THEISTWATCH FOR JULY 18, 1995 Contents: Washington, D.C. - HOUSE SHOWDOWN ON ARTS FUNDING
THEISTWATCH FOR JULY 18, 1995
Washington, D.C.--HOUSE SHOWDOWN ON ARTS FUNDING NEARS
Colorado--FOCUS ON THE FAMILY TO PROTEST U.N. CONFERENCE
World--THEISTWATCH SHORT SHOTS
Texas--THEISTWATCH ARCHIVES (a word from the moderator)
HOUSE SHOWDOWN ON ARTS FUNDING NEARS
by Conrad F. Goeringer
The U.S. House of Representatives is moving into the
final stages of debate over legislation which would end
government aid to the arts by 1997. On Monday, July 7/17,
representatives adopted a controversial rule that in effect
would block any attempts to restore funding and limited
debate on any amendments to a brief twenty minutes.
Currently, the National Endowment for the Arts receives
$162.4 million, and the National Endowment for the
Humanities a total of $172.1 million. Under proposed
legislation, each of the programs would be cut to $99.5
million for fiscal 1996, and the funding would cease after
1997. The arts funding is all part of a larger appropriation
of $11.96 billion for the Interior Department.
While House conservatives justify the cuts as an effort
to downsize government and reduce taxes, critics are claiming
that the appropriation reductions are a fraction of other
programs, yet serve an important function. Some charge that
the real motivation in cutting the arts budget has little to
do with money; they point out that religious conservatives
are offended at certain controversial projects which have
received Endowment support dealing with homosexuality,
religion, nudity, and other themes.
Many of those leading the fight to curtail or abolish
arts funding echo the charges made against the Endowments by
religious groups such as the Christian Coalition in its
"Contract With the American Family." The Coalition charged
that "NEA (National Endowment for the Arts) dollars continue
to go toward controversial works that denigrate the religious
beliefs and moral values of mainstream America."
The Contract goes on to quote William Donohue, president
of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, as
charging "We, as Catholics, have rights too, and among them
is the right not to be defamed, and this is especially true
when defamation is funding with government money."
One program mentioned in the Contract was the annual
meeting of the Modern Language Association (MLA) which is
funded, in part, by the NEH. The Coalition denounced panel
topics at the MLA convention, including "Lesbian Tongues
Untied" and "Status of Gender and Feminism in Queer Theory."
Indeed, during the Monday night House session, Florida
Congressman Cliff Stearns took to the floor waving a brochure
and saying "It just goes on and on with things that are just
too lurid to talk about. . . . This is sexually explicit
homosexual art material."
Critics Charge Hypocrisy, Hidden Agenda
Rep. Sidney Yates of Illinois, though, countered
Stearns, insisting "He has pointed to one grant by the
National Endowment for the Arts out of 4,000. . . . Like the
swallow that returns annually to Capistrano, the gentleman
from Florida has returned to his annual attack on the NEA."
The New York Times noted that other "defenders of the arts
were up and angrily asking where in the opposition's
denunciations were all the symphonies, all the museums, the
many dance centers, children's arts programs and other
wholesome beneficiaries of federal art aid?"
Whatever benefits were to be gained financially from
cutting the Endowment budgets, they were quickly overshadowed
by the moral agenda being pushed by the religious
conservatives. Much of the rhetoric on the floor focused
with issues such as pornography and homosexuality, and the
role of the government in "putting its seal of approval" in
place through official funding.
Some are noting that the Christian Coalition contract
links the Endowment funding with appropriations for the Legal
Services Corporation; LSC is taken to task for funding
divorce and abortion. The linkage of all of these issues --
homosexuality, divorce, abortion and obscenity -- has become
an important strategy for the religious right in having
Congress implement its social agenda.
Would the Arts Be Free?
Some conservatives have argued that not only would
taxpayer money be saved, but that the arts would be free of
the "oversight" which the Endowments and other state agencies
provide. The Coalition pointed out that only 14 percent of
PBS budget comes from the federal government, and National
Public Radio gets only about 3 percent.
And the Contract said that according to a PBS affiliate,
WETA, the average net worth of its contributors was $627,000.
Presumably, the arts -- free of government funding --
would survive on their own. Even so, while the financial
strings between arts and the government would be severed, the
religious right -- as part of its national crusade to fight
"pornography" and "anti-family" behavior -- supports a
variety of local and state ordinances which would, in effect,
regulate the arts even more closely than the present system
When Cincinnati, Ohio, served as the venue for a
controversial exhibition of photographs by Robert
Mapplethorp, local ordinances were used to shut down by show
-- despite long lines of people.
There seems to be little relationship at present between
the source of arts funding, and the amount of freedom
available to the individual performers, artisans, and even
the general public. Once the government "financial link" is
severed, the religious right will continue its assault on
controversial arts, music, publications, books, magazines,
and plays -- through other channels.
Meanwhile, the fight in Congress goes on. Wednesday
(July 18) will see a meeting of the Labor and Human
Resources subcommittee dealing with the arts, education and
humanities, headed by James Jeffords of Vermont. Jeffords
has introduced an amendment which would reduce funding for
each of the Endowments by 5 percent in each of the next five
years, but would not eliminate the support totally. While the
bill has bipartisan support, most observers feel that "sooner
or later" with the current Congress, arts funding will end.
FOCUS ON THE FAMILY TO PROTEST U.N. CONFERENCE
by Conrad Goeringer
Thanks to our faithful Denver Correspondent, Margie
Wait, THEISTWATCH has learned that Focus on the Family will
be protesting the U.N. Women's conference to be held in
early September in Beijing, China. According to a letter
sent out to Focus members, James Dobson, the group's
president labeled the meeting "Satan's trump card if I have
ever seen it. " Referring to its "breathtaking wickedness"
(by virtue of being held in China), Dobson accused the
conference of having a "radical gender-feminist ideology" and
said that the meeting will portray marriage as "the root of
all evil for women."
Quoted in the Rocky Mountain News, Dobson went on to
insist that "When freed from traditional biases, a person can
decide whether to be male, female, homosexual, lesbian or
transgendered. Some may want to try all five in time."
"Most of what Christianity stands for will be challenged
during this atheistic conference," he said, adding "Every
good and perfect gift from the hand of the Creator will be
mocked and vilified." One of the more interesting remarks
Dobson made in his letter was the assertion that in China,
people eat aborted fetuses for food and kill prisoners in
order to export their internal organs. He topped that
assertion off with one better, though, saying that the
conference was going to "undermine the family, promote
abortion, teach immoral behavior to teen-agers, incite anger
and competition between men and women, advocate lesbian and
homosexual behavior, and vilify those with sincere religious
THEISTWATCH SHORT SHOTS
by Conrad Goeringer
You may be reading this week's THEISTWATCH in the
comfort of a cool office or den, the hum of your computer
matched only by the reassuring sound of the air conditioner.
Maybe you also spent this past weekend staring warily at your
surge protector, though, knowing that the heat wave battering
the eastern portion of the U.S. had everyone seeking relief
from record temperatures.
Monday morning's USA TODAY revealed that more than 200
people have died as a result of heat exposure, 118 of them in
Chicago alone. Many of the death's involved elderly people
who, for a variety of reasons, had not taken the basic
precautions of opening windows. There was one 80-year-old man
in Pennsylvania who died after seal coating his driveway in
the 94-degree heat, and one person apparently became stuck in
his closed van and died. In Ohio, lightening after a wedding
reception struck and killed the groom and his brother as they
pitched horse shoes.
The weather can be like other events in life, triggering
a response in many individuals which could appropriately be
termed "magical thinking." This is the tendency to evaluate
information in the world around selectively, with the intent
of supporting a religious or mystical bias. For instance, if
an infant happens to be the lone survivor of an airplane
crash, some are quick to label it a "miracle." Survivors
from tragedy often speak of "god's intervention," or how "god
answered our prayers" and "saved us" at the brink of death.
The residue of magical thinking exists in our everyday
language -- we say "thank god!" when something good and
But what magical thinking often ignores is the vast body
of evidence which suggest that crediting deities or
supernatural entities like angels as serendipitous agents in
our lives, ignores tragedy and despair when it befalls others
Take the heat wave, for instance. Why didn't god help
out that fellow seal coating his driveway? Why didn't the
Virgin Mary appear in the shimmering, 94-degree heat and give
some good, unambiguous advice then and there -- like, "Hey,
get out of the sun and drink some Gatorade, dummy, or you're
history!" ? Or, why didn't the "good" guardian angels that
are all the rage in those TV specials and new age bookstores
get their butts in gear and push the guys tossing horseshoes
out of the way of the lightning?
People who are locked into the framework of magical
thinking become highly selectively in finding "evidence" that
"god is listening" or that "guardian angels are taking care
of me," or that some other supernatural force is at work in
their lives. They are quick to credit the "good" events to
the supernatural, but remained baffled when bad things
happen. All they seem able to do is dismiss adverse events
as a "mystery," or the "will of god." They may also see such
set backs as a test of faith and belief.
In the pantheon of the supernatural, somebody is
obviously sleeping on the job instead of looking after the
destinies of 200 victims in the Great Heat Wave of '95. Like
all natural disasters, of course, "god" could have prevented
so much suffering and tragedy -- or does Jehovah only want
credit for the good stuff, and no blame for the bad?
We recently told you of squabbling and ethnic bigotry in
Pittsburgh, when the Roman Catholic church in that area began
consolidating parishes -- much to the dismay of
This past Saturday, July 15, it seems that Bishop Donald
Wuerl and an assistant were headed to mass -- and a
confrontation with 100 angry demonstrators over the issue --
when they were hit by a drunken driver who rammed into the
back of their car. The bishop was treated for neck and back
strains, but made it to mass (and the demonstration) about
an hour-and-a-half later.
Last July 4 there were the usual fireworks and rhetoric
about the value of American freedom. But one problem seems to
be that exercising that freedom, especially in ways that
government, religion, and the political status-quo does not
approve of, brings forth calls for tougher laws and more
cops. To wit -- the Internet.
Check out the August issue of "Wired" Magazine for an
excellent discussion by Mike Godwin of the Electronic
Frontier Foundation (EFF) who suggests that "real democracy
-- the kind that pervades the Net -- is a frightening thing,
especially to obsolete institutions." Godwin suggests that
much of the outcry over what goes on in cyberspace is simply
good 'ol American fear of freedom.
Indeed, the fear of everything from kiddie porn ( "ARE
MOLESTERS STALKING THE INTERNET FOR YOUR CHILD?", asks a
tabloid-trash TV show this week) to bomb recipes has liberals
and conservatives groping for ways to "police cyberspace."
An international religious conference on obscenity recently
declared that "pornography" was being spread by computers and
would prove to be "uncontrollable" if strict and tough action
wasn't taken immediately. And everyone from Microsoft to the
online services is tripping over each other in their zeal to
design "child proof" lockout devices, or ferret out obscene
language on the net.
But the almost-chic crusade against cyber-porn (or the
specter of cyber geeks building even bigger bombs from
household chemicals) is really the same old, hackneyed
impulse to interfere with free expression back when books,
magazines, and news papers were the only tools of mass
communications. And now -- as then -- the fear of freedom,
the fear of what would happen if people actually bothered to
exercise their rights, sends terror into the minds of those
who believe that all of us desperately need to be protected
from our worst enemy -- ourselves.
Speaking of lock outs and parental controls, the more
politically savvy of you will find this ironic. According to
USA TODAY (July 17), the Prodigy online network allows
parents (and presumably anyone else) to block out
"adult-oriented" material, thanks to software nicknamed
"George Carlin." It appears that this program scans forums
and boards for prospective submissions using "dirty words."
Perhaps the young geeks designing this stuff, and the
constipated yuppie conservatives desperately seeking it, need
to spend some time listening to what the real George Carlin
has to say.
"George Carlin" isn't the only gunslinger in cyberspace
looking for filth. The San Jose Mercury News reported this
weekend that the Guardian Angels are now out "to take over a
new beat: the information superhighway."
The Angels were once a welcome sight on New York City
subways, although critics charged them with being everything
from vigilantes to an embryonic "Brownshirt" Movement. There
is at least one case of the group being asked to stop its
organizing efforts of patrolling shopping districts and
neighborhoods, for fear that the presence of red-beret
wearing toughs made the area appear worse than it really was.
Guardian Angel reps like founder Curtis Sliwa are regulars on
the "Geraldo" Show. And now, says the Mercury, "The group is
the latest to jump into the debate over the rapidly expanding
computer network (Internet), and how to keep children from
its occasionally sexual or violent areas."
The new "CyberAngels" group is, in part, a PR job to
improve the Guardian Angels image of being "Boy Scouts on
steroids." A GA rep declares "We have to draw on a whole
other level of Guardian Angel, because you don't see our
shirts with a pocket protector and 16 pencils." The plan is
for "CyberAngels" to sneak online by assuming the identities
of children in hopes of collecting data on "potential
"Then they'll deliver evidence of crimes to Internet
providers such as CompuServe and America Online and to law
enforcement agencies," says the Mercury.
Skeptics, however, say that this latest program is just
another publicity stunt. Founder Sliwa "admitted they (the
Angels) faked several publicity-grabbing incidents in the
group's early days." And he admits that patrolling the
Internet is like "spitting in the wind."
So why bother?
Of course with Congress and the religious right -- and
now the Guardian Angels -- all wanting to "crack down" on the
Internet, they might start off by learning a few basics. AOL
and the other services really aren't the Internet, nor are
the thousands of private, subscription-based bulletin boards
which provide "adult" materials. And since many computer
networks permit users to assume nearly any identity they
desire, real-world people who are "caught" could easily
pretend that THEY were doing the same thing the Guardian
Angels were -- "patrolling the net."
There are plenty of other legal and practical issues to
be clarified, of course, many probably beyond the grasp of
the profile-seeking Mr. Sliwa. The prospect of an Internet
crawling with cyber cops and freelance vigilantes, though,
suggests that we have more to worry about than some Dirty Old
Men with keyboards and modems.
* American Atheists website: http://www.atheists.org *
* PO Box 140195 FTP: ftp://ftp.atheists.org *
* Austin, TX 78714-0195 *
* Voice: (512) 458-1244 Dial-THE-ATHEIST: *
* FAX: (512) 467-9525 (512) 458-5731 *
* Atheist Viewpoint TV: email@example.com *
* Info on American Atheists: firstname.lastname@example.org, *
* & American Atheist Press include your name and mailing address *
* AANEWS -Free subscription: email@example.com *
* and put "info aanews" in message body *
* This text may be freely downloaded, reprinted, and/other *
* otherwise redistributed, provided appropriate point of *
* origin credit is given to American Atheists. *
E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank