - 8/1/96
In This Issue...
* Coalition Spent $1.4 Million Illegally, Says FEC Documents
* Voucher Plans, Juror Oaths
* Religious "Mod Squads" Harrass Israeli Women
* Sherman May Challenge "Eruv"
* Our New Web Site
* About This List...
IN FEC SUIT
COALITION SPENT $1.4M ILLEGALLY
Newly released documents in a Federal Election Commission suit indicate
that the Christian Coalition illegally spent over $1.4 million supporting
political candidates, including close to $1 million in 1992 in an effort to
re-elect President George Bush. The papers support allegations made by the
FEC, which earlier this week announced its investigation and lawsuit against
the powerful religious lobby, charging that it was a political action group,
not a social welfare, educational movement as it has claimed since its
founding over seven years ago.
While the action to file the suit drew the support of both Democrats and
Republicans on the Commission, the new documents suggest what the Washington
Post described as a "bitter partisan split" on the board "about how to
proceed." Meanwhile, representatives of the Christian Coalition kept up
their efforts in attacking the FCC suit. Attorney James Bopp charged that
the suit was politically motivated, adding: "This case has been going on
since '92. They (FEC) filed three months before the '96 election."
The suit is based mainly on a complaint by Democratic Party officials who
charge that the Christian Coalition is a de- factor political committee,
which is thus required to report and list donations like any other PAC.
Officials point to the tens of millions of "voters guides" which the
Coalition distributes through its network of churches. Critics say that the
"guides" really amount to campaign literature, and often do not adequately
present information about a candidate's position on issues. But the
Coalition, founded in 1988-89 by televangelist Pat Robertson, says that it
simply trying to "encourage active citizenship among people professing the
In addition to showing evidence that the Christian Coalition vigorously
backed then-President Bush, documents reflect that some $325,000 went to the
National Republican Senatorial Committee in 1990 for distribution to various
campaigns, and another $52,000 was funneled into the 1990 re-election effort
of Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.). Helms won a narrow, late-count victory over
challenger Harvey Gantt. Some political observers say that efforts by the
Coalition, including the use of scorecards, "voters guides" and
target-identification from voter registration lists, played a vital role in
that razor-thin win for Helms.
The Post also reports that money likewise flowed from the NRSC to the
Christian Coalition, citing expenditures of some $64,000 used in 1990 to
prepare "voters guides." While GOP spokesman Dan McLagan said yesterday that
there "was absolutely no coordination" between the two groups, he
nevertheless admitted that the money did change hands, saying: "We (the GOP)
just sent the money to them as we do to other organizations that engage in
good government activities."
- - -
COURTS RULE ON
SWEARING FOR JURORS, VOUCHER SCHEMES
It has been a mixed-week of results for First Amendment state-church
Yesterday, a state court in Ohio ruled that a plan to give state funds to
Cleveland-area parents for sending their kids to private religious schools
was legal. That was a victory for the administration of Governor George
Voinovich, who has promoted a number of voucher schemes, including this
latest one which provides grants and "scholarships" to an pilot group of
parents of 2,000 students. The program could initially end up costing
$5,000,000. Studies indicate that the biggest recipient of such state aid
would be Ohio's parochial (Roman Catholic) school system.
The Voinovich plan had been praised by GOP presumed-nominee Bob Dole, who
last week made campaign stops in Ohio, including numerous appearances at
Catholic schools. It has also been challenged by the State Educational
Association, who insisted that the scheme violates separation of church and
state, and was just another drain on already cash-strapped public schools.
In New Jersey, a judge in Passaic County has told colleagues to not use
bibles when swearing in jurors in order to conform to a new state law which
removes references to god from any jury oaths. Some Jersey counties were
already leaving bibles out of the juror oath procedure. Judge Joseph A.
Falcone, the presiding judge of the criminal division in the Passaic County
Courthouse, put new wording for jurors in a memo: "Do you swear or affirm
that you will try the matter in dispute and give a true verdict according to
Falcone's memo to other judges added: "Please note that phrases such as
'in the presence of almighty God' and 'so help you God' have been deleted
from the oaths. In light of these deletions, it is my understanding that the
Bible is not used during the administration of an oath. However, I believe
the person taking the oath must raise his-her right hand."
There has been little reaction to the Falcone memo, other than a statement
made by State Senator Wi.lliam Gormley who said: "I think sometimes we
take... separation of church and state to a point that excludes a reasonable
use of tradition..."
- - -
BECOMING ACTIVE IN JERUSALEM
In a disturbing parallel with Islamic fundamentalism, ultra-Orthodox
religious fanatics in Israel are establishing "modesty squads" which rove
public streets, harass women, and engage in acts of violence. The patrols
are just the latest development in a growing confrontation in that country
between religious fundamentalists who now hold a record 26 seats in the
Knesset, and secular and liberal-religious Israeli's who fear that progress
and civil liberties are in jeopardy. Observers fear that the "modesty
squads" -- a form of hooliganism once associated with Muslim countries like
Iran and Saudi Arabia -- may be out in force now that the weekend and
"sabbath" period is approaching. For the past three weekends, tens of
thousands of Orthodox militants have poured onto Bar Ilan Street in
Jerusalem, in a attempt to shut down traffic during the holy period. The
new-found boldness of the Orthodox may come from their role in helping to
elect Likud candidate Benjamin Netanyahu as the country's new Prime
in order to cobble together a working coalition government, Netanyahu -- who
is not regarded as a particularly religious man -- has nevertheless had to
make important concessions to the religious parties, including United Torah
Judaism, the Shas Party, and the National Religious Party. Those groups have
also won a record 26 seats in the Israeli parliament, or Knesset.
The fight over the sabbath has been escalating ever since the Netanyahu
victory a few weeks ago. The Israeli Amos communications satellite is turned
off during that time; and secularists fear that religious groups will now be
targeting non-kosher restaurants, and trying to shut down movie theatres,
cafes and other signs of "irreligious" diversion.
When Orthodox Jews -- mostly bearded men wearing their distinctive garb of
heavy coats and hats -- poured onto Bar Illan three weeks ago, they began
pounding on passing cars, battling police and throwing garbage and dirty
diapers at victims. Each weekend has seen an escalation of the tensions; the
progressive Meretz Party has joined with other groups, including some
religious Jews who feel that the Orthodox militants are threatening the
integrity and image of the Israeli nation.
This past week, new "modesty squads" began harassing women, including
those who work in the Ministry of Education. According to press accounts,
one woman who happened to be bare-legged and wore a short-sleeved dress,
parked her vehicle a block away from the ministry building. When she
returned to her car, she found that the tires had been slashed and the
vehicled "egged." There was a flyer nearby which declared "Parking in
immodest dress is forbidden."
Reports of such attacks are multiplying, and earlier this week an
ultra-Orthodox was arrested for throwing a rock at a woman dressed in a
summer dress who happened to be an undercover police agent.
Posters around Orthodox neighborhoods declare: "If you're a woman and you
are not properly dressed -- don't pass through our neighborhood" according
While Jerusalem is considered a hotbed and concentration of Orthodox
sentiment, they comprise only 31% of the city's total population.
Secularists and their allies in Jerusalem fear that Bar Illan street is
"only the beginning" in an Orthodox effort to shut down all traffic
throughout the city during the sabbath.
AP also noted that the Education Ministry building which has been a focus
of "modesty squad" vigilance, "is a fitting symbol of the culture clash."
"For some, the ultra-Orthodox militancy suggests unsettling parallels with
Islamic fundamentalism," adds the wire service.
As in Muslim nations, women are usually the focus of "modesty" patrols.
In Saudi Arabia, a clerical politice force known as the Mutawah patrols
streets, admonishes females who are out in public alone, not wearing their
veil headgear, or engaging in "un-Islamic behavior." In Algeria, a brutal
civil was has been waged against fundamentalists; on July 21, four women
wearing bikinis were decapitated on a public beach in Algiers.
Leaders of Orthodox political groups deny in public that they are linked
to the "modesty squads" and rioters on Bar Ilan. Even so, organizations
like United Torah have not condemned the patrols, and insist that they are
"self-appointed groups acting on their own authority."
More rioting is anticipated this weekend, and the secular Meretz Party is
expected to be back on Bar Ilan confronting the fundamentalists. We wish
- - -
CHALLENGE ''ERUV'' ENCLOSE
First Amendment activist Rob Sherman in Chicago may challenge an effort in
that city to establish an "eruv" or religious enclose around certain
neighborhoods. As reported in yesterday's AANEWS, efforts are underway to
permit the stringing of a black wire from public lightposts, which would
surround specific areas and, according to religious teaching, permit
otherwise-prohibited activities during a holy time.
The plan is supported by some orthodox Jews. A rabbi told The Chicago
Tribune: "It's especially good for women because it enables them to go out
and carry their children. It enables them to attend synagogue. It allows
families to go for a walk and be out of the house. And it can be done
But Sherman, who has made a career of challenging religious violations of
the First Amendment, said that may not be true. He cited the Illinois
Constitution, Article 1, Section 3 which says that "No person shall be
required to support or attend any ministry or place of worship against his
consent, nor shall any preference be given by law to any religious
Aside from the provocative and reactionary cultural aspect of the "eruv"
proposal, it is a clear violation of state-church separation. Public
property -- especially roads and lightposts -- should have an obvious
secular, non-religious purpose. Chicagoans may also ask themselves if their
city should boast "religious neighborhoods' which are defined by zones and
boundary markers like the "eruv" wire.
Sherman is a well-known Atheist activist in Chicago; he has been engaged
in numerous court battles, and has successfully fought the use of religious
decorations and graffiti on municipal seals.
- - -
A NOTE ON OUR NEW WEB SITE...
Thanks to the many AANEWS readers who have visited our new site on the
world wide web and shared comments and suggestions with us. We ARE working
diligently to bring more sections of the site, including the "Flashline"
feature, on line. We are also working with the service provider to assure
you a faster connection. The response to our site has been overwhelmingly
positive and encouraging, and we thank you for your support!
We also want to take this opportunity to welcome the dozens of new
subscribers who have joined the AANEWS list in the past several days since
#145 - - 9/2/96
In This Issue...
* Mormon Prez Blasts Atheists
* Yonkers Won't Yank Buses For Church Schools
* NYC Wants Ban On Religious Aid Overturned
* TheistWatch: All That Hiking For WHAAAT?
* About This List...
PRESIDENT CALLS FOR NEW BATTLE AGAINST ATHEISM
Speaking to a meeting of the American Legion yesterday, the President of
the Mormon Church (Church of Latter-day Saints) called for a "battle"
against Atheism, and conjured "an unequivocal trust in the power of the
Almighty to guide and defend us." According to a report in today's Salt Lake
Tribune, Gordon B. Hinkley praised veterans of various U.S. wars, "but
that their sacrifces may be in vain unless the nation turns itself again to
The event was the 78th national convention of the American Legion being
held in Salt Lake City. Hinkley praised those "who have been defenders of
our liberty at great cost," but warned that "those battles are over and
another battle goes on."
"The new battle is one against atheism," noted the Tribune.
President Hinkley remarked: "As you once knew so well, there are no
atheists in foxholes. In times of extremity, we plead for and put our trust
in a power mightier than ourselves."
Hinkley's address took place to an overflow audience of American Legion
members gathered at the Mormon Tabernacle; today, the LDS head receives the
Legion's "Good Guy Award", which according to a spokesman "is presented to
someone for their lifelong contributions to society, to the betterment of
According to the Desert News, the Sunday event was "a program laced with
patriotic and religious hymns performed by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir," and
began with a parade of flags into the famous religious venue. Hinkley's talk
included a number of areas of concern for Atheists and state-church
separation defenders; he noted, for instance, that the Boy Scouts had been
taken to court to defend their oath which states "On my honor, I will do my
best, to do my duty to God, and my country." Civil libertarians have
challenged the discriminatory practice of the Scouts, and other groups, due
to the requirement of acknowledging a deity. Hinkley added that the omission
of god from areas of life "is one of the reasons for the great host of
problems with which we deal these days," and cited a litany of complains
including broken homes, teen pregnancy and disrespect for property.
"Our people are forsaking the Almighty, and I fear he may forsake us."
PROVIDING BUS SERVICE FOR CATHOLIC SCHOOLS
In a possible violation of state-church separation, Yonkers, New York
school officials have reached an agreement with local Catholic authorities
again provide bus service for nearly 1,000 students attending Parochial
schools. The details of the agreement were hammered out in an August 20
meeting which include Catherine Hickey, a superintendent of the archdiocesan
school system, and Reginald Marra of the Yonkers public school
administration. According to Catholic New York, the meeting was the first of
The agreement comes after a July 29 announcement that the Borough was
ending subsidized transportation for private, religious schools in order to
save the cost of the program, which amounts to $970,000 per year. Earlier,
state officials announced cuts in the district's education budget of nearly
The prospect of having to pay transportation costs prompted local Catholic
officials to launch a petition drive and pressure campaign. CNY noted that
"Early this month, pastors organized a petition drive to school board
and city officials. More than 150 parents joined pastors and principals at
school board hearings Aug. 6 and Aug. 14."
First Amendment supporters maintain that 'hidden aid" to religious groups,
including religious schools, violates the separation of state and church.
They cite schemes like vouchers, subsidized lunch, transportation and
textbooks and examples of using taxpayer money to promote religious
COURT ASKED TO
LOOSEN RULES ON PUBLIC AID TO CHURCH SCHOOLS
Subsidized transportation for religious schools isn't the only violation
of the "Wall of Separation" between church and state taking place in New
York. On Thursday, attorneys for the New York City Board of Education
pleaded with a Federal appeals court to declare invalid a 1985 Supreme Court
ruling which prohibits public school teachers from entering
schools in order to give remedial instruction to students.
Already, the City is spending $14 million per year to operate 114
customized trailer-classrooms throughout New York; the special trailers are
parked outside of Roman Catholic, Jewish and Protestant schools so that
students can then enter and receive instruction from public school teachers.
Thursday's suit, initiated by attorneys for Roman Catholic parents,
maintains that students should not have to leave the school building and
cross the street. The city is already providing remedial services to more
than 22,000 children who attend 250 religious and private schools.
The 1985 ruling, Aguilar v. Fenton, has already been attacked by Supreme
Court justices Scalia, O'Connor, Thomas, Kennedy, and chief justice William
Rehnquist. One more vote would be required to overturn the decade-old
decision, which found that having public school teachers enter private,
religious schools was "entanglement" between church and state, and a
violation of the Establishment Clause.
One possible result of Aguilar has been the establishment of "special"
school districts by public authorities; in New York, a law created a special
district for handicapped children of Hasidic Jews in the village of Kiryas
Joel. District courts, though, have been mixed in their interpretation of
Aguilar v. Fenton. Early last week, a Federal District Court ruled that the
Wabasso Area School District in Vesta, Minnesota, may not operate a special
school exclusively for members of a religious sect known as the Brethren. In
September, 1993, the district began holding classes in a building which had
been purchased by a member of the Brethren cult, which was then "leased
to the district free of charge. The court found that the fact that no
religion is taught in the school "does not affect the constitutional
violation of this case."
The New York City case involves the National Committee for Public
Education and Religious Liberty, a separationist group. Attorney Stanley
Geller told the New York Times that he even considers the vans an "evasion"
of Aguilar v. Fenton; he said that if the current litigation reaches the
Supreme Court, he will argue that the use of public school teachers and
resources violates the Establishment clause since it frees additional money
for religious indoctrination.
WITH IRAQ COULD REFLECT RELIGIOUS SPLITS
U.S. forces in the middle east remain on high alert today following the
capture of the Kurdish stronghold of Irbil by 30,000 Iraqui troops and a
faction of Kurd fighters. The city is the administrative center of a "safe
haven" zone established by the United Nations in 1991 following the end of
the Persian Gulf war. Meanwhile, there are reports that despite a pullback
by Iraq from Irbil, a column of IraqiT-72 tanks is rolling toward
Sulamaniye, a main staging area for Kurds opposing the rule of Iraqui
strongman Saddam Hussein.
The situation reflects not only the ever-changing political alliances of
the region, but deep religious divisions as well.
The 22 million Kurds make up the world's largest ethnic group without a
nation; they are spread throughout portions of Iran, Iraq, Syria, Turkey and
Armenia. Most are Sunni Muslims, and there are several distinct rebel
groups. The fighting in Irbil underscores continued differences between the
Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) of Massoud Barzani and the Patriotic Union of
Kurdistan (PUK) under the leadership of Jalai Talabani. According to the
Washington Post, "each Kurdish faction is now loosely allied with a country
that Washington long has despised."
The Iraqi regime has been hostile to any aspirations of Kurdish
nationalism, and resents the fact that the "zone" administered from Irbil.
comprised of three former provinces of Iraq, and protected by the "no fly"
umbrella of U.S. air power based in Turkey. In the 1980,s Hussein's elite
Republican Guards massacred thousands of Kurds, and reportedly used
assasination squads and poison gas.
But Iran entered the picture in the 1990's and began courting the PUK.
Talabani's group was already disgruntled with the KDP which, it charged, was
not sharing illicit oil revenues from sales to Turkey. Complicating matters
even more is the recent victory in Turkey by Islamic fundamentalists led by
Necmettin Erbakan, who last month signed a $23 billion deal with Iran for
purchase of natural gas. The Post notes that "Iran is eager to expand its
influence in Turkey and in Kurdish Iraq."
In related developments:
* The flow of information in and out of Iran has been cut, thanks to a
unilateral move by the U.S. According to a column in the web version of
by John Heilemann ("Netizen') , early last month the National Science
Foundation "blocked crucial international links to Iran, apparently in
response to an Iran and Libya Sanction Act...The move prevents people in the
United States from connecting to Iranian computers by cutting off access to
the country's only permanent Net connection -- a single, achingly slow 9600
* Despite the Islamist gas deal, Turkey Prime Minister Erbakan still is
apparently being held in check by both the Army and government coalition
partner Tansu Ciller of the True Path group. In addition, Turkey has a new,
unlikely ally -- Israel -- which is selling dozens of fighter aircraft to
Erbakan's air force. Behind the deal -- Tansu Ciller. Meanwhile, Mr.
Erbakan has called for an "Islamic summit" with Iran, Iraq and Syria.
We reported recently that Hollywood actor and Church of Scientology member
Tom Cruise was having rough-going in Germany when he appeared to promote the
release of his blockbuster film, "Mission Impossible." Now, another
Scientologist -- John Travolta -- is catching flak. Last week, a Social
Democrat urged the German government to ban the latest Travolta file,
"Phenomenon," ostensibly because it made references to Scientology and its
founder, pulp-fiction guru L. Ron Hubbard.
The Church of Scientology has called on the United Nations to investigate
complaints of discrimination against members in Germany; the group claims
30,000 followers in the country, but German Courts have ruled that
Scientology is not a church, but a for-profit business.
We don't see the contradiction, though.
Seems that the giant Disney entertainment conglomerate --
target of a boycott by Southern Baptists and
Adventists -- has a new group
worry about. Last week,
Arab Americans demonstrated outside studio
headquarters insisting that two recent
Disney films "insult" Arabs, and
called for Islamists to expand the boycott.
Demonstrators objected to "an
assortment of villainous Arabic-like characters in
'Kazaam'," noted the Los
Angeles Times, and even the fact that there was a "nastry,
neighbor named Habib" in the movie "Father of the Bride."
The Times made some interesting revelations, including the fact that in
1993 Disney executives promised to "consult" with Muslim leaders about "any
projects involving Arabs." That agreement was the result of protests against
lyrics -- eventually changed by Disney -- which would have appeared in the
We note that joining the Muslim protesters were local Christian activists
of both right and left political persuasions.
While ethnic, racial stereotyping is wrong, we wonder if much of this
squawking is not part of a larger agenda -- namely, banning anything which
smacks of "insulting" religious practices, which in middle eastern cultures
are closely intertwined with social and cultural mores. And should materials
be censored because they are "offensive"? We say, no. And we also predict a
growing alliance of Christian, Jewish and Muslim fundamentalists in the
"culture war" against modernity and on behalf of the bogus issue of "family
Reuter news service reports that 34 Hindu pilgrims died of exposure during
a pilgrimage to a cave in Kashmiri. Their objective was "a frozen
manifestation of the god Shiva's sexual organ." Police noted that heavy rain
had stranded over 70,000 other pilgrims en route to the cave; worshippers
pray before an ice stalagmite which is the "lingam" or phallus of Shiva.
It was worse last year, though, when Hindu pilgrims were being attacked by
Muslim guerillas. The Islamists are waging a separatist revolt which started
in 1990 in the states of Jammu and Kashmir, the only areas of India which
have a Muslim majority.
Well, guerilla attacks, floods, freezing cold and other calamities would
surely discourage any rational person -- even from seeing a god who seems to
be having a perpetually good time.
INTERESTED IN MEETING OTHER ATHEISTS? TRY AACHAT !
If you're a member of American Atheists, consider participating in our
moderated news group, aachat. We talk about Atheism, religion, the First
Amendment, even trade a few jokes and wisecracks. If you would join the
growing aachat family, send mail to Margie Wait at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
#119 - - ---8/3/96
In This Issue...
* News Media Still Ignores Separation Problem
* European Controversy Over Fetal Material
* TheistWatch: An Official Day Huntin' For Porn
* About This List...
COVERAGE IGNORES FIRST AMENDMENT ANGLE
With President Clinton ready to sign new legislation which would overhaul
the country's welfare system, First Amendment aspects of the pending law are
still not receiving much exposure in the national news media. On Wednesday,
the Senate approved the welfare reform package by a 78-21vote margin
following several hours of heated debate. The bill would implement major
changes in the way welfare benefits are administered, and the time periods
people would be eligible for payments. But an amendment to the legislation
has been a red flag for state-church separationists; it loosens restrictions
on awarding block grants and other government monies to religious
organizations. Critics fear that the new rules will make it easier for
churches to obtain government monies in order to administer social welfare
problems. While a growing percentage of religious "chairity" depends on
various state grants, they can be used (in theory) only for non-sectarian
programs which do not carry a religious message.
That could change under the new welfare law, which Mr. Clinton says he
One thrust in the welfare reform package will be an effort to shift the
administrative burden for programs to states and local communities. But the
Ashcroft Amendment provides a greater role for "churches, community groups
and fraternal organizations" in running the welfare system. One fear is that
the social service outreach can easilly become mixed with a religious
message. Critics also charge that it will result in "excessive
entanglement" between government and religion, and place churches in the
dubious role of administering social programs which should have a distinctly
secular purpose. The Amendment states that in awarding grants and other
monies, the government may not "discriminate'' against religious
organizations, and that being a non-secular group should not be an obstacle
in receiving grant monies.
ABORTION CONTROVERSY SPREADS IN EUROPE
If you thought that the United States was the only country plagued with
anti-abortion factionalism, you were wrong. From Germany and Italy to the
British Isles, abortion has become a high-profile issue which is rapidly
taking on the emotional pitch of the debate being waged in America.
In Germany, legislators in Bavaria last week began tightening restrictions
on abortion access, and placing the Catholic-dominated state in conflict
that country's Federal legislation. It mandates that doctors may receive
only 25% of their annual income from abortion services, and that women
seeking the procedure must give a reason for why they want to terminate
pregnancy. During debate on the measure, an anti-abortion legislator called
a gynecologist who was in the public gallery a "mass murderer of unborn
According to reports, including Thursday's edition of the New York Times,
opposition groups charged that the law was unconstitutional and said "it
resulted from disproportionate Roman Catholic Church influence in Bavaria."
It would not be the first time that Bavaria has come into conflict with
the government in Bonn over a religious issue. Last year, a court ruling
that banned the official display of crucifixes in classrooms was widely
defied. In addition, this latest measure again divides German society over
the abortion question, an issue which has been widely debated since
reunification. In the old East Germany, abortion was widely available, and
many Germans resent the intrusion of the new government in their personal
In Britain, the "fetus war" has reached feaver pitch after a decision to
destroy over 3,000 unclaimed human embryos. The action was ordered under the
Human Fertilization and Embryology Act which established a five year limit
the period for when embryos may be stored. The Vatican condemned the action,
and the church quickly organized an international campaign to persuade women
to "adopt" the clumps of genetic material. The Church referred to the
destruction of the embryos as "a prenatal massacre," and anti-abortion
groups in Britain attempted to organize a "Day of National Shame." In
London, the Catholic Herald newspaper denounced the move, although some
Catholic officials also demanded "a proper funeral" for each fertilized egg,
saying that the embryos "shouldn't be flushed down the toilet."
A Problematic Technology
Since the development of in vitro fertilization methods, religious
ethicists have remained hesitant and divided over the religious
ramifications. Some praised the new biotechnology, which permitted infertile
women to bear children; but because the in vitro technique has only a 5-10%
success rate, fertilized eggs must be "warehoused", thus raising new
questions about their fate. Catholics and some Protestant groups consider
human life to begin at the moment of conception when the fertilized egg is
somehow given a "soul." Cardinal Basil Hume of Westminster told reporters
last week that "The fertilized ovum should be given the unconditional
which is morally due to the human being."
While some of the debate in England focused on why couples who had
undergone the in vitro procedure did not respond to inquiries of what they
wanted done with the excess embryos, the more fundamental questions of when
life begins, and what constitutes human life, remain unresolved. For many
anti-abortionists on both sides of the Atlantic, the fate of clumps of
genetic material and tissue will a serious moral and religious issue.
Time was when a phrase like "civil rights" often pertained to a struggle
on behalf of freedom and liberty, often from the tyrannical grasp of
government, ignorance and bigotry. No longer. The term has now been
appropriated by those pushing a religious agenda, especially when it comes
trashing whatever is left of the Establishment Clause of the First
which requires the separation of church and state.
On Thursday, for example, AANEWS reported that a court in Ohio had uphyeld
that state's new policy of providing funds to parents who wanted to send
their kids to private, even religious schools. The brainchild of Gov. George
Voinovich, it establishes a pilot program affecting some 2,000 students. And
no wonder that the legislation has such a wide range of opposition,
the state Educational Association which notes that the biggest recipient of
the scheme would be Ohio's enormous Roman Catholic or parochial school
Now, you've probably heard that the parochial schools are "better" than
their public school counterparts, supposedly because they teach differently,
or often make students wear uniforms, or enforce "discipline." And while
it's true that the academic performance of these private schools is often
ahead of the public schools, there are any number of reasons why. Private
schools are not required to serve everyone; they can pick and choose who
wish to accept, and keep. Besides, the problems which teachers in public
school classrooms face may reflect wider problems in the society at large.
Now, candidate Bob Dole has decided to appropriate the language of the
civil rights era, especially in acting out his role as a "grocery boy" for
Ralph Reed & Co. at the Christian Coalition. During a campaign sweep through
Ohio last week, Dole praised the Voinovich voucher scheme, and then
his own $5 billion-a-year government aid slush-fund for private and
schools. (Hey, whatever happened to lower taxes, Senator Bob?) He then
pompously declared that the drive for "school choice' was really "a civil
rights movement of the 1990's."
We shouldn't lose sight of one important factor in the
public-versus-private school debate though -- and that's the students. Read
the literature of the "school-choice movement," look at who the leaders are,
and you'll quickly see that the REAL objective of voucher schemes and other
government aid proposals is to increase the number of schools which have as
major part of their goal the religious indoctrination and training of
youngsters. It's shocking as well to see some of the texts which certain
religious groups want included (or excluded) from their curriculums. Bob
Jones University publishes a number of classroom texts which teach
creationism -- the doctrine that the universe and life began when god
presumably became bored and decided to "create" everything, for purposes
which leading philosophers and even theologians cannot seem to agree upon --
and re-write American history from a more "Christian" perspective.
Of course, all of that may just backfire. Go to any schmooze-fest of
Atheists, and you will inevitably encounter a few firebrands who began to
distrust and question religious doctrine simply as a result of being so
immersed in it. They KNOW first hand that the wine doesn't turn into blood
during the mass!
It's good to know that the Christian Coalition can't cover all the bases,
even with its enormous political and social resources. In Durham, N.C. gays
are still reportedly rubbing their eyes in amazement ("Is this really
happening? Am I awake?") because the annual Gay & Lesbian Film Festival at
the Carolina Theater is on track, with a slew of new cinematic offerings.
Last year, well, things were a bit rougher. Irate telephone calls poured
into the offices of local newsmedia and government honchos, and the Durham
City Council spent a full day "screening the films, looking for
according to the regional newspaper. (Yeah, a full day "looking for
pornography." Right.) The difference seems to be that the local Christian
Coalition is either on vacation, or has its hands full with other, more
pressing matters Victorial Peterson, who last year was vigorously opposing
the Festival, says that the Coalition and other groups are too busy;
only so many battles that we can fight at one time. It's not that we're not
concerned. We are."
The implication here is that exercising basic civil liberties -- such as
showing movies to an audience of consenting adults -- is problematic and
conditional, depending on -- in part -- the aesthetic judgments of local
solons, and the activities calendar of groups like the Ralph Reed
Cheerleading Society. Ah, if only the Coalition would STAY this busy,
perhaps the rest of us could get on with our lives.
A note to AANEWS readers. Last week, we encountered some minor problems
with our listserv platform, and as a result the day's AANEWS dispatch was
sent twice to all subscribers. We apologize for cluttering up your e-mail
And Mr. Spike Tyson, the office manager at the American Atheist center,
asks that those of you who have requested either book catalogues or
membership information please be patient. Response from both AANEWS and our
new site on the world wide web () has been
overwhelming, and frankly, Mr. Tyson is having to reprint considerable
quantities of literature, including our book catalogue. Now, that's the kind
of shortage we like to see!
Some of you have pointed out that the website is slow. Next week, our
provider will shutting down for several hours to install new and faster
equipment which should go a long way in improving the service and time it
takes to download material. We appreciate the many kind comments and helpful
suggestions people have made. Now that the site is up, our next goal will be
to post regular news reports and updates on the FLASHLINE segment. Look for
that addition soon.
AACHAT is our moderated discussion forum for members of American Atheists.
If you are interested in participating in the stimulating newsgroup, contact
our Internet Representative, Margie Wait at email@example.com. Be sure to
include your name and postal address.
#55 - -
In This Edition...
* School Prayer In Dixie Gets A Thumbs-Down
* Israeli Fundys Target The Big Mac
* Due North: State-Church Separation News From Canada
* Atheist Media Appearance: Get To That Dial!
* TheistWatch: Bloody Marches, More Golden Arches, Quayle & Potatos
* About This List...
IN MISSISSIPPI SCHOOL PRAYER CASE
It was a good Monday for Lisa Herdahl.
The 34 -year old mother won an important battle in defense of state-church
separation, when a federal judge ruled against controversial religious
practices taking place in the Pontotoc County, Mississippi public school
Mr. Herdahl objected to the policy of prayer and bible verse reading over
the school's public address system, and maintained that religious
indoctrination in classrooms was unconstitutional. Judge Neal Biggers Jr. of
the U.S. District Court agreed, noting that "The Bill of Rights was created
to protect the minority from tyranny by the majority." He added that the
religious activities were designed as "part of a concerted effort" to
inculcate the students "into the belief and moral code of fundamentalist
Christianity." During the trial, attorneys and reporters found numerous
examples of how Herdahl and her children were discriminated against and
villified by school officials and religious community zealots:
* Herdahl's 7-year-old son was taunted with accusations that he was a
"devil worshipper," and a teacher put earphones over the boy's head during
the morning prayer.
* Her 5-year-old was escorted out of her kindergarten class in front of
other students when Bible instruction began. During the trial, it was
revealed that for nearly 50 years a committee of local Protestant religious
leaders operated a program, and paid salaries, of missionaries who went into
local public schools to proselytize students.
Herdahl filed her suit in 1994 after school officials refused her request
to put a halt to the religious activities. The New York Times noted that in
statements to the court and media, Herdahl said she had been "harassed and
ostracized," since objecting to the long-standing practice.
Herdahl and her children are baptized Lutherans. Yesterday, she told the
Christian Science Monitor that "Parents and kids should be able to decide
themselves if they want to go to Sunday school, or what church or synagogue
they want to attend. They shouldn't have to battle that out in court."
"What they were doing was definitely wrong in my eyes," added Herdahl.
"The school's responsibility is not to teach religious viewpoints of any
kind of religion in the public schools. It didn't matter what kind of
religion they were teaching, it was still wrong."
But school prayer supporters voiced their disappointment, and vowed to
support passage of the Religious Equality Amendment which would amend the
Constitution to allow "voluntary prayer." Earlier this year, prayer
advocates held meetings and a mass gathering at the Pontotoc County
Courthouse which was billed as a "God and County" rally. Organized by local
religious leaders, that event attracted letters of support from Mississippi
Governor Kirk Fordice, and from Senators Trent Lott and Thad Cochran, two
candidates for Majority Leader in the U.S. Senate. Supporters of prayer
raised over $170,000 to held the Pontotoc officials in their case
Pontotoc School Superintendent Jerry Horton said that he was upset with
the ruling, and added that a decision on whether or not to appeal the case
will be made within 30 days. Horton defended the practice of broadcasting
prayer over school PA systems, saying "The school did not write any prayers
or force anyone to say anything. There has been student-initiated, voluntary
activity, controlled by students. If they had not initiated it, there would
have been no prayer."
Earlier in the year, Horton promised that if the school district lost the
Circuit Court fight, they would appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The case has some important legal nuances; Judge Biggers ruled that while
the classroom prayers were unconstitutional, a "voluntary" prayer session
held for students in the school gym at the beginning of the day was still
- - -
DISCOVER NEW THREAT: THE BIG MAC
There may be a kind of "black humor" in what the New York Times describes
as a "cloud of gloom" which has settled over Israel since the election of
Likud Party boss Benjamin Netanyahu.
Last week, in a hotly contested race with incumbent Prime Minister Shimon
Peres, Netanyahu managed to win the nation's top elected post, while a slew
of religious fundamentalists corralled seats in the Israeli Knesset, or
parliament. While international observers and many secular Israeli's are
nervous about what Netanyahu may do to the touchy middle east peace process,
they're also expressing fears about the so-called "Knesset Ayatollahs" and
their agenda for tough religious laws inside the country. Indeed, the
statement by Leah Rabin, widow of assassinated former Prime Minister Yitzhak
Rabin where she declared "All I want to do is pack my bags and get out of
hear," is fast becoming a metaphor for the discontent and trepidation felt
progressive Israelis and Palestinians.
A Crusade Against The Golden Arches
The big winner in last week's election was not only the 46-year old
Netanyahu, but the country's various fundamentalist religious partys as
well. Their influence in the Knesset is at an all-time high, and they are
sure to demand important posts in the Likud cabinet in exchange for their
participation in any coalition government. United Press noted that "While
the major parties have argued peace and security, education and preserving
the religious status quo were more important to the religious parties." The
domestic agenda for groups such as the Shas, National Religious Party,
Torah Judaism and the Path of Faith "relied upon the ruling of top rabbis
Now, religious groups are already pushing for enactment of their tough
* United Torah is demanding that its support of Netanyahu requires a ban
on all operations of the country's El Al national airline during the Jewish
sabbath, from sundown Friday to Saturday evening.
* Several of the parties want Jewish sabbatarianism made law, a measure
which would prohibited all but the most vital work during that time; they
also want to end all archaeological excavations which "disturb" sites,
especially "sacred" burial grounds.
* McDonald's as emerged as a new target for Israeli religious zealots, who
want the fast-food chain shut down on the sabbath, and prohibited from
engaging in "non-kosher" dietary practices, such as mixing meat and milk
products. The end to the cheeseburger or Big Mac, though, has secular
Israeli's deeply concerned over how far religious groups will go. Citizens
in secular TelAviuv have expressed fears that so-called "modesty patrols" --
a common feature in fundamentalist neighborhoods -- will be expanded. The
"patrols" roam streets, restaurants and other public venues accosting women
who display "immodest dress" even in the form of exposed arms or legs.
Netanyahu himself is already scrambling to appease -- and control -- the
militant fundamentalists. Media reports have suggested that the new Prime
Minister "is not religious," although he is staunchly nationalist in his
foreign policy and attitudes toward the Arabs. In fact, some Orthodox Jews
criticized Netanyahu during the election, especially for his admission that
he had committed adultery, and his divorce and subsequent marriage to a
non-Jewess (who subsequently converted.). On Friday, he did venture to
Jerusalem's Western Wall, Judaism's holiest site, where he was mobbed by
religious supporters. He waved to groups of bearded Israeli men who chanted
"Lift your heads high, the doors of the world have opened and the honorable
king has arrived." Netanyahu also acknowledged the presence of women praying
on the other side of a partition which segregates them from males. Reuter
news service observed that his speech at the Wall was "peppered...with
phrases favored by religious Jews, such as 'With God's help'."
But privately, even Benjamin Netanyahu may be getting irritated by some of
his religious supporters, especially as they clamor for important government
posts and money. The Los Angeles Times noted this morning that Netanyahu had
met with National Religious Party leader Zevulun Hammer and, "apparently
irked by how large a role the religious parties want in his government,
issued a thinly veiled reminded that time was on his side." The new Prime
Minister has 45-days to cobble together a working coalition, and even his
victorious Likud Party is far short of a majority in the Knesset.
Meanwhile, Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert has been trying to calm the fears
of secular Israelis, and "dismissed the McDonald's threat as posturing."
Even so, the fundamentalists are quite serious in the bargaining process.
NRP and others want more control over the Israeli educational system; and
there is also big money at stake if the government reactivates massive
building projects on the West Bank and other areas. Lurking in the wings is
Likud kingmaker Ariel Sharon, the former defense minister who has called PLO
leader Yasser Arafat a terrorist and murdered, and is "adamantly" opposed to
the peace accord.
"As housing minister, he built 22,000 housing units for Jews in the West
Bank from 1990 to 1992," notes the L.A. Times.
- - -
AND RELIGIOUS CONCERNS ABOUND IN CANADA
Our new Canadian correspondent sends news of important developments in
Last Tuesday, the government announced that it was would attempt to curb
the "church-run school system" in the province of Newfoundland. When that
province joined Canada in 1949, the accords provided that the public school
system would be operated along religious denominational lines.
Since then, voters have called for a reform in the educational system, and
the Newfoundland legislature has passed a resolution calling for a
constitutional amendment. That measure would merge unnecessary
denominational schools, and send children to the public school nearest to
According to Reuter, even considering the proposal means that the Canadian
government is "wading into another controversial social issue," a reference
to a recent measure which bannned discrimination on the basis of sexual
Meanwhile, controversy has erupted over the issue of vaccination for
measles. A $4.5 million dollar health vaccination program is now being
carried out aimed at innoculating those between the ages of 19 months and 18
years. But now, Roman Catholic officials in Vancouver are balking at the
program, because of its possible connection to a 1962 vaccine which was made
as the result of human fetal tissue research. That has become a hot topic,
especially since Pope John Paul II recently blasted such medical research
programs which offer breakthrough discoveries in the battle against cancer,
aging, athritis and other maladies. Vancouver church authorities are looking
into the origin of the measles-rubella vaccine which is now being offered,
try and determine if it originates from the original culture developed over
three decades ago.
- - -
ATHEISTS PRESIDENT ON OLLIE'S SHOW TODAY
Apologies for such a sudden notice, but the omnivorous media appetite for
news and comment does not always announce when it is ready to bite! Ellen
Johnson, President of American Atheists, will be the featured guest on
today's Oliver North radio show which is broadcast on stations throughout
country. If you are in the listening area, Ms. Johnson will be tangling with
the Christian Coalition hero beginning at 3:10 this afternoon, Eastern time.
Check your local listings.
Here's more to munch on regarding our story above on McDonalds and the
religious zealots of Israel. By the way, ever noticed how so much religious
fundamentalism seems to be a "bearded guy" kinda' thing? I'm not just
talking about the bearded Charlton Heston in "The Ten Commandments," long
before his days as Mr. I'm-The-NRA. Today's "bearded patriarchs" are often
squatting in mosques in Tehran, and now they're celebrating in Israel with
the election of Mr. Netanyahu, who -- for the time being, anyway -- is clean
shaven, tanned, a regular looking guy on the evening news. Anyway, the
McDonald's food chain has become the latest target for Israeli religious
fundys, but the floodgates of sacred reform may just be opening.
Fundamentalist Rabbi Avraham Ravitz is publicizing his disenchantment that
what is referred to as "the status quo" has been eroding in a wave of
enlightened secularism. The rabbi told Associated Press: "Nightclubs,
nightlife, this is not the culture of our fathers." As a start, he and his
fellow religionists want everything from movie theaters to restaurants shut
down during the Jewish Sabbath -- a prospect denounced by Tel Aviv Mayor Ron
Milo. In 1989, one cinema owner challenged the "status quo" in court and
won; since then, everything from nightclubs to non-kosher restaurants have
opened, and thrived.
- - -
Our candidate for Dali Lama -- accused shooter and millionaire John DuPont
-- yesterday received a setback in his claim to divinity. Recall our
contention that Mr. DuPont's insistence that he was the Dali Lama has
substance equal to claims by other factions on this religious controversy,
which involves everything from reincarnation to the transmigration of the
"human soul." Mr. DuPont is considered delusional by some for making so bold
a statement. Why, we ask, shouldn't Buddhist authorities, be likewise
considered out of their heads?
"Who's-The-Dali Lama?" (and a related question of who occupies the number
two post of Panchen Lama) is the Buddhist equivalent of
"Who's-the-Anti-Chris?," that delightful cottage industry of Christian
eschatology. The post of Panchen Lama is now a political question,
especially since Chinese authoriies who claim dominion over Tibet, want
candidate officially recognized. On Saturday, hundreds of chanting followers
attended a festival to induct one Gyaincain Norbu as the 11th reincarnation
of the Lama during a cumbersome but politically correct three hour ceremony.
China had earlier enthroned the somewhat bewildered six-year old lad,
rejecting the choice of the Dali Lama in exile in India, whom it accuses of
fostering political independence for Tibet. The Chinese apparently kidnapped
the Dali Lama's choice for godhead after he was selected in May, 1995, and
admits that THIS Panchen Lama is currently under "government protection."
What seems to work for one person doesn't always work for another. The
new Israeli Prime Minister could get away with adultery, but in the world of
religious purity the consequences of such a dalliance could be
That's why a mini-scandal is rocking (if you will) the booming world of
It all revolves around former gospel singer Michael English, who dropped
out of the religious music scene two years ago after acknowledging that he
had (shock!) an extramarital affair. The "scandal" set the industry abuzz,
and the religiously correct were asking themselves if Christian music icons
could resist the glitzy lure of hormone-charged financial and stage success.
Last Sunday, English turned himself into authorities after being charged
with assault and theft. The rocker claims that this is part of a plot to
embarrass him; seems that ex-girlfriend Tina Wilmurth claims that English
shoved her at a club, and prevented her from retrieving possession at his
- - -
The religious antics during the Moslem festival known as Ashura are
becoming even a bit much for Islamic hard liners, including the cutthroats
of the Hezbollah "Party of God" movement. Last week kicked-off the
festivities as hundreds of young men began marching through the town of
Nabatiye, Lebanon, beating themselves with rocks, sticks and swords and
waving everything from guns to rockets in the air.
It all goes back to the origins of the Shiite tendency in Islam. The
virtual rivers of blood that flow off of self-flagellants during this
religious holiday commemorate the life and deeds of Iman Hussein, the
grandson of the prophet, Mohammed, who was slain in 680 c.e. Hussein was
battling religious rivals who refused to acknowledge his claim to leadership
of Islam; it marked the final break between those who supported male heirs
the prophet, and those who believed that the question of succession should
decided by election.
The blood-letting has become a traditional part of the ten-day religious
festival, although some Shiite militants say that it is unnecessary. In
fact, Sheik Fadlallah banned the practice in Beirut, but bearded young men
have now taken up the ritual and link it to revolutionary theocratic
and the struggle against Israel and the United States. Some march in
double-time cadence, after local barbers inflict cuts above their hairlines
to enhance the blood flow. In some cases, young boys barely able to walk are
being cut, much to the consternation of local medical authorities.
Others march beating themselves on the chest and face with rocks, drawing
blood and chanting slogans. Douglas Jehl of the New York Times observed that
last weekend's display was accompanied by "the smell of blood and the show
militancy," which "filled the air with reminders of the power of religion."
- - -
AANEWS recently told readers about the Rise, Fall and Resurrection of
former Vice President Dan Quayle, who along with religious hooligan Pat
Buchanan fired the first salvos back in 1992 in the infamous "Culture Wars"
pitting civil liberties and common sense against the forces of religious
superstition. Quayle, who couldn't spell potato, nevertheless had all sorts
of moral prescriptions for the Great American cultural hang-over, and took
aim squarely at the TV character Murphy Brown. Gasp! A woman who decided on
her own to have a child sans the male! Since then, single moms have become
the bette noir of religious fundamentalists, who blame everything from teen
pregnancy to drug abuse and crime on the institution of non-traditional,
childbearing lifestyles. And I thought that honor went to the decision to
ban school prayer!
But economic reality often clashes with sectarian views of human behavior.
Indeed, a new study from the Annie E. Casy Foundation shows that most poor
children don't grow up in the clutches of a single mother, but in fact come
from families where at least one parent is struggling year round to pay the
bills. This class of "working poor" means that kids in such households are
"less likely to be fully immunized, less likely to enter school ready to
learn, less likely to graduate and less likely to attend college," according
to a story in the Los Angeles Times.
The study found that children in these "working-poor" households were
slightly better off than those in welfare families, but they nevertheless
faced "distinct disadvantages as a result of their parents' employment."
It may be that Murphy Brown is less to blame for the present condition of
American kids than we think. The Foundation report adds that one way to help
all kids is through educational reform, which as far as TW can determine
means for Dan Quayle & Co. the enactment of school prayer. But prayer won't
do the job -- the Foundation adds that kids need better child care, and
parents need better wages, access to cheaper health insurance, and tax
#27 - -
In This Edition...
* GOP Hopes Aborted Over Platform Issue?
* Wild 'N Crazy Folks At USTP
* Should Muslims "Serve And Protect" At Public Expense?
* Freemen Update - More On "The Guy Thing," And A Nervous Goat
*TheistWatch - Find Out About The REAL Mark Of The Beast!
PLANK FIGHT LOOMS
Some political pundits have already written off the Republican Party in
the November, '96 Presidential race; the party's platform, which calls for
constitutional amendment to ban all abortion, will make the difference
voters (particularly women) step into the polling booth, they insist. And
barring a depression, major scandal or some other calamity which isn't on
political radar screen right now, Bill Clinton will be residing in the
House for his second four-year term.
That scenario has many Republican heavy weights worried, and this past
weekend, California Governor Pete Wilson joined a small but growing list
GOP luminaries who want the anti-abortion plank yanked from the party's
It is a move which is already drawing plenty of flak from the party's
religious conservatives, including supporters of nomination-contender Pat
Buchanan and the influential Family Research Council. But Wilson's
announcement comes after other GOP governors -- George Pataki of New York,
Christine Whitman of New Jersey, and William F. Weld of Massachusetts also
declared their support for striking the 20-year old provision. The move
reportedly caught GOP frontrunner Sen. Bob Dole by surprise; religious
conservatives are still wary of the Kansas senator's opposition to
and are demanding that he select a staunch, anti-abortion running mate in
Vice Presidential slot.
Some see the Wilson proposal as an effort to "take back" the GOP from
one-issue, religious special-interest groups who control much of the
state organizations, and constitute the rank-and-file of the Republican
Gary Bauer of the Family Research Council blasted Wilson's call for
out the anti-abortion provision, insisting "That is a prescription for
disaster for Bob Dole and the Republican Party." Angela Buchanan, who
as her brother's campaign manager, added "If the Republican Party chooses
abandon the unborn, politically, it would be absolutely foolhardy."
With polls showing Dole trailing President Clinton, especially in the
category of women voters, the abortion plank fight could spell even more
trouble for the GOP. The Dole campaign quickly sent out press releases
re-affirming its support for the anti-abortion provision, and the
announced that he was appointing Representative Henry Hyde of Illinois as
chairman of the Platform Committee. (Hyde is supported by many religious
conservatives, and has drafted one of the two versions of a "Religious
Equality Amendment" now winding through Congress.)
GOP Chairman Haley Barbour quickly went into damage control mode after
Wilson announcement, insisting that "he did not want propspective
to feel excluded from the party because they did not share the
stand of its standard-bearer," according to the New York Times.
Buchanan A Factor?
One wild-card in the GOP house squabble is Pat Buchanan, who despite 28
consecutive losses in the recent primaries, still managed to galvanize
considerable support for his religious-populist cause. Groups such as the
U.S. Taxpayers Party attempted to draft Buchanan for an independent run at
the White House, raising the prospect that the conservative commentator
be a "spoiler" for the Dole campaign. Buchanan has insisted that he's
in the GOP ranks -- at least for now -- and promises to continue in
to keep Republican ideology in accord with his vision of religious
conservatism and nationalism.
AND MORE ON
THE U.S. TAXPAYERS PARTY...
In early April, AANEWS covered the connection between Buchanan, the U.S.
Taxpayers Party, and the Christian Reconstructionist movement which seeks
implement old testament "Bible law" as the basis of civil society. Founded
by former Reagan White House strategist Howard Phillips, the Party
the "dominionist" philosophy of extreme theologians like R.J. Rushdoony of
the Chalcedon movement.
"What the movement lacks in size, it makes up for in vigor and
we observed. We also noted that Reconstructionist "justice" considered
homosexuality and adultery to be capital offenses punishable by death, and
would oppose women holding any civil office.
The U.S. Taxpayers Party seems to be the culmination in Phillip's own
personal journey into the realm of more extreme and authoritarian
For two decades, he was involved in more mainstream, conservative
like the old Barry Goldwater campaign and Young Americans for Freedom; he
later helped found groups like the influential Conservative Caucus, the
Heritage Foundation and the Fallwell-linked Moral Majority. But as a
issue of The Nation notes, "Unlike the more pragmatic Ralph Reed, Phillips
has given up on the Republican Party as a means of restoring the
republic' he says the Founders intended."
Along the way in their ideological Haj, he and the U.S. Taxpayers Party
have picked up some bizarre and even violent company. The linkage of the
USTP to even something as extreme as the Buchanan campaign could provide a
new platform for anti-abortion terrorists and other millennialist culture
*Rev. Matthew Trewhella, Wisconsin USTP organizer and head of the
"Missionaries to the Pre-Born" which The Nation describes as an 'armed
antiabortion militia.' Trewhella is also a leader in 'Defenders of the
Defenders of Life' which raises money to support the legal battles of
who kill abortion providers and clinic workers.
* Jeffrey Baker, chairman of the Florida USTP, insists that "Abortionists
should be put to death. They are murderers." Represents the "Tenth
Amendment Militia, Church Status."
* Byron Dale, speaker at the Wisconsin State Convention of the USTP and a
close associate of one Gordon Kahl. Kahl became a folk hero to the
Identity and militia movements when he shot two federal marshalls in 1983,
and ended up being killed in a battle with the FBI. He had declared in one
of his manifestos that "our nation has fallen into the hands of alien
people...These enemies of Christ have taken their Jewish Communist
and incorporated it into the Statutory Laws of our country and thrown our
Constitution and our Christian Common Law (which is nothing other than the
Laws of God as set forth in the Scriptures) into the garbage can." Dale is
reportedly an Identity supporter, and a believer in the "Two Seed" theory
which states that Jews and "Mud People" originated in a conjugal union
between Eve and the devil.
* Randall Terry, l'enfant terrible of the anti-abortion movement and one
of the founders of the notorious Operation Rescue. The Nation quotes
"This I can promise you. You will never see a pro-death, pro-sodomite
'moderate' in the U.S. Taxpayers Party."
* Rev. Michael Bray, described as a signatory in the "Defensive Action"
statement of accused murderer Paul Hill which attempts to justify the
of abortion doctors. Served four years for conspiracy to bomb clinics in
Do some links constitute "guilt by association"? Sources close to
Buchanan insist that the feisty conservative commentator is not a racist
advocate of anti-abortion violence; however, it is significant that the
attracts such trypes, and provides a political vehicle for promulgating
bizarre views including Reconstructionism and the "Two Seed" theory.
GROUP AT THE PUBLIC TROUGH
How would we react if, say, members of religious militia groups were
public contracts to "patrol" public housing projects in mostly poor-white
Reverse that situation a bit, and you've got a pretty good description on
how Louis Farrakhan's Nation of Islam is cashing in on public contracts to
provide security in cities throughout the country. The latest controversy
centers in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. where a corporate affiliate of the Farrakhan
group known as "NOI Security Agency" has a $97,400 - a - year contract
that city's Housing Authority.
The arrangement doesn't sit well with people like State Representative
Thomas Kirwan who told the New York Times: "I don't want public money
to racists of any stripe. I'd be just as outraged if the Ku Klux Klan or
Aryan Nations had been hired."
According to a study last year, Nation of Islam security firms have been
awarded more than $15 million in nine cities; they include Philadelphia,
Angeles, Baltimore, Washington and New York. Some critics charge that the
Muslim companies were awarded contracts even when they had not submitted
lowest bids; others insist that the NOI affiliated firms should be
disqualified since they do not practice equal employment hiring practices.
Those who live in public housing developments often claim that the
are effective in ending drug dealing, beatings and other forms of violence
their community. But an executive director of the Poughkeepsie Housing
Authority notes that other firms produce similar results, including the
previous security company which was known as Big Mac. And Kirwan adds: "As
for the effectiveness of reducing crime, if you could find some old
of Hitler's Gestapo or the Waffen S.S., they also would provide good
security, but I doubt if there would be a groundswell of support for
funds going to a bunch of Nazis."
Others charge that the NOI security companies have used heavy-handed
tactics themselves, and cite a case where Muslim guards grabbed and beat
teenagers they suspected of shoplifting from a mall. Critics also note
Nation of Islam is a religious organization, and should not be receiving
public monies of any kind.
UPDATE - GOVERNMENT SUBSIDIES AND
MORE ABOUT ''THE GUY THING''...
The Montana Freemen group which has managed to project an image of
rebellious independence and self-sufficiency actually received over
in government aid according to public records and files in a local County
Courthouse. While branding the Federal Government as a "corporate
prostitute," Freemen booster Ralph E. Clark was the beneficiary of subsidy
programs and emergency aid over a ten-year period. But when the farm
started having trouble in the 1980's, Clark began having confrontations
everyone from state tax officials to the Farmers Home Administration. One
problem which may have complicated things -- the Freemen member cannot
or write according to an attorney who helped Clark once avoid foreclosure.
There is other interesting news about the Freemen and their Christian
* Rodney Skurdal, head of security for the Freemen group was a Marine
Corps sergeant who worked in a special detail which drove political
dignitaries at the Western White House under President Nixon, and even
guarded President Gerald Ford during his stays at Camp David, Maryland.
Following his discharge, Skurdal became a roustabout, and damaged his
during an oil rig accident. He "underwent a personality change," according
to the New York Times, and now, appropriately, has the nickname "Skull."
* There is an interesting Mormon connection in the Freemen saga,
that sect's teachings about women, patriarchy and polygamy. Identity
teachings such as the "Remnant Resolves" affirm the subjugation and
submission of women to men. There is also the tradition of men taking
numerous wives to emulate the practice of the old Hebrew Patriarchs, a
teaching declared in 1843 when the inventor of Mormonism, Joseph Smith,
about "Moses, Abraham, David and Solomon having many wives and
new and everlasting covenant." Smith declared that "if any man espouse a
virgin...(or even) ten virgins...he cannot commit adultery, for they
Smith and other Mormons practiced polygamy; the Mormon prophet
a "stable" of forty-two women, but favored one or two at any time. Some
declared that there was "less room for jealousy when wives live under the
same roof," but feminists of the era tried to woo Mormon women away from
practice. Polygamy was even compared to the institution of slavery by
While Polygamy was abolished in order to bring Utah into the Union, it is
still advocated by "fundamentalist Mormons" who constitute a unique
sub-culture on the American religious landscape.
There are "fundamentalist Mormons" who, as part of that doctrine,
girls to ready for marriage when they reach puberty. Freemen compound
Gloria Ward is one such person, and reportedly "pushed" her 14-year old
daughter into marriage with the leader of such a neo-Mormon sect, John
Chaney, age 38. Chaney is presently in Utah, charged with conspiracy to
commit rape; he "married" his 13-year old daughter to a 48-year old sect
member named Don Beaver.
* Dale Jacobi is the man in charge of religious doctrine for the Freemen
group; he is a Christian Identity preacher who had lectured at various
militia seminars, and declared that "Jews brought the blacks into this
country to destroy us (whites)," and that "God tells his people to kill
many times in Scripture. He doesn't allow murder, but he allows killing.
* Former Green Beret Colonel "Bo" Gritz, who continued to be an
intermediary in negotiations between the Freemen and the FBI, is an
ex-Mormon. Adherents of the "Two Seed" theology, however, may find the
"Patriarch of the Militia Movement" as a lapsed soul, since he is divorced
and presently has a Chinese wife.
* There appears to be an odd synergy between doomsday-militia groups
retreat into fortified compounds, and bizarre religious ideologies that
preach subjugation of women, and the role of males as "heads of the
household." That has made female militia leaders such as Linda Thompson an
outcast in the eyes of certain segments of the movement. There is the case
of the Rulo compound in Nebraska, for instance, where Michael "Archangel"
Ryan presided over a neo-Nazi community with four "Queens" and numerous
servants and followers. Echoing his "God of the Old Testament" patriarchal
line, Ryan engaged in murder, torture and theft. He also invented a scam
called "the Arm Test" to determine the will of God when the almighty was
asked a question. This "test" was employed nightly to see who would be the
recipient of Ryan's "seed". The compound also had a rather nervous goat;
males in the Rulo compound were forced to sodomize the animal and each
while the "Patriarch" had sex with their wives, mothers and daughters.
more on the Rulo compound, see "Armed and Dangerous" by James Coates
Pope John Paul assures us that a) the "resurrection of Christ" was for
real and b) followers of J.C. were really skeptics. Speaking to a throng
believers Sunday in St. Pete's Square, the Pontiff, "replying to recent
theological skepticism concerning the resurrection of Christ" (Reuters)
"The appearance of Christ was the determining experience. It was
certainly an extraordinary experience but completely believable given the
trust owed to those who were involved. Not just Peter and the other
but a good number of disciples, men and women."
Really? We beg to differ. The accounts about tales like the resurrection
weren't put to paper until decades, even centuries past the time when they
allegedly occurred. Worse yet, scholars still argue over the authenticity
of the documents which were conveniently massaged, edited, embellished,
and then fit in Procrustean form into the church doctrines of the fourth
century, c.e. and labeled with much fanfare as "The New Testament."
And His Holiness has some strange standards when it comes to the
verifiability of claims and evidence. "One can rule out any possible
we're assured, "by considering the holiness of their lives, many of which
ended in martyrdom. Nothing makes one think they were seized by mystical
exaltation or collective hallucination."
Well, being killed for a cause doesn't make that cause proper, true and
just, at least in the eyes of cool, objective and critical observers. And
the "holiness of their lives", referring to the apostles, rests likewise
some dubious writings. Bottom line, Your Eminence -- you've got a shabby
case at best for demonstrating the validity of any of your religious
We keep hearing about how the "god" of various religions does so many
wonderful and miraculous things... the one person who survives the
crash is a "miracle" or the lone individual who is "cured" of cancer after
prayer is proof of "God's power." But it sure takes some good 'ol
and Works of Man (and Woman!) when it comes to things like logistical
for the annual Haj or pilgrimage in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. For the latest
four-day event, more than $1.6 billion was spent improving water and
facilities, and close to 4,000 additional phone circuits installed.
medical evacuation planes were on stand-by, and we've gotten reports of
everything from air conditioned tents
(!) for the faithful to cold-storage centers and trucks with food
In their enigmatic style, the Saudi authorities also note that the only
individual who became ill during the religious festival was an Iranian
politician; he was shipped back home in a plane.
- - -
We're really becoming a nation of wet-nursed whimps who want church and
state to hold our hand, lest we see, hear, experience or (worse yet!)
actually DO something sinful, offensive, politically incorrect or taboo.
We've got warning labels on everything from CD's to magazines, and now --
thanks to the Communications Decency Bill and the religious right -- we
just have them in cyberspace.
Yesterday, a government witness who happens to hail from the Mormon
university -- Brigham Young -- proposed that "objectionable" Internet
material have a tag he called "L-18" which would require proof of age from
users, similar to a credit card verification number.
Now, this writer hears constantly about how constipated religious types
worry and fred over the "Mark of the Beast", good 'ol 666, which
will be stamped on all believer's foreheads, hands, buttocks or some other
anatomical part under the regime of the Antichrist as a requirement for
business. The more imaginative proclaim that the supermarket barcode is
first insidious step in this diabolical process. (I've though it was just
scheme to rip off consumers, but...)
I think that the REAL mark of the REAL beast is something like "L-18"
Anyway, yesterday in Manhattan Federal Court, BYU professor Dan Olsen
proposed this Orwellian scheme, and was promptly challenged by attorney
Randall J. Boe. Mr. Boe happens to represent a man named Joseph P. Shea,
editor of an on-line newspaper called The American Reporter; and Mr. She
would like to publish an article about former President Richard Nixon, and
wanted to include excerpts from those (explitive deleted) Watergate tapes,
which are just brimming with foul language. Olsen admitted that under the
"Decency" Law -- now being challenged in two lawsuits, including the
Manhattan litigation -- readers of The American Reporter would have to go
through the cumbersome task of "L-18" verification; that could cost Olsen
his on-line paper $10,000 if, say, 10,000 people had to be verified at an
estimated cost of $1 per person.
Well, the rest of Monday's court fiasco involved numerous what-ifs; at
point the Judge became so frustrated that he asked lawyers to provide
definitions for terms like "patently offensive" and "indecent." Judge Jose
Cabranes then queried "Can material be 'sexually explicit' and yet be
'obscene' nor 'indecent'?"
Such legal sophistry is clearly the result of religious prudes trying to
legislate that thing they define as morality. The Christian Coalition and
its allies is chalking up the Communications Decency Act as one of its
"victories", but it remains to be seen if the law is constitutional, or
enforcible. Just to appease religious sentiment, we may all end up paying
more and more for information in cyberspace, as worried publishers on-line
implement costly and cumbersome schemes like "L-18."
Hmmm...wonder if "L-18" should be required for any on-line version of The
Holy Bible? There's plenty of "sexually explicit" material there, Your
Remember the controversy that erupted when Pope John Paul took his
roadshow through Latin America last fall? TheistWatch tracked the antics
one Bishop Sergio von Helder, a member of the Brazilian Universal Church
the Kingdom of God, as he beat up a statue of Mary during a TV broadcast.
The Kingdom of God outfit is headed by one Edir Macedo, who presides over
network of 300 member churches in 30 countries.
While blasting the papacy for all sorts of alleged vices and crimes,
though, Macedo has been up to some hanky-panky of his own. The Brazilian
government has gone to court to freeze his assets, insisting that he owes
some $5 million in back taxes and fines. And the Roman Catholic Church
struck back, releasing a video provided by a former Macedo flunkie, which
shows the Neo-Pentacostal leader "dancing lewdly on a beach, joking about
stripping at a Jerusalem hotel party, and grinning while counting
according to Christianity Today.
The Kingdom of God countered, pouring demonstrators into city streets
throughout Brazil, and managed to mobilize 100,000 in Sao Paulo alone.
Pentacostal and evangelical groups are booming in Latin America, once
considered the privileged "turf" of the Roman Catholic Church, which has a
long history of allying itself with the political powers-that-be
the region. Seems now that the monopoly is broken, but unfortunately not
secular activism. In the meantime, Mr. Macedo has apparently corralled his
own substantial and lucrative following in the belief-marketplace and is,
literally, joking and dancing all the way to the bank.
#28 - -
In This Edition...
* Religious Ignorance Discourages Birth Control Use
* "Mr. Hyde" Turns Mean In GOP Abortion Flap
* Single Moms & The Numbers Game
* "Homosexual In Hawaii" OK With Legislature
* TheistWatch Short Shots: What DO Preachers Really Watch?
USE DROPS - RELIGIOUS ATTITUDES, MISINFORMATION TO BLAME ACCORDING TO NEW
A panel of experts at Tuesday's national conference of the American
College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists noted that U.S. women lag behind
their international counterparts in the use of birth control, and blamed
religious attitudes and media misinformation as the culprits.
Dr. Luella Klein, a professor at Emory University in Atlanta and the ACOP
Director of Women's Health Issues, said that other nations "don't have the
religious right wing that thinks the only thing you can teach teen-agers is
absteinence. They've got a more realistic attitude."
The panel also cited new surveys which show that nearly half of the six
million pregnancies in the United States last year were unintended. More
than 1/4 resulted in abortions: Klein called the statistical findings "an
appalling rate of unwanted pregnancies."
The meeting also heard testimony that American women are ill-informed
about various birth control methods such as the IUD, which is used by only
of women who are of child-bearing age. The figure jumps to 20% in many other
Dr. Margaret Polaneczky of Cornell University Medical College charged that
"The media has frightened women" about various birth control strategies.
The conference discussion highlighted a long list of growing social
problem aggravated by fundamentalist religious agendas -- expanding
population, unwanted prenancies, the possibility that abortion may be
banned, and lack of appropriate sex education being given to teens.
IN REPUBLICAN ABORTION SQUABBLE
Amidst growing calls for the Republican Party to abandon its 20-year old
plank calling for a ban on abortion, GOP platform committee head Rep. Henry
Hyde declared yesterday: "I don't intend to weaken the pro-life position the
party's had for the past four elections. My posture is not one of retreat."
In our dispatch yesterday, AANEWS detailed how California Governor Pete
Wilson had joined with other GOP officials in urging that the provision --
considered by many to be a religious "litmus" test -- be removed. Wilson's
remarks came after similar calls from Governors Pataki of New York,
Whitman of New Jersey, and William Weld of Massachusetts.
According to reports, Hyde's continued support for the anti-abortion plank
is a "signal Dole wants the platform to retain its abortion opposition," a
reference to GOP nomination frontrunner Senator Robert Dole. Religious right
leaders, including Ralph Reed of the Christian Coalition, have spent the
several days warning the Kansas Senator to select a pro-life vice
presidential candidate if he wants the continued support of the party's
evangelical and fundamentalist wing.
Meanwhile, it was learned that Pat Buchanan will form a third party ticket
if the anti-abortion plank is altered. He welcomed Hyde's remarks, adding
"If Bob Dole doesn't want to lead the fight to keep this Republican Party
pro-life, Bob, step aside and I will."
- - -
''EPIDEMIC'' MAY BE STATISTICAL FLUKE
Ever notice how religious leaders are constantly bemoaning the high
numbers of (gasp!) unmarried mothers? Ever since the Bush-Quayle
administration attacked TV sitcom character Murphy Brown for deciding to
a child out of "wedlock", the religious right and its political handmaidens
in government has been on a virtual crusade against the practice.
But now, a new study suggests that the figures concerning single mothers
may be distorted. In many states, including California which reports that
35% of infants are born to unwed mothers, the statistics are based on
"inferential methods" including the parents' last names.
The current USA TODAY notes that according to an official in the Vital
Records Bureau of California, "If (new mothers) sign the certificates with
their maiden name, and the baby has the father's name, they're presumed not
That angers -- and amuses -- State Assemblywoman Martha Escutia who asks:
"Can you believe it? I am an unmarried woman and my child was born out of
wedlock? I can't wait to tell my mother-in-law." Escutia is one of many
women who retain their maiden name after marrying.
Even so, politicians like California Governor Pete Wilson often cite
statistics about the rising numbers of unwed moms, insisting "All of the
problems tearing apart the fabric of our society have deep roots in this
exploding epidemic of out-of-wedlock births."
Statisticians at the U.S. Census Bureau note that the California use of
"inferential methods" is widely practiced in other states, too.
- - -
HOMOPHOBIA WIPES OUT IN HAWAII
Religious anti-gay groups in Hawaii suffered a setback last week when that
state's legislature voted down a proposed constitutional amendment that
have banned same-sex marriages.
After heated debate, the measure was defeated by a 15-10 margin. It would
have buttressed Hawaii against a 1993 state supreme court ruling which found
that denying same-sex couples a marriage license was unconstitutional.
Meanwhile, the battle against gay marriage -- often fought by religious
groups such as American Family Association, Focus on the Family and Eagle
Forum -- continues. Six states have banned same-sex marriage (Utah, South
Dakota, Colorado, Kansas, Idaho and Georgia), and three states have bills in
the legislature which would outlaw the practice as well. They are Alaska,
Arizona and Illinois.
An Alabama proposal would have fined ministers up to $1,000 for
performing a same-sex wedding ceremony.
The Colorado measure was backed by that state's well-organized religious
establishment, and presented as both a moral and a "states rights" issue.
State Senator Charles Duke insisted that the proposed legislative
restriction on gay marriage was a "states rights" concern, adding "We
sacrifice our sovereignty to a judge in Hawaii," if Colorado allowed
Guess it's a classic example of "Do as I say, not as I do!" when it comes
to professional preachers and temptation of the flesh. According to a recent
edition of "Freedom Writer" put out by Institute for First Amendment
there's some interesting news about a gathering held a few years back by the
National Religious Broadcasters in Washington, D.C. The host hotel offered
the typical pay-TV fare, including stimulating "adult" movies which groups
like the American Family Association want banned -- even for adults who have
to punch in codes and pay through the wallet in order to see heavilly edited
soft-core porn. "Freedom Writer" informs us that "After the conference,
someone took the trouble to find out how many of the radio and TV
took advantage of the adult movies. It seems that more than half of them
did. When asked to explain, one evangelist said 'Research!' ."
Now, even Jimmy Swaggart didn't use THAT excuse!
- - -
The largest democratic election is underway in India, with 543 seat in
that country's lower parliamentary house up for grabs. There are ten "major"
parties, plus dozens of independent groups and minor political movements.
And along with the usual political squabbles over issues like trade, wages
and taxes, there is the backdrop of controversial religious questions as
well. Keep an eye out for some of the following:
* There is an influx of the so-called "untouchables" into the political
system, members of the "lower castes" stigmatized as the result of religious
and political bigotry dating back several centuries. The caste system places
restrictions on what occupations people may pursue, even those whom they can
associate with or touch. "Untouchables" perform the most menial tasks, but
increasingly they are moving up the political ladder. The Indian Vice
President, K.R. Narayanan is an "untouchable", as are a number of ministers
* The Muslim-Hindu conflict remains a volatile issue. The Hindu
Nationalist Party or BJP won 120 seats in parliament in 1991, and could come
out of this month's elections with even more power. The right-wing group
wants to continue an aggressive nuclear arms build-up, ostensibly to defend
India against neighboring archenemy Pakistan. Muslims blame the BJP for the
1992 destruction of their Babri Jasjid mosque. While most of India is Hindu,
there are 120 million muslims; their defection from the ruling Congress
could result in extreme Islamic groups picking up more power. The Muslim
factor has prompted the government to beef-up security in polling stations.
- - -
There are so many reincarnated beings in the Buddhist pantheon that I've
lost track of even those folks said to be the "real" Dali Lama. Recall the
feud between the Dali Lama-in-exile faction which has picked their own
successor in this mystical daisy-chain, with the Chinese Communist
that, naturally, has groomed its own candidate-for-godhead. Now there's
squabbling about who becomes the so-called Panchen Lama, the second-highest
spiritual authority. Seems that two boys NOT chosen in a cosmic lot-drawing
ceremony are being named to other posts in Tibetan Buddhism. One candidate
is to be enthroned in a monastery, but only with Chinese government
the Peking government, though, installed their own monk in November, and
charged that the current Dali Lama had violated religious tenets and was
trying to stir up independence movements in Tibet. No one seems to know the
whereabouts of the boy supported by the Dali Lama, which seems pretty dumb
for a religion which claims to have all sorts of cosmic insight.
# 89 - -
In This Edition...
* Military Provides More Aid to Churches
* Church Blasts Air Force Ban On Political Acitivity
* TheistWatch: Too Many Drunks, Too Many People, Raquel Welch
* About This List...
TO DESTROYED CHURCHES CONTINUES
A series of possible church arsons during the last year-and-a-half has
prompted not only media and political interest, but something which even
advocates of parochaid and vouchers have yet to achieve -- direct government
aid to religious organizations. The Senate last week passed its version of a
Church Arson Prevention Act which called for up to $10,000,000 in loan
guarantees to rebuild churches which have been ruined as the result of
"racial or religiously motivated hate." Other proposals call for outright
grants and give-away schemes to rebuild churches, mosques, synagogues and
other reveligious venues.
But now, churches are receiving thousands of dollars of surplus chapel
furniture and other equipment free of charge, thanks to the U.S. Army.
According to news reports, military officials on Friday announced that items
from chapels at the Ft. Bragg military base in North Carolina will be
to churches. According to United Press International, the items include
pews, altars, pulpits, hymnals, baptismal fonts, musical equipment and even
public address systems.
The base chapels are closing due to "low attendance and high heating and
cooling costs": Fort Bragg will continue to operate 15 other on-base
though, for military personnell.
An Illegal Give-away, But With Precedent...
The disposal of surplus government property for religious organizations
violates both the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, and the
Surplus Property Act of Oct. 3, 1944. In her book "Freedom Undier Siege,"
Madalyn Murray O'Hair chronicled what she termed "The impact of organized
religion on your liberty and your pocketbook." In the chapter titled "This
Land Is Their Land," O'Hair analyzed the enormous post-world war II give
of public resources for the benefit of religious organizations -- even
such policies violated the Surplus Property Act.
That legislation was the brainchild of the old War Assets Administration
which was charged with disposing of federal property that had been acquired
through the war effort. Section 1(A) of the Act listed schools and other
educational institutions, along with medical research facilities and
hospitals as lawful recipients. While noting that the government could give
tax exemptions to religious groups, O'Hair's research confirmed that "It is
also emphatically clear from the wording of the Surplus Property Act that
property, upon distribution, had to be for the public interest or for the
legitimate needs of the United States representing all its people." There
was no provision in the legislation for any aid or granting of property to
churches or other religious groups.
Even so, the churches cashed-in on a post war land boom; the first to slop
at the public trough were the Baptists, who on Octobner 23, 1947 received
part of the old De Land Naval Air Station in Florida, a total of 120 acres
and six buildings. It had been valued at $218,000 in 1947, but was given
gratis to the Baptists through their church-run John Stetson University.
Other religious groups paid bottom-dollar for land and buildings. The
Diocese of Buffalo, N.Y. received 7.58 acres and two buildings for Bishop
Duffy High School; those assets had cost taxpayers $169,076 dollars at the
time, but were promptly de-valued and then discounted again.
Not all of these taxpayer rip-offs were used for "educational
institutions" operated by churches; many were more blatant. Unfortunately,
the constitutionality of such fraud was not challenged.
It is a requirement of Federal Code that surplus government property be
either destroyed if it can not be used, or sold at a fair auction. Clearly,
the outright gift of furniture and equipment to churches by officials at Ft.
Bragg violates such strictures, and the First Amendment.
The move may also be a military publicity stunt. In the past year,
information has surfaced that racist skinheads and neoi-nazi groups have
organizing at the base, which is home to the famous 82nd Airborne Division.
Internal military investigations have uncovered several soldiers with ties
to white supremacist groups; some wear swastika tattoos. Giving furniture
and equipment away to black churches is a good PR move for the base; but it
may obscure the need to take substantive action concerning racism in
In the meantime, the emotional climate surrounding the church fires
appears to have minimized any outcry from civil libertarians or First
Amendment separation activists over government aid to churches.
- - -
OFFICIALS DENOUNCE BASE RESTRICTIONS ON
When the Roman Catholic Bishops flooded churches across the country last
Sunday with 27,000,000 pre-printed postcards for believers to mail to
Congress about the abortion issue, they didn't achieve quite their full
objective. That's because a U.S. Air Force directive ordering Catholic
chaplains not to participate in the postcard drive was distributed in a June
7 memo from Washington to all senior chaplains.
Clearly, the Air Force felt that the drive -- which urges parishioners to
write Congress abour overturning President Clinton's veto of the Partial
Birth Abortion Ban -- came dangerously close to involving the service in
The move was immediately denounced by a special church office known as the
Archdiocese for the Military Services USA headed by Archbishop Joseph T.
Dimino. In a statement released last week, Dimino said that the Air Force
Judge Advocate General (JAG) had made "a most unfortunate interpretation" of
Defense Department regulations which place a ban on political activities by
members of the armed forces while on active duty.
"We are not discussing politics: we are discussing morality," said Dimino.
"We are discussing the need to stop partial-birth abortions; we are
discussing the need to struggle constantly in order to maintain high moral
standards in our country." He added that "Catholic chaplains, as they stand
in the pulpits of our military chapels, must not be prohibited from
prolcaiming the teachings of their Church, especially moral teachings."
The Air Force memo told military chaplains that "Your military
status...carries with it unique responsibilities and limitations that have
been imposed by Congress to insure the separation of our military forces
A public affairs officer with the Air Force later told the Catholic News
Service that while the directive did not prohibit chaplains from preaching
the subject of abortion, it did restrict political activity like the
- - -
Israel is a well-armed society, a fact which raises for TW the prospect of
fundamentalist militias in that country similar to some of the christian
identity-noids running around within our own borders. Benjamin Netanyahu's
victory, and the success of religious political parties in recent elections,
has progressive Israelis concerned. Groups like the Shas Party and United
Torah want to transform the relatively secular country into a giant
synagogue, a goal which already been announced for the parliament or
One goal of fundamentalists in Israel is to virtually shut the country
down during the sabbath. They've already gotten the government to turn off
the Amos communications satellite which was launched into space a month ago;
places like movie theatres, cafes, dance halls and even non-kosher
restaurants may be next.
Yesterday, several thousand ultra-orthodox Jews rioted in Jerusalem along
the main drag called Bar Ilan, to demand the closure of the street during
sabbath. Cops had to use horses and water cannons to disperse the
fundamentalists, who were also throwing stones at troops -- a practice
denounced when used by Palestinians.
- - -
In India, religious fundamentalists exploit any number of social issues
for their own political gain. In the state of Haryana, for instance, Hindus
have banned the sale of alcohol, following an election promise supposed
targetted at housewives disgusted with their menfolk spending too much of
family paycheck on booze. Prohibitionists exploited social fears using
worst-case examples -- such as drunken men beating their wives and kids.
Throughout the province, hundreds of liquor outlets have been shut down, and
the new law sentences anyone caught producing, possessing or consuming booze
to a three-year jail sentence.
They should have taken an example from the pages of American history,
though, where the great failed experiment of Prohibition put little dent in
the consumption of alcohol, and led to the rise of organized criminal gangs
(not the government, stupid!). At best, in promising a "magic bullet" to
solve the worse problems of alcohol addiction, Prohibition simply drove the
situation underground, created a generation of crooked cops and gangsters,
and, alas, flooded the nation with bad liquor.
Now, liquor stores are opening up shop right across the border from
Haryana. Shops in neighboring New Delhi are predicting a four-fold increase
in sales. Prohibitionist experiments actually have very little to do with
teaching people about moderation or how to handle opiates of any kind -- but
they do create new opportunities for corruption. Another attempt to mandate
religious zealotry at the point of a gun -- or through legal fiat -- fails
- - -
While Catholic Bishops are hard at work to overturn President Clinton's
veto of the Partial Birth Abortion Ban, and take a major step toward
outlawing abortion in toto, world population is just chugging along and may
be leading to problems in the not too distant future. According to the
British Independent Commission on Population and Quality of Life, the
explosive growth of population is extracting a heavy toll on our planet's
resources. From a population of one billion in 1830, we now number 5.8
billion -- and growing. Thanks to economic development and changing social
values (among them a rejection of religion), growth rates have begun to
off; but we can still expect to have more than 10 billion people by the
middle of the next century.
Scientists and population experts still debate the "carrying capacity" of
the earth, of course. And there are legitimate differences of opinion on how
to proceed in terms of creating a wholesome, sustainable environment for
everyone. But in many areas, rampant population increases are outstripping
the ability of native economies to provide jobs and resources; such
growth is also destroying important ecological habitats. Perhaps the Church
Fathers should consider these facts before they continue on their crusade to
ban abortion and birth control measures.
- - -
Correspondents in New Mexico have told AANEWS that the state Board of
Education is debating a new proposed standard for teachers, and that some
members want to have creationism given "equal time" along with evolution in
the classrooms. Creationism is the religious doctrine masquerading as
scientific theory that a deity (usually the Judeo-Christian flavor) created
the universe, earth and life as depicted in biblical accounts, specifically
Members of the group known as New Mexicans for Science and Reason have met
with Board of Education members to emphasize the need for reputable
scientists to be heard on this issue. One member said that "School teachers
and administrators need to know that scientists are overwhelmingly in
opposition to the presentation of creationism as science, and for the
uncompromised teaching of evolution as a fundamental scientific paradigm."
NMSR declares that "Creationism does not fit the definition of a scientific
theory because it cannot be validated by the scientific method. The false
portrayal of creationism as science is confusing to students and undermines
the teaching of science. Therefore creationism is inappropriate in the
We agree, and hope that NMSR succeeds in keeping this bogus religious
doctrine out of the schools. Biblical accounts of how the universe began are
not rooted in scientific fact. But there IS the problem of Raquelle Welch
and that movie, "1,000,000 B.C.", right?
#151 - - 9/8/96
In This Issue...
* Cyber Guru Early Disciple Of Hindu Avatar
* Atheists May Ask Park Service To Remove Plaque At Statue
* Abbot Who Said Virgin Was A Fake Retires
* About This List...
BEGAN NOTORIOUS RAMA ''CYBER CULT''
The "Dark Side" of Hindu-Buddhist-New Age Pseudoscience
A former discriple of religious guru Sri Chinmoy -- the man whose
followers persuaded the National Park Service to permit installation of a
"peace plaque" at the Statue of Liberty recently -- left the inner circle of
the Hindu group, and founded his own mystical organization which some have
labeled the Rama "cyber cult."
That man is Frederick Lenz, a 56-year old meditation leader and mystic,
who has insisted on being called Zen Master Rama, and claims to be the
reincarnation of several powerful deities.
Yesterday, AANEWS reported that followers of Sri Chinmoy had approached
the Superintendent of the Statue of Liberty, Diana H. Dayson, an official
with the National Park Service, several weeks ago to persuade that agency to
permit the mounting of a "peace plaque" at the popular tourist attraction.
According to the New York Times, Dayson was shown a video about the
"spiritual" works of Sri Chinmoy and his group; a segment of that program
showed the Hindu cult leader supposedly lifting thousands of pounds of
weights. Other phenomenal deeds have been attributed to Chinmoy, such as
composing thousands of songs, drawing 5 million pictures of "peace birds"
authoriing over a thousand books. Chinmoy's group promotes endurance runs
and marathons across the world. It has also attempted to gain international
recognition by erecting commemorative plaques, known as "Peace Blossoms" at
sites across the world, including the Grand Coulee Damn and Victoria Falls.
Cult awareness experts warn that the Sri Chinmoy group may appear to be
relatively harmless, but that it is nevertheless a religion. Park Service
spokesmen said that the agency ostensibly "addressed that question" prior to
permitting installation of the "peace plaque" at the Statue of Liberty. The
Agency hosted a dedication service on August 27, which included speakers who
praised the Hindu religionist for his efforts on behalf of "peace." The
Service reportedly also presented a cake to commemorate Sri Chinmoy's
But the benign image of "peace" may not tell the entire story. Mindless
psychobabble, credulous acceptance of religious and pseudo-science doctrines
such as reincarnation and other artifacts of "eastern wisdom" may leave
certain followers vulnerable, mentally "mushed-out," and prone to
manipulation by strong, charismatic leaders. It can also create what cult
awarness experts warn is a "totalistic" environment.
One former associate of Chinmoy has allegedly created such a manipulative
environment in the form of a so-called "computer cult." In the 1970's,
Frederick Lenz became a disciple of Sri Chinmoy, nearly a decade after the
Hindu avatar left his native land and headed for more lucrative and
spiritually-yearning territory in the United States. Chinmoy established a
series of AUM centers, and was grinding out books, giving lectures,
performing musical concerts, and had even ingratiating himself into the
of the United Nations, where he led "meditation" sessions. He later
reportedly became a close friend and confident of Michail Gorbachev.
Lenz was born in 1940 in San Diego, California; his family moved to
Stanford, Conn. where his father eventually became mayor of the city. He
earned a bachelor's degree from the University of Connecticut in 1974, and
1979 obtained a Ph.D in English at the State University of New York.
According to sources including the New Age Encyclopedia, he became a devotee
of Chinmoy during this perior, and was given the name Atmananda; he also
began conducting meditation classes.
Lenz was "sent to California by Chinmoy" in 1980, and opened a short-lived
AUM meditation center in San Diego. He soon formed his own group, however,
known as Lakshmi; according to the Encylcopedia, Lenz changed his name to
Rama, an incarnation of the Hindu deity Vishnu in 1985, and two years later
incorporated Rama Seminars.
According to several sources, what began as a "small, relaxed group of
people studying Eastern religions" evolved into an "effective mechanism for
extracting large sums of money from the followers." Former assocates of Lenz
say that he became obsessed with power over others, and began to exhibit a
number of standard control-tactics. These included orchestrated use of
drugs, sexual manipulation, demands for money and other "loyalty tests", and
reliance on what some described as "the increasing use of ambiguity and
contradictions" in helping to formulate a mish-mash of occultist doctrine
personal self-help psychobabble.
In the late 1980's, there were intermittent periods of publicity as
members left the Lenz group. Estimates of the number of followers has varied
considerably, but there is thought to be a "hard core" or inner circle of
200-350 who have paid exoribant amounts of money to Lenz for the "privilege"
of his enlightenment. Lenz formed numerous corporate entities during this
time; most of his new age outreach has been conducted through Advanced
Systems, Inc. and National Personal and Professional Development Seminars,
both of which boasted maIl drops in New York's World Tradce Center.
Lenz's teachings and seminars reportedly exhibited an ever-changing
amalgam of new age, Buddhist, Hindu and occultish themes with tinges of
pop-culture and dubious propositions such as "everything goes back to a
grid." Tuition to participate in some seminars can run as much as $2,500 a
month; and even members are frequently insulted, "dressed down" and berated
There have been a number of allegations that Lenz has placed special
emphasis on the seduction and manipulation of female followers (another
characteristic of many cults, including the Jim Jones "Peoples Temple" sect,
AUM Supreme Truth, Branch Davidians, and eastern mysticism sects led by the
likes of Bhagwan Shri Rajneesh).
During the 1980's, Lenz's seminars were advertised in national magazines
and newspapers. The New Age Encycloped notes that the lavish displays showed
Lenz "in expensive, fashionable clothing."
At least one anti-cult group accused Lenz of using his teachings to
control every segment of his student's lives, including "dress, eating
habits, what one does for recreation or relaxation...their daily regime,
their choice of automobiles, their attitudes toward health care and even
their careers." It is this final category, though, of manipulating
occupations which has given rise to the Lenz's moniker of being a "cyber
This stage of evolution in Lenz and his mystical cult seems to correspond
with Rama's own transformation, one which he said was marked by a transition
from Vishnu, "Cosmic Preserver," into a disciple of Shiva, the Destroyer.
One ex-member told WIRED Magazine that Lenz insisted he was "an enlightened
being from the Dark Side."
"Jesus was the nice guy, but the people he represents were tired of
sending nice guys so they sent me instead."
WIRED notes that in 1990, Lenz was insisting that he was "one of twelve
enlightened teachers on earth, but refused to say who the other were..."
Telling students they can "earn while you learn," new cult followers were
reportedly pushed in computer programming and cyber-related occupations.
Companies either controlled by Lenz or linked to his members "hired out" to
other firms for computer-related services and systems consulting.
Reportedly, "a handful of companies got burned" and there was a black list
circulating among New York executives of Lenz-linked firms to avoid. In
addition, members are excoriated about contact with "the outside world",
includer former friends, associates and relatives. "Lenz warns them
(members) that a direct phone line is dangerous because it gives others an
opening to one's energy. Instead, members maintain phone mail systems... ,"
Several published accounts say that while Lenz's followers endure a
near-poverty existence, often with little more than a bed and computer, Rama
himself boasts expensive homes, and flies across the country in private Lear
jets. On tape, Lenz reminds devotees that "The more you give, the more
people you can help...It's that simple." He has also instructed them that
they should never have more possessions than they can pack up and move in a
The activities of Lenz and his followers has been examined on NBC
Dateline, and in articles appearing in publications such as WIRED, the San
Francisco Chronicle, Newsweek, Santa Fe Reporter, Philadelphia Inquirer,
Hartford Courant and the Portland Oregonian. The titles of many of the
articles are themselves revealing: "Yuppie Guru Finds Cash in Computers,"
"Zen Master a Fraud," "The Cosmic Seducer," and the even "California Raisins
From Bad to Worse?
Much of the tone in these articles involves the contention that Lenz is
best described in his own words -- a "dark side" of eastern mysticism, a
"false" guru who left a "true path" of Hindu, Buddhist or spiritual teaching
and was seduced by power and control. Such off-the-shelf pop philosophy
masks the disturbing similarities, though, between seemingly benign new age
religious movements and the more overtly authoritarian, manipulative cults.
There is considerable evidence that Hindu "Krishna" style groups are
enjoying a renaissance, particularly on college campuses. Perhaps not
surprisingly, there are reports of renewed interest in religious courses and
mainstream Christian groups as well, part of a larger pattern where people
seek "answers," "transcendance," or "inner peace" at the foot of a cross or
the feet of a mumbling avatar.
Authoritarian movements of any kind can develop strategies to control
followers, but religious cults appear to have some distinct characteristics.
A report on the Lenz group, for instance warns of "mass-hypnosis
techniques...employing long, rhythmic trance-inducing monologues, vague
language, meditation, hand manipulation, lighting and music that tend to
people more open to suggestion." Meditation itself needs to be considered in
a cautious and critical light; there is considerable debate in the
community over its effects and benefits. The danger in meditation may rest
with its social context, as a unifying ritual for a group, or an activity
which promises unrealistic (or even outrageous) results. Various meditation
gurus have claimed that meditation can result in the ability to levitate or
fly, increased sexual potency, mystical powers and communication with
Religious cults also rely on the notion of a master, guru, avatar or other
often charismatic figure who promises some occult, hidden knowledge through
ritual. Often, that includes prolonger periods of chanting, praying, even
repititious labor or some other activity. Cults have been known to also
manipulate the consciousness of followers by tampering with diet and sleep
patterns. Followers are often warned to avoid contact with "outsiders" who
are considered sinful, profane, unworthy or ingorant.
Those readers seeking more information on the "cyber guru" can find a
number of internet resources, including "The Code Cult of the CPU Guru" by
Zachary Margulis which appeared in WIRED Magazine. Check out
http://www.hotwired.com. In addition, www.ex-cult.org includes an
informative Report and bibliography. "The New Age Encyclopedia" edited by J.
Gordon Melton (Gale Research Inc.) is an indispensible tool for
much of the "newage" movement and personalities.
An Update: American Atheists will is expected to release a statement
sometime tomorrow calling upon the National Park Service to take down the
"Peace Blossom" religious plaque erected by followers of Hindu cult leader
Sri Chinmoy, and investigate the incident as a possible violation of
state-church separation. We'll have more information for readers tomorrow as
this story develops.
ABBOT WHO SAID
A FAKE RETIRES FROM POST
Discord continues to rock the Roman Catholic Church in Mexico over that
nation's leading religious symbol and alleged apparition, the Virgin of
Guadalupe. In a statement issued Friday by ecclesiastical authorities in
Mexico City, it was announced that Abbot Guillermo Schulemberg,
of the Basilica de Guadalupe, was officially retiring. In June, a major
controversy ignited when it was revealed that Schulemberg considered the
apparition of the Virgin a "symbol" or metaphor, rather than an actual
There was a public outcry over that statement, and the abbot submitted his
resignation on July 8.
The controversy has ancient roots, but modern day theopolitical
implications. Mexico remains an important "asset" for the Vatican, boasting
a heavy Roman Catholic population; but here, as elsewhere throughout Latin
America, the church is being challenged in a "turf war" for religious
allegiance by aggressive Protestant sects, including evangelicals and
Mormons. The Church is also jockeying for political control, and in some
areas has decided to back the insurgent PAN (National
Action Party) to implement its conservative social agenda.
The legend of Juan Diego has been an important ideological tool in
maintaining its grip on the Mexican culture, and in rationalizing its
on the otherwise-secular political institutions of the country. According to
a church-fostered legend, the Virgin appeared to a poor Indian named Juan
Diego in 1531. Coincidentally, she was a darked-skinned version of Mary --
and she happened to appear on a hilltop outside of Mexico City that was
considered holy and magical by the Aztec Indians; some maintain that there
was even an Aztec shrine to a goddess at this same site. The Virgin then
asked Juan Diego to erect a church in her honor at that location; the
apparition was dubbed the Virgin of Guadalupe, a corruption of an Aztec
(Nahuatl) Indian word meaning "the one who crushed the serpent." As a cosmic
calling card, she also allegedly imprinted an image of herself on Juan
Since then, the Virgin of Guadalupe has become an icon of Roman Catholic
superstition throughout Mexico and the entire region.
In June, Schulemburg (also identified in some press reports as
"Schulenburg") was quoted in Mexican newspapers for statements made in late
1995 in a Catholic magazine known as Ixtys, a publication of the Jesuit
order. The elderly abbot -- age 79 -- said that that the appearance of the
virgin was "symbolic and not a historical reality." Anthropologists, social
historians and even some church leaders knew as much, especially since the
powerful "cult of the Virgin" represents a blending of Catholic and
pagan-Indian traditions and symbols. The Virgin of Guadalupe, for instance,
is often depicted standing on bull horns (a symbol of sexual potency and
fertility), or the lunar-goddes symbol of the crescent moon.
But Pope John Paul had "beatified" Juan Diego for sainthood in 1990, an
important "bone" in continuing to reward the allegiance of millions of
credulous, Virgin-worshipping Mexican Catholics. Schulemberg said that such
process was "a recognition of a cult. It is not a recognition of the
physical, real existence of the person." When the interview statements were
made public, Schulemburg initially denied making them, then insisted that
"historical existence" of the apparition was not essential to belief in the
Reuters and other news media reported that there was "outrage" throughout
the country. There were threats of violence directed against the abbot, and
calls for his immediate dismissal.
Friday's announcement gave no reason for Schulember's departure and
retirement, although some had expected the abbot to retire due to his
advanced age. Archbishop Norberto Rivera announced that he was taking over
the task of administration of the basilica, a job held by Schulemberg since
"Peek-A-Boo" Religious Artifacts
As in other parts of the world, visits and miracles carried out by
celestial gods and goddesses are commemorated in dubious relics and
left behind. In the case of Juan Diego, there is the image of Mary which was
left on his cloak, and is now a featured attraction at the Basilica de
Guadalupe. Millions of people are whisked by the cloak every year on a
moving sidwalk. Research indicates that as with other religious artifacts,
scientists have not been permitted to examine this questionable item. The
cactus-threat garment joins a long list of other "miraculous" objects,
including the Shroud of Turin, the Holy Coat of Trier, assorted bleeding
statues, strands of hair and even slices of bone from saints. One only gets
to "peek" at these dubious items which are, in the minds of the faithful,
incontrovertable evidence of divine interest and intervention.
Though Abbot Schulemberg is now gone, the Virgin lives on in the form of
decals, emblems, calendars and designs. She appears on everything from
t-shirts to posters and remains what even Schulemberg described her to be --
"The Empress of the Americas, the Lady that is in all of our homes, that is
not only in our wallets but also in our hearts."
# 58 - -
In This Edition...
* Intelligent Life At NBC? Pseudoscience Sleaze On The Tube
* In Search Of... You, Too, Can Have A Career In Journalism!
* aachat -- Listfun for AA Members
* From The LISTMASTER. Serv-ing Up Cyber Details & More
* About This List...
DOWN'' COUNTRY WITH
SATURDAY M.O.M. RE-RUN
When NBC aired a program titled "The Mysterious Origins of Man last Feb.
25, scientists from throughout the country voiced astonishment and
disapproval at the fraudulent, unsubstantiated claims which were transmitted
into millions of American households.
According to NBC, "The program presented startling evidence suggesting
man may have made the climb from Stone age to civilization more than once;
that present-day man is just the latest in this cycle, and that Darwin's
Theory of Evolution has serious flaws..."
The "startling evidence" turned out to be a re-hash of pseudo-scientific
and biblical creationist claims, touching upon subjects like Atlantis,
Stonehenge, pyramids, and the
discredited "giant man tracks" found at the Paluxy Riverbed near Glen Rose,
Texas. And last evening, the network re-broadcast "Mysterious Origins,"
after sending out a press release claiming that "University profs want
special banned from the airwaves," and (The program) sparked heated
controversy within the academic community..."
Editorialist John Carman of the San Francisco Chronicle, though, put a
somewhat different slant on the program in his June 7 opinion column.
"A survey released last month revealed that we are a nation of scientific
simpletons. Fewer than half of Americans know, for example, how long it
takes the Earth to go around the sun. In fact, one in five of us is pretty
sure that the sun rotates around the Earth."
Carman added that "Mysterious Origins" gave "credence to claims that would
make most scientists gag."
So outlandish were the M.O.M. claims that a small war of words has been
fought over the past several weeks in cyberspace between the academic
community and the show's producers. The fray has been joined on one side
by an army of skeptics who fear that a steady intellectual diet of such
pseudo-science is "dumbing down" the American culture, and a growing segment
of biblical literalists, new agers and devotees of crank conspiracy
M.O.M. echoed a number of claims which have found popularity in both new
age and biblical-fundamentalist subcultures, including:
* Evolution is simply one of many "possible narratives" or ways of
interpreting geological and anthropological evidence, that "many scientists"
really "disagree" with evolution as a mechanism of explaining how life arose
on our planet, and that Darwinism is simply a "faith" lacking substantive,
* Science has lost its spirit of inquiry and fairness, and has devolved
into a a "religion" where contrary ideas are suppressed and ignored in
* Evidence which questions or contradicts theories concerning evolution or
the origins of human culture has been "ignored" (until now, thanks
to the producers of programs like "The Mysterious Origins of Man). Indeed,
"the world is bigger than scientists can explain, and some of them want us
believe they can explain everything" (NBC Press Release quoting M.O.M.
producer Bill Coate.)
+ A Media Feeding Frenzy of Religious Mysticism, Pseudo-Science +
"Mysterious Origins of Man" is not the first program to present such ideas
and unsubstantiated claims. In addition to the "big three" commercial
networks, UPN and Fox have found that contemporary pseudo-science and
mysticism, when packaged properly, can bring in advertising bucks and high
audience ratings. Even though much of the material is re-cycled and
discussed traditional themes such as Atlantis, UFO's, Stonehenge, pyramids,
apparitions of the Virgin Mary and other artifacts of pseudo-science pop
culture, the use of graphic special effects and interviews with
and "experts" often lends a veneer of credibility and excitement to the
Often, program creators use effective techniques to create the impression
that one is watching a credible, "investigative-style" news show. As noted
in a previous article concerning the TV special "Mysteries of the
Millennium," shows like "Sightings" employ a professional looking stage-set
which resembles a news room. As a serious announcer reads the dialogue,
people can be seen in the background sitting in front of computers, walking
around with files or papers, or conversing. The "working news room," which
has become popular with network stage designers as a prop for the evening
news, is imported to create the appearance of serious journalism. The use of
celebrities ia also an effective tool. Jonathan Frakes of "Star Trel" fame
narrated a controversial, even whimsical special recently known as "Alien
Autopsy," which purportedly showed film of a medical exam performed on a
extra-terrestrial. ("Or is it just a hoax?") In "Mysterious Origins of
Mankind," Hollywood heavyweight Charlton Heston appears serious and
avuncular, a role played earlier by the late and robust Orson Welles in a
similar TV production "The Prophesies of Nostradamus."
Another technique of producers has been to portray conventional
scientific viewpoints on "hot button" topics like evolution as a dogmatic
creed enforced through intolerance and vague, conspiratorial machinations.
Contrary speculation is treated as competing theory, regardless of the
quality of the evidence. Evolution, plate techtonics and dating techniques
are questioned not on the basis of credible, challenging evidence but by
generalized statements of certain "researchers," "experts" and "writers."
In "Mysterious Origins of Man," one such "expert" was identified as Dr.
Carl Baugh, who believes that human beings and dinosaurs once co-existed.
For biblical literalists and creationists -- those who consider biblical
accounts of human origins to be literally true -- such coexistence is a
necessary component in accepting other religious teachings, including the
story of a global flood and Noah's Ark. Dinosaur tracks found in the Paluxy
riverbed in Texas, along with what some claim to be giant human footprints,
are often cited as evidence.
In the 1970's, it was revealed that several of the "man tracks" at Glen
Rose were hoaxes carved half-a-century before by a local resident named
Wayland Adams. A number of these carved "tracks" had been cited in
creationist literature as being actual footprints deposited by humans during
the dinosaur era. Following the February broadcast of "Mysterious Origins,"
newsgroups, websites and publications were quickly pointing out the lack of
good, credible evidence for the Paluxy tracks.
In addition, the use of Carl Baugh as a scientific-expert on M.O.M.
highlights a practice used by writers and producers of many pop-culture
pseudoscience "specials." Readers or viewers of such fare are often not told
the entire story, let alone presented with the overwhelming evidence put
forth by more reputable scientific authorities. Even some creationists such
as the Creation Science Foundation question the statements and credentials
Mr. Baugh. The Christian Answers Network Homepage, for example, notes that
while "We are positive about biblical creation (sic) ,...we are negative
about the spreading of misinformation in the name of Christ." CANH then
noted that the Foundation had written to "Dr." Baugh "asking for
documentation regarding such astonishing claims as chlorophyll being found
a T. rex tooth, alleged tapes of Neil Armstrong, a NASA experiment showing
that eggs do not hatch outside of a magnetic field, and a tomato plant that
grew to 30 feet tall and produced 5,000 tomatoes when grown under light
supposed simulating pre-Flood conditions. The only reply we received had
enclosed 'documentation' which was nothing of the sort."
Baugh's credentials have also been questioned. The Talk.Origins Archive
(http://members.aol.com/Paluxy2/degrees.htm) includes a concise, six-page
discussion of Baugh, including academic awards from either non-existent,
bogus or non-accredited institutions. Claims of advanced doctorates by
Baugh's associates, such as Don Patton of the Metroplex Institute of Origins
Science near Dallas, Texas, are also examined.
M.O.M. is O-U-T
Other problems plague many of the claims and speculations in "Mysterious
Origins of Mankind."
* Although M.O.M. script referred to "cover-ups," extensive investigation
and data into phenomena such as the Paluxy tracks was selectively ignored.
Frank Steiger's point-by-point dissection of the program as published in
Talk.Origins Archive, for instance, cited the work of scientists such as
Laurie Godfrey, John Cole, R.J. Hastings, Jim Farlow and Glen Kurban.
* Claims by "author researcher" David Hatcher Childress concerning
geological time scale are contradicted by scientific finds and even the
historical record of ancient peoples, including the Egyptians. Childress
also proposes that dinosaurs may be alive even today in remote environments,
and cites as possible evidence a photograph of a decomposed marine animal
hauled up by a Japanese fishing vessel. Notes Steiger: "It was never proven
to be a plesiosaur, as claimed. But (M.O.M. narrator-host) Heston reversed
the burden of proof by stating: 'Although its authenticity has never been
disproven, skeptics claim that it's merely the body of a decomposing shark.'
Charlton Heston is a very accomplished actor, and has the ability, by
gesture and facial expression, to make even the most flimsy 'evidence' sound
convincing. That, of course, is why they hired him."
* M.O.M. echoes an old creationist chestnut, that the "missing link" of
evolutionary theory has never been found, and that "there is little support
for man's connection to the apes." Just the opposite is true; nearly every
year, more of the fossil record supports the growing evidence for human
evolution, including the skull findings of Australopithecus and Neanderthal
hominids. The "lucy" skeleton discovered by Donald Johanson reveals a
definite transitional stage between ape and human, and is not -- as claimed
by the "Mysterious Origins of Man" producers -- simply another extinct ape.
* Viewers were presented with the dubious theory of Rand Flem-Ath and
Charles Hapgood, that approximately 12,000 years ago, the outer crust of the
earth shifted, thus moving temperate regions into a polar position. As
evidence, they cited the remains of a wooly mammoth which had buttercups in
its stomach. Notes Steiger: "The possibility the animal had lived at the
edge of an advancing icecap, had died, was preserved by cold conditions and
later covered by snow and the advancing icecap was not even considered."
Indeed, had such a remarkable and sudden shift taken place, substantially
more and better evidence would be uncovered on a regular basis.
Flem-Ath and Hapgood also propose a bizarre scenario which in the 1970's
was novelized as "The Habb Theory." In this account, the accumulation of ice
at the polar regions creates a weight-imbalance, and an immense "slip"
resulting in a re-alignment of geographical features. Gravity pulls the
northern cap "down" in a southerly direction; presumably, the "lost
of Atlantic" -- another mysitcal, new age topic -- is quickly moved to the
pole and is promptly encased in ice.
But this "slippage" is impossible; it assumes an enormous source of
gravity outside of the earth itself which, somehow, acts on the polar ice.
Where, and what could this be? Basic physics shows that even when aligned,
the moon and sun exert nowhere near the required gravitational attraction;
indeed, only by convincing viewers and readers that a southerly direction is
somehow "down" can the Hapgood-Flem-Auth tale even begin to have a semblance
For More Information About "Mysterious Origins of Mankind"...
* The NBC web site (http://www.nbc.com) has links to M.O.M.
* Search engines like Altavista will provide links as well, including the
Talk.Origins Archive. Check out Frank Steiger's critical review, which
includes other examples of poor research, unsubstantiated claims and
misinformation which appeared in M.O.M. Follow links to
http://rumba.ics.uci.edu:8080/faqs/mom/, which includes a critical
of the Oronteus Finaeus Map of 1532, and the claim that artifacts found in
California provide evidence for the existence of modern-type humans dating
back 55 million years. Author Paul Heinrich constructs a skillful and
devastating critique of these unfounded and distorted assertions.
- - -
In Search Of...
No, we aren't looking for flying saucers or pieces of the True Cross. We
ARE looking for aanews readers who would like to help out by sending us news
clips from their local papers and other information dealing with Atheism,
state-church separation, religious superstition and related topics. A fax
machine is useful, but e-mail works as well. Interested? Just contact us at
firstname.lastname@example.org. Let us know where you are, and what local newspapers
and other sources you have. You probably WON'T win the Pulitzer Prize, but
you WILL be helping to expand the coverage of AANEWS!
Are You A Member of American Atheists?
* AA Members are invited to participated in our moderated discussion list,
aachat. Topics include Atheism, First Amendment concerns, AA activities and
events, religious belief, and weighty questions such as "Jesusist vs.
Jesusoid." (Seriously!). For more information, contact email@example.com;
please include your name and mailing address.
- - -
We're Still Working On It...
* The American Atheist web site is nearing completion... so, please, be
patient. Once finished, you'll be able to peruse and download files, and
order directly from our on-line catalogue of books and other products.
A Word From The LISTMASTER...
* I can now safely predict that computers will NOT be taking over the
world and running our future, at least any time soon. Hardly a day passes
when I don't see some evidence that computers and networks, for all the
wonders they are capable of, are nevertheless pretty stupid. Computers (at
least the ones I use!) haven't caught up with Chaos Theory and Fuzzy Logic;
they are notoriously picky, even a bit (byte?) anal-retentive when it comes
A misplaced dot, an ommitted letter, an accidental keystroke -- make these
sorts of nano-world goofs and your program may not run, or the nefarious
MAILER DAEMON bounces your e-mail.So, gentle readers, kindly note the
following about AANEWS.
Our domain name is "atheists.org" (plural). Send mail to the singular
form and it comes bouncing back into your mailbox and onto your drive. We
are presently working to make sure that this does not happen with the web
site, but for now, our mail server recognizes only "atheists.org"
And for some unfathomable reason, a program which services lists -- which
logically would be called "list serve" is compressed and abbreviated to
"listserv." That's minus the dot at the end of the sentence. I'm too
embarrassed to say how many early AANEWS dispatches came bouncing back from
the DAEMON, all because I had simply typed out "listserve" instead of
Finally, who dreamed up some of this terminology? A DAEMON is a being
ranking somewhere between a god and a man in the Greek scheme of things.
Perhaps we need to re-christen this cyber-entity the MAILER PEST.
So, in subscribing / unsubscribing, or simply sending us regular e-mail, be
sure to check your spelling.
#59 - -
In This Edition...
* Abortion Politics Continues To Plague GOP
* Church Arson Probe: Questions & Selective Indignation?
* Israel: Fundamentalist Assault On Reason, Liberty Continues
* "Strange Days" and "Strange Bedfellows" In Russia
* About This List...
STATEMENT SPLIT OR UNIFY GOP RANKS?
With the Republican convention just three months away, Sen. Bob Dole's
statement on abortion last Thursday has re-ignited debate on the
controversial issue within party ranks. In his most definitive statement yet
on the GOP platform plank which calls for a Human Life Amendment, Dole said
that he supports the proposed legislation but wants to include a
of tolerance" for any party members who happen to oppose the ban.
Strategists saw the presumed nominee's statement as a way of appeasing the
party's powerful religious conservative element which opposes abortion, and
growing chorus of Republican pro-choice moderates.
Over the weekend, eyes were watching how various Christian fundamentalist
and evangelical groups would react.
Pro-choice GOP governors like California's Pete Wilson and New Jersey's
Christine Whitman were generally impressed and supportive of Dole's remarks,
but neither said they would end their efforts to change the party platform.
Meanwhile, Ralph Reed -- director of the Christian Coalition -- said that
Dole's proposal "could fly," but only if it was "an expression of
diversity...on a wide range of issues." He added that "it is very important
for the party to unite and settle this issue once and for all before we go
San Diego," referring to the August convention.
Other religious right leaders fell in behind Reed, including Gary Bauer of
the Family Research Council and Carol Long of the National Right to Life
Committee. All indicated that they would support Dole's "diversity"
statement, but -- as Reed said -- only so long as it was not "targeted at or
designed to dilute" the party statement calling for the outlawing of
GOP bad-boy Pat Buchanan also fell into line by Friday, which surprised
some of the pundits; he had threatened to walk out of the national
if the wording of the anti-choice plank were changed. Buchanan welcomed
Dole's remarks, describing the front-runner's statement as "support for a
pro-life plank that is undiluted.
On Sunday, though, Massachusetts Governor William Weld promised a possible
floor-flight in San Diego. Speaking on the CBS news program "Face The
Nation," Weld reiterated his contention that the platform should "give equal
time to the pro-choice view." And a New York Times poll released yesterday
showed that by more than a 2-1 margin, Republicans say that the party
platform should not endorse the Human Life Amendment which would outlaw
abortion in the United States.
- - -
QUESTIONABLE EVIDENCE, SELECTIVE
INDIGNATION BEHIND '' INVESTIGATION''?
A string of fires at black churches, mostly throughout the South, has some
investigators puzzled -- and is rapidly becoming a "bully pulpit" topic for
politicians and preachers.
On Thursday night, fire destroyed a 93-year old church building in
Charlotte, North Carolina; the following morning, local, state and federal
investigators were on the scene, and Gov. Jim Hunt authorized a $10,000
reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the
individual(s) responsible. It was the 30th fire at a Southern black church
in the last eighteen-months.
But an analysis of news reports, statements by investigative authorities
and other sources reveales a growing gap between hard evidence suggesting a
campaign of organized arson and political-religious grandstanding.
* The probe into the attacks is becoming one of the biggest Federal
investigations in recent times, with some 200 agents -- more than the number
involved in the armed Freemen standoff -- investigating the suspected
attacks. That number may even be higher with the addition of agents from the
Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, and local investigators. Despite
this enormous effort, investigators still do not know if all of the cases
connected, or involve arson.
* While religious groups ranging from the Christian Coalition to the
National Council of Churches have "gone public" with demands for a more
vigorous probe into the fires, Associated Press reports that federal agents
are encountering obstacles from local pastors and congregation members --
something which is making their job a lot tougher. Yesterday, during a
meeting with Attorney General Janet Reno and other officials, preachers from
some of the burned-out churches complained that investigators were looking
into the activities of parishioners. Rev. Mac Charles Jones of the National
Council of Churches complained that investigators are giving lie-detector
tests, issuing subpoenas for church records, and are looking at insurance
policies. Several officials told the ministers that this was standard
investigative procedure; but Jones lamented that "They (the preachers) feel
that they are the targets of the investigation."
* Despite the outcry from religious leaders, not all of the cases may be
arson, and not all may be related. Invesitgators now believe that the
Charlotte, N.C. fire was deliberately set, but according to CNN "there is no
evidency tying it to 29 other suspicious fires at black church in the South
* The string of possible arsons has become a campaign and
religious-propaganda issue, with everyone from President Clinto the the
Christian Coalition hopping on the bandwagon. The Coalition recently posted
a $25,000 reward in the case, which some see as "bridge building" to the
nation's black churches. Indeed, there has been increased talk in some
religious-right circles of building a common agenda around "hot button"
topics like drugs, alcohol, gambling, school prayer, sex, pornography and
Critics accuse the Coalition of hypocrisy, though, in not supporting
American blacks on other key points such as education aid and job training.
* Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Il.) has introduced a Church Arson Prevention Act,
which singles out religious meeting venues -- including synagogues, temples,
churches, and mosques -- for special treatment under federal law. Last week,
AANEWS reported that the bill "raises question as to whether religious
are receiving special consideration above businesses and private
Congressman Hyde is Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, and gets
high marks for his efforts on behalf of the Christian Coalition and other
religious groups. He is also promoting a school prayer measure in the form
the so-called "Religious Equality Amendment."
The proposed bill would extend federal jurisdiction to any fires involving
religious venues where there is at least $5,000 or more in damage. In
response to the Hyde proposal, American Atheists President Ellen Johnson
asked: "What makes a church worth more federal protection than any other
building in the country? Why is it more valuable than a private home?" She
also questioned Hyde's motives, adding: "When the Ku Klux Klan burns crosses
on people's front lawns, does Henry Hyde rush out and demand special
legislation?" Johnson pointed out that Hyde, the Christian Coalition and
many other religious groups do not seem very concerned about organized
terrorism directed against abortion clinics.
On Saturday, Ron Barrier, National Media Coordinator of American Atheists,
criticized Hyde and the Coalition for promoting the Church Arson Prevention
Act. Barrier told AANEWS that "Just this past week in Long Island, N.Y. a
cross was burned on the front lawn of a black family that had lived in the
neighborhood for two decades. Does Mr. Hyde think that this black family's
home is less important than a building designed specifically for religious
Barrier said that in lieu of the record Hyde and others have demonstrated
on the abortion clinic terrorism issue, the Arson Prevention Act was
"Do these christians really care about life and property?," Barrier asked.
"No, as long as it is not their." He also expressed the opinion that at
least some of the bombings or arsons directed against black churches may be
"the work of white christians."
Were that the case, Barrier added, "This would only again prove that
racism, bigotry and violence are promoted by the same religion that offers
itself as a solution to the problems it causes."
- - -
REACTION CONTINUES IN ISRAEL
Israel's religious parties, fresh from major victories in the recent
elections, continue their efforts to undermine secularism and civil
throughout the country.
Over the weekend, Ultra-Orthodox religious leaders again demanded that all
archaeological digs in the country be licensed by the Chief Rabbi, and that
representatives of the Haredi (Orthodox) community be assigned to direct any
excavations which happen to be approved. The director of the Hebrew
University's Archaeological Institute promptly characterized the demands as
"absurd." Ami Mazar to The London Times that "If they (the new guidelines)
were accepted, it would mean and end to archaeological activity in Israel.
It means that we would have to turn over bones to the Ministry of Religious
Affairs for burial the same day we find them,"
Mr. Mazar added that the religious strictures would "put an end to any
serious anthropological study."
That didn't change the opinion of Rabbi Avraham Ravitz of the United Torah
Judaism Party. He declared than changes in laws regulating antiquities "May
be necessary," adding that "what we are doing is simply to honour the bones
of the dead."
Orthodox Leaders Now Targetting Legal
In a move reminiscent of their American fundamentalist counterparts,
Israel's newly-empowered religious leaders are now reportedly targeting even
abortion rights for women as part of their agenda to defend the religious
"status quo." The Jerusalem Post, while a strong backer of victorious Likud
candidate Benjamin Netanyahu, expressed concern and criticized the
"intolerable" efforts of religious parties to interfere in the lives of
- - -
DAYS'' AS RELIGIOUS ORTHODOX BACK ZYUGANOV
Go figure. Since the "fall of Communism" nearly seven years ago,
political alliances in the former Soviet Union have not been the same. With
the Communist Party out of power, new political groups and ideologies have
rushed in to fill the vacuu -- and the result has been a strange co-mingling
of orthodoxy, authoritarianism, Fascism, Stalinism and new age foolery. At
times, it defies categorization.
Since last summer, TheistWatch has tracked the "strange bedfellows"
coalition consisting of hard-line ex-Communists, ethnic nationalists, and
elements of the Russian Orthodox Church. At times, this amalgam has
attracted the support and interest of Vladirmir Zhirinovsky's
inappropriately-named Liberal movement, and parts of the Motherland
"monuments" associations and the "Pamyat" (Remember) group.
With elections coming up next Sunday, the tight race between President
Boris Yeltsin and Communist candidate Gennady Zyuganov is compelling both
candidates to form alliances and win voting blocks in some unusual places.
* Zyuganov has jettisoned any talk about secularism and Atheism, opting
instead for growing support from the Russian Orthodox Church. While the
official Patriarch, Alexi II (thought at one time to have been a KGB
operative) supports Yeltsin, many church officials and parishioners see the
current President as a symbol of corrupt liberalism and westernizing
influence. One Orthodox priest, Alexander Shergunov, told the Los Angeles
Times that he is one of over a dozen priests in his area "calling for an end
to Yeltsin's experimental democracy." The religious believers are turning
against Yeltsin, and toward the candidacy of Zyuganov, for several reasons.
"Outrage at new Russia's sexual license plays a part," notes the Times,
citing "contraceptives at schools, pornography on the streets, experiments
The faithful fear that good relations with Europe and the United States
has "opened a Pandora's box of imported capitalist evils to pollute their
Another factor seems to nationalist politics, long a key element of the
Russian Orthodox Church. Even during the height of the Stalin era and World
War II, the Church was used to incite support for the "Great Patriotic War"
against the nazis. Film clips of the time showed Red Army tracks being
blessed by Orthodox priests as they rolled off the assembly line and headed
for the front. Even after Perestroika and the "fall" in 1989, Russian
Orthodox officials quickly jockeyed for political power; major politicians,
including Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin made public declarations of
religious conversion, and the Church began to exert some of the power it had
back in Czarist times. Hundreds of millions of rubles has been spent
rebuilding old churches, erecting new ones, and compensating the Orthodox
establishment for its "losses" from the 1917 revolution.
But all has not been well. The Russian Orthodox Church, once the
"official state church," has had to join the competative free market.
Orthodox officials have made no secret of their displeasure with "foreign
sects" (a term ironically used by the Roman Catholic Church in Latin America
to describe Protestant groups!) ranging from Catholicism to Scientology,
evangelicalism, Protestant fundamentalism and new age sects which have
up on the new Russian cultural landscape. Zyuganov sees this as the basis of
a new, workable alliance between the Communists and the Orthodox "Old
Believers." According to the Times, "The Communist candidate has tried to
prove his reformed party has Orthodox Christian's welfare at heart. He
condemns Soviet religious persecution. He is willing to keep out the foreign
missionaries who are flooding into Russia."
Not all Orthodox agree, though, that the Church should support Zyuganov.
And President Yeltsin has courted the Orthodox vote with his biggest bribe,
a giant new Cathedral of Christ the Savior which replaces a church blown up
during the Stalin era. One reformist priest told the Times that "Religion is
window-dressing for Zyuganov's nationalism...Under Zyuganov, the church
have more privilege, it might even be the state religion again, but it will
never be free."
#154 - -
* Atheist Activist Says Guru Is "Fraud" ~ Thomas Jefferson Would Agree!
* American Atheists Calls Upon Park Super To Remove Plaque
* School Prayer Legislation Dead In Congress?
* About This List...
''BRAINWASHES'' FOLLOWERS, IS RELIGIOUS CULT
CULT FIGURE CHARGES ATHEISTS ACTIVIST
Campaign To Remove Religious Plaque at Statue Of Liberty Continues
Sri Chinmoy isn't just a "spiritual" spokesman -- he's a religious leader.
Sri Chinmoy believes that he was Thomas Jefferson in a previous life.
And Sri Chinmoy is a "fraud" who insists that the god Krishna perched on
Those are just some of the revelations being made about the Hindu
religious guru whose followers have placed a commemorative "Peace Blossom"
plaque at the Statue of Liberty (and over 900 other locations across the
The revelations are being made by Brie Waters, a co-founder and
Vice-President of the Atheists Students Foundation at the University of
Maryland, College Park. Yesterday, Waters revealed that at one time she
herself had been nearly "brainwashed" by the Sri Chinmoy cult, which has
already claimed a close family member.
Waters admits that Chinmoy "does seem to want world peace," a major theme
in his campaign to have commemorate devices placed at major tourist venues
such as Australia's Sydney Opera House, the Grand Coulee Damn, Victorial
Falls, and now the Statue of Liberty. "But the other face is that he
(Chinmoy) is a fraud," charges Ms. Waters.
"He's very good at what he does because he never asks for money or
material possessions so so many other fradulent gurus do. "
Waters made other revelations which provide insight into the
Jamaica-Queens, N.Y.-based religious cult, among them:
* Chinmoy "believes he is the spiritual brother of Jesus Christ, and that
he was Thomas Jefferson in a previous life."
* "He has every strict rules for his disciples. They must be vegetarians,
must meditate and pray three time each day, have to run at least 2-miles a
day, and have to come to Sri Chinmoy's hometown as often as possible. "
* Followers "must not engage in sexual intercourse, even with their
* Although Chinmoy is not totally consistent with certain Hindu teachings,
"he carries on much of the Hindu tradition," according to Waters, including
"making his women disciples wear saris and giving his most devoted disciples
'spiritual names' in his native language of Bengali." Waters also noted that
at all of the Sri Chinmoy prayer centers throughout the world, followers
every Wednesday night for a 45-minute "meditation," which she said "consists
of meditating to a picture of Sri Chinmoy in an atmopshere of candlelight
incense." Ms. Waters charged that this was part of an over-all "brainwashing
"Your eyes start seeing double and your brain place tricks on you during
meditation." The divinity of Sri Chinmoy is re-enforced even after the
"meditation" ceremony, when followers are served "blessed food" or "prasad."
Adds Ms. Waters: "Each disciple goes up to the food with hands folded in
prayer position and nods to the picture (of Sri Chinmoy) as they get the
Ms. Waters also has a different opinion than the one held by the Hindu
guru's followers as to his talents in art and music. Chinmoy's devotees
insist that he is a master musician, painter and poet, but Waters spared no
words in saying that "As for his art and music, they suck. They're nothing
but pain sponged onto canvas and simple, single meolody lines that have the
same themes from song to song.." Indeed, one critical posting on the net
about a Sri Chinmoy "concert" was unequivocable in referring to the event as
a "Supreme Suck."
The Atheist activist also insisted that Chinmoy, who proclaims himself a
"god-realized master," actually is "a religious leader with an agenda. Sri
Chinmoy is a cult leader, and he brainwashes children and others."
While these activities strike rationalists as absurd and even denigrating
to mentally-healthy, autonomous individuals, they clearly point to the
religious and mystical nature of the Sri Chinmoy cult. These facts also
raise questions about how thoroughly the National Park Services investigated
Chinmoy and his followers prior to granting permission for the bronze "Peace
Blossom" to be placed at the Statue of Liberty.
Brie Waters says that the plaque"is one more strike against having a
secular government that the Founders worked so hard to achieve."
(AANEWS readers are encouraged to support the Atheists Student Foundation;
check out their page on the world wide web at
Our thanks to Ali and Brie for bringing this news about Sri Chinmoy to our
THE PRESSURE ON FOR PARK SERVICE TO REMOVE UNCONSTITUTIONAL RELIGIOUS PLAQUE
Efforts to have the National Park Service remove an unconstitutional
religious plaque from the Statue of Liberty placed there in an official
ceremony by followers of Hindu cult leader Sri Chinmoy continued yesterday
and into this morning. Supporters of the campaign were asked to direct their
comments to Marie Rust, the Field Director for the Park Service whose office
is responsible for the famous monument. Press releases about the incident
flowed out to the media yesterday, and Margie Wait of the American Atheist
FaxNet reports that copies are also being sent to members of Congress.
As this issue of AANEWS is dispatched, another press advisory is being
released by American Atheists, which include a letter sent to Ms. Rust by
Ellen Johnson, President of American Atheists. It reads:
Ms. Marie Rust, Field Director
National Park Service
U.S. Customs House
200 Chesnut Street, Room 306
Philadelphia, Pa. 19106
Dear Ms. Rust:
American Atheists is concerned about the Park Service decision to allow
the installation of a plaque by followers of Hindu religious leader Sri
Chinmoy in the lobby at the Statue of Liberty. As an organization dedicated
to the First Amendment separation of government and religion, we are
distressed to hear that this device was dedicated in a ceremony on August
and included a presentation by your agency of a cake to commemorate
birthday. According to the New York Times, the decision to install a
so-called "Peace Blossom" plaque at this national monument was made by the
Superintendent of the site, Ms. Diana H. Dayson. The circumstances behind
this move are disturbing.
First, according to the Times, Ms. Dayson was "approached" by followers of
Sri Chinmoy a mere six weeks before the August 27 date, and shown a video
ostensibly about this Hindu religious leaders. Included in this video were a
number of questionable claims, and even a segment which supposedly depicted
the guru lifting several thousand pounds with one arm (one of many
and amazing feats his followers insist he is capable of). While Ms. Dayson
expressed some skepticism about that she nevertheless thought that the theme
of "world peace" was "apolitical and universal." The Times noted that "there
had been questions about the group's orientation but they had been
addressed." In truth, this plaque is simply another publicity stunt by
Chinmoy and his followers. Nevertheless, we learned from the Times that to
avoid any possible appearance of impropriety, Chinmoy was to be referred to
as a "student of peace" instead of a guru, "holy man," religious leader or
avatar, supposedly "to avoid unpleasant implications."
American Atheists suggests that one very definite "unpleasant implication"
is that there has been not only an exercise in official gullibility by
officials, but a constitutional violation of the First Amendment's
Establishment clause. In providing space for a plaque to Chinmoy and his
followers, conducting a ceremony (complete with a cake) and public press
releases publicizing this event, the National Park Service has entered into
situation of "excessive entanglement with religion."
Chinmoy is a self-admitted religious guru, a Hindu avatar who espouses the
tenets of that religion including re-incarnation. The issue of world peace,
while certainly admirable in a different context, is simply a ruse to gain
official recognition for Chinmoy and his followers. Indeed, they have pulled
this stunt in popular tourist venues throughout the world, including the
opera house in Sydney, Australia, Mount McKinley and the Grand Coulee Dam.
We recognize the right of Mr. Chinmoy and his followers to practice their
religion. But we also stress the importance of government agencies following
the letter of law concerning the First Amendment and state-church
It is our contention that this "Peace Blossom," and the context of its
dedication, constitutes a violation of said separation.
American Atheists asks that your agency consider the possible legal
violation and implications of allowing this plaque to be erected, and
maintained in the lobby of the Statue of Liberty. I would be most willing to
discuss this matter further with you.
President, AMERICAN ATHEISTS.
(Editor's note: Reportedly, today is going to be another busy day for Ms.
Rust's fax machine at the National Park Service. AANEWS readers may wish to
add their own opinions on this matter of intellectual skepticism, official
credulousness, and state-church separation. The fax number is 215-597-0815)
DEAD FOR THIS SESSION ?
Last week, AANEWS reported that religious and congressional leaders in
Washington were stepping up the pace in order to bring several important,
controversial pieces of legislation to a floor vote. That strategy was
designed to put key Senators and Representatives "on the record" in time for
release of the 50 million-plus copies of the Christian Coalition's "voters
guide" scheduled for distribution in October, in time for the November
We identified a number of legislative proposals including the Defense of
Marriage Act and the "Religious Freedom Amendment" which religious activists
hoped could be voted on within the next several days.
But it now appears that at least one of those key legislative items may be
shelved for the current session of Congress.
In an obscure posting which appeared in "Congress Daily," it was announced
that key GOP leaders have decided not to bring any school prayer measure for
a vote. The news has also been echoed by at least one state-church
separation group, the Coalition to Preserve Religious Liberty, which
yesterday sent out a fax alert memorandum on the subject. The memo warned,
however, that "we need to be vigilant."
So far, there has been no other confirmation of this move; and frankly, it
is a bit of a puzzle why exactly Republican strategists would choose to
shelve the matter, at least until the next session of Congress.
The present version of "school prayer" legislation already has a bizarre
and twisted history, though. In the summer of 1995, the Christian Coalition
presented its "Contract With the American Family" during a lavish ceremony
Capitol Hill which included prominent Republican political leaders beholden
to the fundamentalist group. The centerpiece was a "Religious Equality
Amendment" which not only would amend the Constitution to permit prayer, but
a wider expression of religious ritual in government buildings. The measure
would effective "gut" the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment which
calls for separation of state and church.
The new House Speaker, Newt Gingrich, promised to deliver the Amendment
for a vote in time for the July 4 recess. The task of hammering out the
language for the bill was delegated to Rep. John Istook; representatives of
major religious right groups were called in, including Focus on the Family,
Christian Legal Society, and evangelist Bill Murray who, along with his
mother Madalyn Murray O'Hair, had filed the famous case MURRAY v. CURLETT
which in 1963 helped to end prayer and bible recitation in public schools.
The original July 4 deadline passed, and within a year squabbling over the
precise wording had resulted in two separation "versions" which enjoyed the
support of different religious groups. Neither version seemed to have enough
support for passage, and both languished in the committee hopper.
But in July of 1996, with the GOP convention in San Diego just a few short
weeks away, a compromise version was suddenly presented thanks to the
of House Majority Leader Dick Armey and Judiciary Chairman Rep. Henry Hyde.
It was christened the "Religious Freedom Amendment," and with short notice a
day-long public hearing was slated on Captiol Hill. Even supporters of the
bill admitted that they were many votes short of passage; but Christian
Coalition Director Ralph Reed insisted that the REAL purpose of pushing a
floor vote on the Amendment was to "get people on record" for inclusion in
the "voters guides."
It may be premature to "bury" the Religious Freedom Amendment, or any
other version of school prayer legislation, for the current session. We'll
keep readers posted on this important legislative issue.
# 62 - - 6/12/96
In This Edition...
* Wyoming Judge ~ Park Officials Violated First Amendment
* Are Religious Leaders Trying to Influence Church Arson Probe?
* Judge Supports Inmate: AA Program IS Religious
* "Decency Law" Gets a Well-Deserved Boot!
* TheistWatch: Drink Good Booze, Avoid Solar (Temple) Exposure
* About This List...
JUDGE RULES -
THAT ALL MUST HAVE EQUAL ACCESS TO DEVILS TOWER
A Federal Judge in Wyoming has ruled that the National Park Service may
not prohibit commercial tours and climbs at the famous Devils Tower monument
because of concerns for Indian religious beliefs. During hearings held last
month, plaintiffs argued that it was unconstitutional for Park authorities
restrict access during the month of June, a period considered "holy" for
Native American religionists, because this essentially promoted and endorsed
The court did rule that Park officials may encourage all recreational
climbers to voluntarily avoid certain formations at Devils Tower out of
respect for Indians. And Park Superintendent Deb Liggett told yesterday's
Rocky Mountain News that "We think the majority of the climbing community
will continue to respect the voluntary closure, and we hope the court's
ruling will not change it."
U.S. District Judge William Downey wrote that "The (climbing plan)
'coerces' the support of some American Indian's religious practices by
threatening mandatory closure of all climbing during the month of June. Such
regulations require climbers to conform their conduct in furtherance of
American Indian's religious necessities. This amounts to impermissible
governmental entanglement with religion."
Devils Tower was popularized in the hit movie "Close Encounters of the
Third Kind." But if the aliens in Steven Spielberg's script found the venue
attractive as a landing spot, many Indian tribes have considered the 1,270
foot rise of igneous rock to be a sacred element in their religions. They
refer to it as "Mato Tipi," or the Bear's Lodge; and June is an important
month in the celebration of the annual Sun Dance, the most important of the
seven Lakota tribe ceremonies throughout the year. Sympathizers say that the
Indians have been performing the Sun Dance at Devils Tower for over 10,000
The imagery of Spielberg's mother ship from "Close Encounters," though,
gave others a first-time view of the spectacular rock monument, and may have
prompted an explosion of hiking and climbing. In 1973, only about 300 people
a year made the trek up Devils Tower, but by 1994 that number had soared to
16,000. A total of 40,000 people each year visit the monument.
The passage of the 1978 American Indian Freedom of Religion Act, seems to
have rekindled interest by Native Americans in their religious roots -- and
brought some Indian groups into conflict with the realities of modern day
American culture. The Devils Tower has been littered with everything from
netting and pitons left by climbing enthusiasts, to prayer blags and
bundles from the Indians who went their to pray. Climbers and hikers argue
that their sport combines a number of skills and that they, too, have a
to the challenging rock formation.
George Bourland, president of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, told media
yesterday that it is unlikely the legal battle will end with the latest
Circuit Court finding. Bourland says that this ruling conflicts with a May
24 executive order issued by President Clinton which specifically protects
sites throughout the nation as "sacred" to Native Americans. All are on
Federally owned land. And the Devils Tower case is now being linked to
another squabble in Arizona, one which has been going on for over a decade.
There, the University of Arizona and the Vatican Observatory have
constructed a vast complex of astronomical research facilities and
telescopes atop Mt. Graham, a site which some Indians consider holy.
PROBE PITS PERCEPTIONS AGAINST REALITIES
Media coverage and political reaction to what some say is a pattern of
church arsons throughout the South may be highlighting a growing chasm
between public fears and hard, sober facts.
Weekend fires in Texas appear to be the latest in a spat of 32 blazes, all
involving black churches, since January of 1995. Despite the assignment of
over 200 federal agents, and a small army of local investigators, there
to be no evidence to support the allegation of many religious leaders, that
the blazes are related or part of a broad-based conspiracy.
Some of the fires probably involve members of white hate-groups such as
the Ku Klux Klan, or possibly even members of racist religious sects like
Christian Identity Movement. But that hasn't stopped everyone from
politicians, including President Clinton, to many of the nation's religious
leaders from insisting that the blazes are all linked and involve racial and
Morris Dees, director of the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery,
Alabama, is one of the few sober voices. His group tracks various
hate-groups and uses civil litigation to gain compensation for victims. Last
Friday, SPLC filed suit against the Christian Knights of the Ku Klux Klan;
two Christian Knights are being held on charges of torching two black
churches in South Carolina.
But Dees has a skeptical attitude about the pattern of bombings. He told
the Christian Science Monitor yesterday: "I think it probably started off as
an isolated incident here or there," and that those who have caught on arson
charges so far represent what he terms a "mixed bag." He noted that one
person busted for a church fire in Alabama is a mentally unstable
Meanwhile, there are other new developments in the church arson probe:
* Three men questioned in connection with fires at black churches in
Greenville, Texas have been released for lack of evidence. Two of the men
were anglos, aged 18 and 22, and the other an 18 year old Hispanic.
* President Clinton has announced that he will be visiting a the burned
ruins of a black church tomorrow in Greeleyville, South Carolina. According
to CNN, the President is expected to urge "cooperation to help rebuild
* A Church Arson Prevention Act introduced by Rep. Henry Hyde clear the
House yesterday in a voice vote; it makes it easier for federal agents to
investigate violence against "houses of worship," including temples,
synagogues, mosques and churches. Current law requires that vandalism must
exceed $10,000 in order for the federal government to investigate the crime,
and Hyde's original draft lowered that amount to $5,000. According to
Associated Press, though, the bill was further amended yesterday to reduce
the amount to zero.
* Attorneys General in Southern states have announced that they are
forming a "multi-state task force" to probe the suspected arsons. According
to South Carolina Attorney General Charles Condon, the "first action" will
to have a summit meeting in Virginia "with religious leaders and law
Pressure For a More "Selective" Probe?
Meanwhile, Federal agents from the FBI and the Treasury Department
continue to encounter resistence from church leaders who want the
investigation deflected from certain areas including possible insurance
or "insider" arson for publicity or other motives. A group called the Center
for Democratic Renewal which has substantial affiliation with religious
officials, has announced that it intends to file complaints with the
government alleging misconduct by agents. The National Council of Churches
and the Christian Coalition have both called for federal efforts to solve
crimes, and have offered hefty rewards in the case. The NCC announced that
it plans to begin a $2 million drive to rebuild destroyed churches.
While a number of religious groups insist that the arsons are all linked
and involve ethnic/religious hatred -- and apparently demand that any
investigation make the same assumption -- there are new "conspiracy theory"
elements beginning to appear.
In Charlotte, North Carolina, emotions -- and media coverage -- concerning
the fire at the Matthews Murkland Presbyterian Church have been running
But the New York Times noted today that "There was no rejoicing among the
church's parishioners over the investrigation's early findings and theories.
While there was some relief in the news that the fire did not appear to be
part of the pattern of racially motivated church fires, it was tempered by
the knowledge that, just since their own fire on Friday night, two more
churches were burned."
It now appears that the Charlotte fire involved a 13-year old white girl
who was "making an anti-religious statement" according to police. The
incident is also supposedly linked to devil worship: the Times said that
"Satanism, not racism, played a role in the crime." The girl is being
described by authorities as "troubled," and comes from a wealthy Charlotte
neighborhood near the church. The Times also reports that "Satanic symbols
had recently been painted on the church, and one man who lives near the
church said he had seen white teen-agers coming in and out of the old
santuary. The man also said he had seen people dressed in black robes on the
But to those familiar with "satanic panic" theories of the late 1970's and
80's, the theme of devil worship raises questions of credibility. Reports of
past satanic cult involvement in murders, drug dealing, beatings, child
abductions and sexual abuse have usually turned out to be a combination of
misrepresentation and public hysteria. Critics in the Charlotte case also
note that the "church" was, in fact, the OLD CHURCH building which was being
used for storage purposes.
Even so, the church arsons are not only media hot copy, but political
fodder for public officials and wanna' bes. The Monitor reports that "the
arson issue (is becoming) a major US political and racial concern," and
politicians are trying to out-do each other in showing concern. Still,
Federal officials say they have no evidence that the burning are linked,
although some indeed may be racially motivated.
- - -
AGNOSTIC WINS CASE AGAINST STATE PRISON
OFFICIALS OVER ALCOHOL REHAB PROGRAM
Prison officials in New York may not penalize an inmate who doesn't want
to attend Alcoholic's Anonymous programs due to their religious
proselytizing, the state's highest court ruled yesterday. In a 5-2 ruling
justices supported the case of David Griffin, a former heroin addict who is
an Atheist, who said his rights were violated when officials tied his
eligibility for a family reunion program to participation in the Alcoholic's
Anonymous program at Shawangunk State Prison.
According to the New York Times, Griffin presented evidence that "he held
both views" (Atheism and agnosticism) "at certain times."
The court finding noted that "A fair reading of the fundamental AA
doctrinal writings discloses that their dominant theme is unequivocally
The justices also concluded that "Adherence to the AA fellowship entails
engagement in religious activities and religious proselytization."God is
mentioned in five of the twelve steps which are the basis of the AA program,
and the Court found that meetings of the group were "heavilly laced with at
least general religious content."
The decision noted that the prison system should not scrap drug and
alcohol abuse problems like AA, but that participation should be entirely
Meanwhile, Gov. George Pataki's office blasted the decision. Attorney
General Dennis Vacco said "The ruling defies common sense" and "erodes the
authority of correction officials to set certain requirements in order for
inmates to enjoy their prison perks." But Norman Siegel of the NY Civil
Liberties Union pointed out that the ruling was "constitutionally correct,"
adding "It's important that the court is recognizing the fundamental
principle that government can't force people to participate in religious
activities that violate their own tenets."
- - -
VICTORY! COURT STRIKES ''DECENCY'' LAW
In a major victory for civil liberties, a special U.S. Court decided
yesterday that the so-called Communications Decency Act was invasive and a
violation of the constitution. It issued a preliminary injunction against
enforcement of the law, which supposedly was designed to prevent the
dissemination of "indecent" material on the internet which might happen to
seen by children. The three-judge panel declared that "As the most
participatory form of mass speech yet developed, the Internet deserves the
highest protection from government intrusion."
The Act became law thanks to a signature from President Clinton, as part
of the wider Telecommunications Reform Bill. Opponents of the legislation
charged that it violated the First Amendment, was practically unenforceable
and threatened the unique freedom inherent in "cyberspace" communication.
The "Decency Bill" was a major plank in the Christian Coalition's "Contract
With the American Family," and enjoyed the backing of other religious groups
and politicians -- including the Clinton administration. Dozens of civil
liberties and cyber groups, even on-line services, joined the suit against
The government is expected to appeal -- at taxpayer expense, of course.
- - -
Remember, you read it here first!
Your hum'bl correspondn't predicts that the next outcry from religious
prudes (both left and right) -- along with their coterie of political
bootlickers -- will be over the decision by Seagram Liquors to begin
advertising its top-shelf brands on television. The firm is already running
ads for it's Crown Royal in Texas, thus breaking a half-century old
prohibition on TV commercials for hard booze; that industry ban was dreamed
up in 1936, following the social hang-over of a ridiculous religious
experiment known as Prohibition.
A Seagram's exec told Associated Press that "We believe that distilled
spirits should be able to access advertising in a responsibile way on
television and radio in the same manner as beer as wine."
But guess what? Even beer and wine ads are becoming a favorite target for
nosey religious groups (including the Christian Coalition), and busy-body
professional governmentalists who have a cow every time somebody indulges in
movie theater popcorn or a suggary-caffeine drink like Jolt! cola.
We are indeed a nation of constipated prudes, despite our veneer of
tolerance and sophistication.
Of course, it may be observed that most Americans simply don't know how to
drink, an observation made by the late and esteemed H.L. Mencken in his
criticism of the hi-ball. William Blake declared in "The Little Vagabond"
Then the Parson might preach, and drink, and sing
And we'd be as happy as birds in the spring
And modest Dame Lurch, who is always at church
Would not have bandy children, nor fasting, nor birch
It is ironic that Seagrams has chosen Texas, a state (and perhaps I am
unfair in this characterization!) known for certain notorious brews and
whiskeys which rot the brain and skew the personality. Would more of those
red necks save their pennies for some DECENT liquor! The point is that while
Americans drink, they don't know how to imbibe; it is the difference between
between a typical American dive and a corner pub in England, between the
thundering maelstrom of a rock 'n roll club and a German beer house. In
France, all are students of the grape, and in Australia, beer -- not the
wattery, flaccid American brands -- is an exlixir. Indeed, researchers at
the University of Western Sydney announced recently that men who drink beer
live longer and are less likely to suffer heart problems. The same applies
to women beer drinkers -- they were unfairly barred from establishments
20 years ago.
We hear so much anti-alcohol propaganda (much of it using worst-case
examples) that we are loosing perspective. Moderation, designated-drivers
and decent booze should be one's guide when inbibing. And remember John
"The first glass for myself, the second for my friends, the third for good
humor, and the fourth for mine enemies."
AANEWS has informed readers about the current Antichrist craze sweeping
the nation of Columbia. First, anonymous pamphlets (allegedly by
Protestants) led to fears that last Thursday -- June 6, 1996 or 6/6/96 --
Beast was about to snatch all children who had not been baptized into the
smothering boosom of Mutha' Church. Horror classics like "Rosemary's Baby"
were broadcast, and the churches were doing a thriving trade, although Roman
Catholic officials tried to distance themselves somewhat from all the
hysteria. Soon, the devil-fear was being transfered to President Ernesto
Samper, charged with corruption and being in the pay of drug lords. Church
officials have positioned themselves well -- as they did in the philippines,
first backing and then opposing the dictator-in-fashion -- to lead the
emerging reform movement.
Yesterday, church spokesmen kept up the drumbeat against Samper who,
judging by the evidence, did indeed accept drug money to finance his
presidential campaign. It's interesting to see, though, how active the
Church has become on this issue. CNN noted that yesterday's developments,
which included debate in the Columbian legislature, were "another defiant
response to mounting pressure for his (Samper's) resignation from many
quarters, including the Catholic Church.
Joining in was the Archbishop of Bucaramanga who said "We are not tolerant
in the face of crime."
Colombia seems to be yet another example of a pattern Church "reformists"
often engage in. For a long period, the Church backs the powers-that-be,
usually in exchange for control of the country's educational system, tax
exemptions and other favors. As popular discontent grows, Church officials
strike a more reform-minded pose, even becoming "symbols of revolution" (as
in Poland and post-war Italy). Under a new regime, the Church moves to again
achieve maximum power. No sooner was the late Philippine dictator Marcos out
the proverbial door, than Cardinal Jaimie Sin and his fellow clerics were
trying to manipulate the new President, Corrie Aquino, into laws banning
abortion, enforcing censorship, and giving the Church control of the
Will the same happen in Colombia?
- - -
The Order of the Solar Temple is back in the news. That's the group that
has slowly been putting itself out of business since 1994 when 51 cult
members, including leaders Jos DiMambro and Luc Joret, committed suicide in
grisly ritual. As in Jonestown, some of the victims were children, and some
had apparently been coerced into participating.
Now, French police have detained Michel Tabachnik, a well-known Swiss
musical conductor whose first wife perished in the initial kill-in. An
anti-cult group charges that "It appears Mr. Tabachnik played an important
role at the heart of the Order of the Solar Temple."
The Solar Temple doomsday cult, like the Aum group in Japan, was
surprisingly wealthy and was based on uncritical faith in and obedience to a
leader. Sound familiar? Look for more bizarre cults and doomsday-related
activities as we count down to 2000 and the Big Millennial celebration!
- - -
TW takes the position that the squawk over Indian religious rights at the
Devils Tower monument COULD be resolved if society would face-up to some
stark realities. That "sacred land" once belonged to Indians, and was taken
by force, coercion and trickery. At least some of it should be returned to
Native Americans in compensation.
But don't expect even conservative or liberal religionists to go along
with the consequences of such a plan. After all, Indian control would be
Indian control! If it's THEIR land, they should have the right to decide
what goes on there. In New York, Arizona and elsewhere, the Great White
Fathers and their Priests are upset because Native Americans have developed
some business savvy and are setting up lucrative casinos to raise money.
Uncle Sam and the churches have pretty much treated the native people's as a
bunch of child-like saps in need of constant indoctrination, guidance and
paternalistic rule; but when the Indians play -- and win -- on the white
guy's turf, well, the rules quickly change!
Arizona Governor Fife Symington doesn't like Indians having the right to
operate casinos, and uses every paternalistic and condescending phrase he
the local Archbishops can conjure to argue against the new entrepreneurs. In
New York, the State wants more control over the "reservations."
This could all be resolved by a simple principle, dear to our American
tradition. Try private property. A man's (or woman's) house is his/her
castle. Give the Indians their land and be done with it. And if the
Christian Coalition doesn't like the Indians getting what's theirs back with
a roll of the dice, well, they don't have to play the game.
- - -
As noted above, President Clinton is rushing down to South Carolina
tomorrow to schmooze with religious leaders and attend the dedication of a
re-built church destroyed earlier by arson. Now, were the American Atheist
offices in Texas torched by some bible-toting or koran-swearing fanatic and
rebuilt, do you think he and the First Lady would trot over to OUR
ceremony? Do you think that public officials would be so vehement in their
cries for "justice" and "apprehending those responsible?" We think not.
And Ron Barrier's remarks bear repeating. It seems that last week, a
fiery KKK-style cross was burned on the front long of a black Long Island,
N.Y. couple who had lived in the neighborhood for two decades. And last
month, a black family was run out of a Philadelphia neighborhood; their
was vandalized by racist spray-paint graffiti and rock-throwers. Is their
property, and life, any less valuable than the churches which belong to
American religious groups?
#308 - - 7/7/97
From Mars to Roswell...
AS SCIENCE AND MYTHOS VIE FOR ATTENTION
Two dramas began playing out this past weekend, each representing vastly
distinct sensibilities and views of the universe.
On July 4, the Pathfinder space probe completed its 300 million mile
orbital trek to Mars, literally bouncing onto the surface of the red planet
while nervous scientists at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena,
California waited pensively for a confirmation signal that the probe had
survived its torturous landing. Cheers went up from Mission Control when the
good news arrived. Despite minor technical glitches, Pathfinder is already
considered a success, and both the the main craft and the little Sojourner
rover have sent back hundreds of spectacular photos of the landing areas.
For imaging experts, planetary scientists and astronomers, this latest
mission to Mars has already provided an embarrassment of riches, a treasure
trove of information far surpassing the quantity of data returned by the
two Viking spacecraft 21 years ago. And public interest in this space
program achievement seems to be high. Major television and other media
provided live coverage of the seminal portions of the Pathfinder landing,
CNN, Discovery and even the Sci Fi Channel aired regular mission updates.
The NASA website has recorded over 100 million "hits" and project scientists
noted that the Pathfinder landing "is the biggest internet event in
But while public fascination in the Pathfinder landing has been evident,
that interest overlaps with another drama which took place on another desert
much closer to home.
July 1-6 marked the 50th anniversary of what some insist was the crash
landing of an alien space craft near Roswell, New Mexico. Nearly 100,000
people (none of them reportedly extraterrestrial) descended upon the small
town lying on plains east of the Sierra Blanca mountains; many paid $15 for
trek nearly as dangerous as Pathfinder's mission, enduring the 100-degree
plus desert temperatures to view the "crash" site. Others flocked to the two
UFO museum in town, or fell prey to clever merchants cashing on the "ET
mania" by selling everything from "Alien Juice" snowcones to T-shirts and
other tourist-kitsch with outer space themes. At the Star Child gift shop, a
busy clerk told CNN that "This boon could go indefinitely. People just can't
get enough of it."
Indeed they can't. Roswell is only the tip of a cultural iceberg, a
social phenomenon linking bizarre, often unsubstantiated claims of alien
abductions, giant space craft, secret bases and government cover-ups to more
traditional themes and metaphors, including the established mythos of
religious faith. It incorporate the pop culture artifacts and symbols from
movies, or TV programs such as "The X-Files" with similar ideas about the
paranormal and mystical finding surprisingly widespread acceptance across
social landscape. Fact, speculation and fiction quickly become blurred, and
what emerges is a sort of confabulated, postmodernist, late twentieth
religion or mythos.
Fueling the Roswell phenomenon has been a rash of movie offerings
emphasizing alien or invasion themes, such as last year's summer blockbuster
"Independence Day" and earlier films like "Star Gate" and "The Arrival."
Having worked through the pop-psych themes of the sixties and early
seventies which emphasized interpersonal relationships a la Woody Allen,
Hollywood began finding a lucrative market in selling extraterrestrials
beginning in the late 1970s. They could be enigmatic, as in Steven
Spielberg's "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," friendly and playful
or menacing, as in John Carpenter's remake of the classic "The Thing" or the
less impressive "Invasion From Mars."
Much of the angst in 50s-era sci-fi clearly played on subversion motifs
and invasion; lurking communist agents and Commissars were thinly disguised
as marauding monsters from other planets. They menaced Washington D.C. in
"Earth Versus the Flying Saucers," or literally took over our bodies in
"Invasion of the Body Snatchers." The outcomes were usually upbeat, though.
Even advanced aliens were turned back thanks to the ingenuity of scientists
and soldiers, or in the case of the 50s adaptation of "War of the World,"
with a last-minute intervention by god who, it was claimed, in the genius of
His creation fashioned tiny microbial life that killed off invading Martians
and brought to a crashing halt their predatory war machines.
While most of the films from that era reflected the political
uncertainties of the cold war, an angst that found potent expression in
popular novels or cinema with the prospect of impending nuclear
confrontation and apocalypse ("Fail Safe," "On The Beach"), the alien
rejuvenation of the late 70s and beyond saw enemies from beyond and within.
Doubts about our own government, piqued by unresolved questions over the
assassinations of charismatic leaders such as John Kennedy and Martin Luther
King, and the revelations of Watergate contributed to a corrosive process
which held to doubt the leading cultural and political institutions. The
army was no longer turning back alien hoards; it was concealing evidence of
their presence. Terms like "conspiracy" and "cover-up" spilled over from the
political lexicon to describe an even darker and more sinister plot. Just
who were the "men in black" who supposedly intimidated witnesses,
evidence of extraterrestrial encounters, or prevented word of the REAL story
Fin De Siecle Mars, Past And Present
Approaching the end of the twentieth century (and a new millennium), there
is little that should surprise us, especially in the building obsession with
things religious, arcane and mystical. The events in two such disparate
places as Roswell, N.M. and a rock-strewn plane on the Martian landscape now
being traversed by the 2-foot long long rover testify to the polarity and
confrontation of differing views about reality. One clearly represents the
Enlightenment project in its most refined state, a triumph for science,
reason and technology, with the other, the recent events in Roswell and the
wider elaborations about alien abductions, conspiracies and paranormal
representing something less defined, and more amorphous, confusing and
The prospect that there may be life on Mars dates back long before the
Pathfinder mission blasted off, or reports of a giant "face" built on the
Martian landscape began circulating. (No one bothered to ask: if Voyager or
the Hubble Space Telescope had indeed found such an artificial structure and
the government was attempting to cover up that fact, why had they allowed
photographs to be made public in the first place?) The Italian astronomer
Giovanni Schiaparelli (1835-1910) is today known mostly for his description
of markings on the Martian surface which he called "canali" or "channels."
The prospect that these were artificial, the product of an intelligent (and
by earth standards, highly advanced) race of beings later caught the public
imagination. It was Percival Lowell (1855-1916), though, who was the true
popularizer of the "canal theory." Starting with his book "Mars" in 1895,
Lowell argued in print and on the lecture circuit that the network of fine
lines which crisscrossed the red planet were the product of a civilization
desperately scrambling to avoid extinction by transporting water from the
polar caps. For some, it was a credible hypothesis. Memories of the
canal-building period in American history were still relatively fresh, as
were those of the Suez Canal constructed 1859-1869 under the organizational
genius of Ferdinand de Lesseps. Even as Lowell was publishing his subsequent
books ("Mars and Its Canals," 1906; "Mars as the Abode of Life," 1908) the
United States -- picking up the shovel, so to speak, in the shadow of
failed attempts by the French -- was digging and blasting through Colombia's
Isthmus to build the Panama Canal, linking the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.
The prospect of intelligent aliens doing similar engineering, though on a
vastly greater scale, seemed plausible, reasonable.
Martian life also existed in the public imagination thanks to another
compelling medium, that of the novel. H.G. Well's "War of the Worlds," which
described a Martian invasion of the earth became an instant sensation in
when it was first published, a skillful blending of scientific speculation
and sociological idealism and commentary on the human condition.
Schiaparelli and Lowell were guarded about describing their Martians.
(Schiaparelli, perhaps influenced by syndicalist thought and other
from the labor movement, mused that Mars had to be a cooperative
commonwealth. Lowell, the product of industrial age capitalism, feared that
so enormous a feat of engineering as the canals suggested could only be the
work of a ruthless oligarchy.) Wells faced no constraints, though; his
Martians were of superior intellect, dark in their intent, brooding and
gazing with envy toward the earth. On a symbolic level, those Martians
represented science and evolutionary theory both of which continued the
inexorable process of de-enchanting the world of the late 1800s and early
1900s. Machines were the new gods of men, and for Wells, anyway, it was only
appropriate that in the end, those glistening war machines and their Martian
occupants should be stopped not by armies or scientists, but by germs, the
microbial creation of a god who "in his wisdom" placed them on earth.
Other astronomers did not see the canals which Lowell claimed he could
observe through his telescope located under clear skies in northern Arizona.
Critics suggested that the markings were an artifact of the human mind
working in conjunction with the observational process. Photographs of the
Mars surface showed hazy areas, and lacked the distinct clarity rendered by
Lowell in his hand-drawn maps and global projections of the red planet.
Seeing a colossal visage on the Martian surface at the end of the twentieth
century was only the conclusion of a process of imagination and perhaps
yearning which had been rampant at the beginning of that same era.
In literature, the notion that advanced and even spiritual beings of a
sort resided on Mars dates back for over a century. One source was
the atheist satirist and literary hoaxer Leo Taxil, born Gabriel Antoine
Jogand-Pages (1854-1907). Taxil was active in the French Anti-Clerical
League which boasted over 15,000 members, and served as editor of the
League's publication, Anti-Clericale. In the 1880's, he had edited a
non-believer journal of humor and insult published as La Marotte, or "Fool's
In 1892, working with Dr. Karl Hacks, Taxil began issuing a serial
publication known as "The Devil in the Nineteenth Century," designed as a
satirical expose of Freemasonry. It became one of the great literary hoaxes
of all time, and Taxil even was treated to a private audience with Pope Leo
XIII in 1887, who endorsed the work. Editions of "The Devil in the
Nineteenth Century" were soon rolling off printing presses in over two dozen
languages, often thanks to the efforts and funding of church-linked
One feature of Taxil's hoax was the story of Ms. Diana Vaughn who
supposedly had been raised in a Luciferian household and placed under the
care of the demon Asmodeus, one of the major satanic functionaries. Asmodeus
sometimes appeared in the form of a handsome suitor (emitting the strong
scent of balsam), and escorted Ms. Vaughn on pleasure trips and jaunts to
purgatory, even to the planet Mars where the two picnicked next to
Schiaparelli's canals and strolled amongst the pygmie inhabitants.
More sincere (if not delusional) were the ersatz recollections of the
French channeler/medium known as Helene Smith. In her trance states, the
diminutive Smith claimed the be the reincarnation of noted personalities,
including the wife of a 15th century Indian prince. She also insisted that
she was telepathically linked to the inhabitants of Mars, and described
the lush flora, fauna and even architecture to be found on that distant
planet. It was hard to verify (or disprove) such bold claims, of course, but
the psychologist Thomas Flournoy became fascinated with the medium and began
to investigate. His subsequent book "From India to the Planet Mars"
summarized his thoughts on the matter, including his finding that Helene's
"Martian alphabet" and language were really a form of French. That didn't
prevent Ms. Smith from gaining a wide and credulous audience for her claims;
and it is interesting to note that following her evocative descriptions of
Mars, Helene Smith moved into a more religious phase of mediumship in which
Jesus Christ, the Virgin and various other Biblical figures are prominent.
Indeed, her "visions" at the turn of the century were part of a wider
phenomenon which included such visitations, and are said to have expressed
the fin de siecle spirit running rampant at that time. Is the "face on
Mars," or the giddy fixation with alien autopsies and abductions a more
technologically-updated version of this?
Old Wine, New Bottles
Both the traditional religions and new age accounts of alien visitors
possess remarkable thematic similarities. Whether saint or alien, the notion
of supernatural agencies and creatures interacting with human beings --
often in the context of a disturbing or convulsive encounter -- seems to
exist as a common feature. Writing in "The Demon Haunted World," the late
astronomer Carl Sagan observed that many features found in the elaborate,
often detailed accounts of alleged alien abductions have their counterparts
in more traditional religious hagiography and demonology. Before stories
about alien rape and genetic experiments began percolating through fringe
culture (and then into mainstream media), Pope Innocent VIII declared in his
Bull of 1484 that, "It has come to Our ears that members of both sexes do
avoid to have intercourse with evil angels, incubi , and succubi, and that
their sorceries, and by their incantations, charms, and conjurations, they
suffocate, extinguish, and cause to perish the births of women..." Sagan
added the declaration of two Inquisitors who insisted: "Devils...busy
themselves by interfering with the process of normal copulation and
conception, by obtaining human semen, and themselves transferring it."
Several things are remarkable about earlier claims of witches, demons and
devils, and the more contemporary version of this mythos, usually in the
of UFO apparitions or alien encounters.
Belief in witches enjoyed a thriving popularity at one time, as do modern
paranormal phenomenon and even more traditional religious claims. Thousands
will flock to Roswell to see a movie prop said to depict a dead alien, or
drink in more mainstream yet miraculous events, such as the apparition of
Jesus appearing on the side of a rusting grain silo (the "Soybean Savior"),
or Mary suddenly manifesting herself in a water stain in a Mexico City
When claims of such events are refuted or reasonably questioned, they
enjoy an incredible immunity to truth in the public discourse. Even one of
those claiming to have seen dead aliens at Roswell chafes at the more
tales of abductions or interplanetary rape. Frank Kaufman, now 81, says that
he worked at the Roswell Army Air Field in 1947. "Seeing those bodies and
the craft made me realize we're not alone in this vast universe," he told
Reuter news service. But Kaufman added that the Roswell anniversary
celebration "had a lot of crap in all this."
"These people who claim they've been abducted by aliens, it's so
transfixed in their minds they fantasize it and there's no way you can budge
All of these events, whether religious miracles or apparitions, or strange
accounts of alien intelligence, possess an etheric, evasive quality, yet
remain compelling for those who believe in them. Modern day accounts of
UFO's may simply be a contemporary adaptation of older myths where powerful
intelligences from afar intervene in the affairs of human beings, to save,
warn, even impregnate. Aliens and their spacecraft may have emerged in
our time as evocative symbols for the hopes and fears once the exclusive
domain of traditional religions. This new mythos seems to have no qualms
about cannibalizing the symbols and even the stories of everything from
mythic and religious history to the latest sci-fi flicks, or episode of "The
X-Files." Even a new age writer like Keith Thompson ("Angels and Aliens:
UFO's and the Mythic Imagination," 1991, Addison-Wesley) notes the thematic
similarities between the granddaddy of abduction tales, that of Betty and
Barney Hill, with an episode of "The Outer Limits."
Roswell and the Pathfinder mission stand at opposite ends of a cultural
spectrum, although many people borrow generously from both. They represent
different and competing concepts of how the universe operates, as well as
vastly divergent notions concerning the efficacy of human intelligence. The
final irony in this story, though, may really be played out on the surface
Mars, not the desert outside of Roswell, N.M. The sci-fi films, even the
tales about flying discs and advanced alien races, got it backwards. They
aren't visiting earth. It's the humans who seem to be headed to Mars, and
WANT TO STAND
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