Date: Wed, 28 Aug 1996 11:15:22 -0700 Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for August 28, 1996 nn nn
Date: Wed, 28 Aug 1996 11:15:22 -0700
Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for August 28, 1996
Reply-To: firstname.lastname@example.org, AMERICAN.ATHEISTS@listserv.direct.net
nnnnnnnnnn AANEWS nnnnnnnnnn
#141 uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu 8/28/96
In This Issue...
* "Salvation By The Slice": Kids Abducted For Baptisms?
* Israeli Fundamentalists Attack Supreme Court
* Selective Indigation: The Revolt Against Modernity
* Ohio Vouchers -- Taxpayers Fund Private School Taxis
* TheistWatch: "Prince of Wails"?
* About This List...
PIZZA FOR BAPTISM: CHURES LURED KIDS IN ''BAIT & SWITCH" SALVATION
Officials are expanding their probe into the activies of a Woburn, Mass.
fundamentalist church which allegedly lured youngsters into bizarre,
immersion-style baptisms with disingenuous offers of pizza and a good time.
The case has now gone to a local District Attorney's office for possible
The "bait and switch" scheme purportedly involves the Anchor Baptist
Church, and its pastor, Rev. Chris Pledger. Members of the church would
distribute flyers in local housing projects offering children basketball
games, pizza and even a treasure hunt; the youngsters were then herded onto
buses and transported to the church. Once there, they were told to strip and
don special robes, and were dunked in a "small pool or tub of water,"
according to the Boston Globe as part of the cult's baptism rite.
So far, authorities have found that upwards of 200 children were involved
in the disingenuous operation in July. An attorney with the Cambridge Housing
Authority reported that "Tenants were approached to see if they would like to
send their children on the bus, promising games."
Children from at least two housing developments were targeted by the
church; the director of one development told the Globe: "It's quite a bizarre
There are other reports that church members, often dressed in costumes
like "pirate outfits," roamed the housing complexes and used candy "to entice
children to come to services and activities at the church." One tenent said
that church members informed her that while her children could attend the
activities for free, she was required to pay $25.
"She also said church members promised her son a bicycle if he invited
more friends than any other child to become a member of the church."
Referring to the visiting church proselytizers, a parent said: "All the
kids were following those guys like they were the Pied Piper...What kind of
church walks around with candy for little kids?"
Meanwhile, the state Department of Social Services has entered the case,
and determined that at least one 8-year-old youngster was "emotionally
harmed" by the incident; a therapist noted that the boy was "in an
emotionally neglecful situation." Most concerning are the questions
surrounding the baptism ceremonies. One parent told the Globe: "The kids
were told to undress and put on robes. Some kept their trousers on, other
kids were totally naked under the robe."
ISRAELI FUNDAMENTALISTS BATTLE SUPREME COURT
Erosion of Religious Support for Netanyahu ?
Resentment against secular Israeli institutions, including that nation's
Supreme Court, has flared anew as religious movements step up their attacks,
calling the court's leading jurist a "dangerous enemy."
This latest outburst signals possible erosion of support for the coalition
government of new Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from fundamentalist
religious parties like United Torah Judaism and the Shas movement. In recent
elections, Netanyahu won a slim victory over the incumbent, Shimon Peres;
religious groups played a pivotal role in that contest and won a record
number of seats in the Israeli parliament, or Knesset. They have also been
awarded powerful ministry posts for their role in helping to cobble together
a coalition government with Netanyahu's Likud Party.
But fundamentalists -- mostly the "haredim," or strict Orthodox community
-- want total control over how the so-called Basic Laws which govern the
country are to be interpreted. In recent years, the Supreme Court has become
increasingly active in interpreting law concerning religious conversion,
civil rights and marriages. Resentment from Orthodox leaders has now reached
fever-pitch, and like their religious counterparts in the United States and
elsewhere, Israeli fundamentalist see the inroads of secularism as an attack
on religion. Rabbi Avraham Ravitz of United Torah told the New York Times:
"We are on the defensive these days because of what happened. The battle
declared by many politicians, especially the frustrated opposition, is moire
to attack us than defend the court."
According to the Times and other sources, one "trigger" for the
fundamentalist resentment is the battle being fought over Bar-Ilan street, a
major traffic artery in Jerusalem. For several weeks, huge confrontations and
riots have taken place as swarms of fundamentalists pour on to Bar-Ilan in an
effort to shut the street down for the Jewish sabbath period. Resisting the
Orthodox, who often hurl rocks and soiled baby diapers at passing motorists,
are secular activists, especially members of the progressive Meretz Party.
Some streets which run through heavilly Orthodox-populated neighborhoods are
already closed; and civil libertarians in Israel see Bar-Ilan as "just
another step" in a larger fundamentalist agenda which would shut down movie
houses, bars, cafes and other activities during religious holy periods.
Much of the Orthodox wrath seems to be directed against Justice Aharon
Barak. One religious newspaper attacked the jurist as "the driving force
behind a sophisticated campaign against Jewish life in israel," and accused
him of leading a "judicial revolution."
Last week, the daily paper owned by the Shas religious party published a
fictional tale describing life after the country had been taken over by the
Supreme Court. ; it included scenarios where judges order the army to take
up positions in Orthodox communities.
The Fundamentalist Reaction...
SELECTIVE INDIGNATION AND OTHER PARALLELS
In many respects, the outrage being expressed by Israel's religious
orthodox resembles a chorus of complaints voiced in the United States by
Christian fundamentalists and evangelicals. The role of the Supreme Court --
in both countries -- is a case in point. In the two nations, those bodies
have been described as "judicial activist" in promoting the sorts of changes
which religious groups sometimes oppose.
In the United States, the watershed of resentment against the Court stems
from famous rulings like MURRAY v. CURLETT (1963) which helped end mandatory
prayer and bible recitation in public schools, to ROE v. WADE (1973) which
guaranteed abortion rights for women. The spread of doctrines perceived as
being contrary or dangerous to religious teachings, coupled with at least the
preception of "blind neutrality" in respect to religion, caused many group to
believe that the country had "drifted away from god."
The complaint that "religion is under attack" is heard frequently in
political debate today; the phrase is conjured just about any time a law is
either struck down, or not passed, which would in some way promote belief and
doctrinal teachings. Indeed, from Prohibition to the abolition of notorious
"Sunday blue laws," religion has experienced some erosion of its former power
and official recognition in the society.
The Israeli religious daily Hashavua charged that Justice Barak and the
Supreme Court were fostering a "judicial revolution". Curiously, that same
pejorative term has been used against the U.S. Supreme Court, and former
Chief Justice Earl Warren, beginning with the MURRAY v. CURLETT decision.
Rulings which have upheld state-church separation or extended protections
found in the Bill of Rights, have characteristically been described as
evidence of "judicial revolution" or "activism. More conservative jurists,
including Chief Justice William Rhenquist, Clarence Thomas and failed
judicial nominee Robert Bork have also used in the phrase in connection with
court decisions on school prayer, abortion, free speech, and even rights for
The dystopian scenario portrayed by the Shas Party newspaper, Yom l'Yom,
also has remarkable parallels in the American fundamentalist culture; much
of this has to do with the problematic, even ambivalent view which many
religious have toward the institution of the government, the state. In the
Shas depiction, the Supreme Court runs amok and assumes total political
power, and dispatches army trooops into religious neighborhoods. Some
American scenarios are equally menacing. Pat Robertson's "700 Club," for
instance, has included a brief video-vignette depicting government commandos
raiding underground cells of religious believers whose only transgression
appears to be reading verses from the Bible.
"Some think that America is headed in that direction," the avuncular
Robertson warns his viewers.
But religious fundamentalists, while uneasy over any possibility that
government could work against their doctrinal interests, appear quite willing
to employ the state apparatus when it suits their purposes. In Israel,
religious strictures have usually been enforced by government troops, police
and courts against non-believers, transgressors, and other segments of
society. In the United States, "conservative" religionists put themselves in
the position of being a bible-based "Big Brother" when it comes to enforcing
laws on behalf of censorship, some form of ritualized prayer, a ban on
abortion or other components of the religious agenda.
Finally, there is the more general "revolt against modernity" which
characterizes a spectrum of contemporary religious-nationalist groups, from
Muslim extremists in the middle east, to Hindu zealots in India and Christian
fundamentalists in America. The worldwide religious fundamentalist revival is
often accompanied by other expressions of discontent with modernity --
everything from quasi-communist nostalgia in the former Soviet Union, to
ethnic jingoism and tribalism in South Africa, Bosnia, the Philippines and
elsewhere. Such movements are fuelded by a battery of causes well-known to
social scientists and historians, including frenzied economic development,
dislocation, and social disruption. As old institutions give way or are
challenged by newly emerging cultural-economic forces -- even so basic a
phenomena as the internet -- there is likewise the reaction which crystalizes
around political loyalties, ethnic ties, cultural traditions and religious
OHIO VOUCHERS BEGIN PUBLIC FUNDING OF RELIGIOUS SCHOOLS
With the Labor Day weekend approaching, schools across the country are
already starting their fall terms. And in Ohio, taxpayers are now funding
religious schools thanks to an expensive new voucher program while, say
critics, the state's public schools go under-funded.
In Cleveland, parents of more than 6,000 students have reportedly applied
for vouchers, each worth up to $2,500. It is estimated that 2,000 of those
students are already attending private schools, but under the new voucher
program, parents will only have to pay between 10% and 25% of the tuition
costs. Of the 49 participating schools, tuition fees range from $710 to as
high as $3,640 per year.
The Ohio plan is the brainchild of Governor George Voinovich, who was
labeled by one school district official as "the worst education governor
ever." Critics charge that the voucher scheme caters to private and
religious schools at the expense of a cash-strapped and neglected public
school system. The Cleveland public school system, for instance, carries a
staggering debt of nearly $200 million; parents complain about deteriorating
conditions, including decaying buildings and a potential strike next week by
the 5,000-member teachers' union.
Statewide, the situation is getting bad as well. Twenty school districts
had to borrow $87.1 million from the government emergency loan fund during
the last school year in order to meet operating expenses. Critics pointed
out that meanwhile, the state paid out $136 million for support of private
schools, picking up the tab for everything from transportation of
private-school students ($15 million) to "auxiliary services" ($85 million)
to cover textbooks, equipment and salaries. In addition, the Akron Beacon
Journal reported that Ohio's subsidy of $599 per private school student was
$197 more than the figures in any other state.
Studies indicate that the biggest single beneficiary of the Ohio voucher
scheme will be the state's enormous Parochial (Catholic) school system, which
could gobble up to 60% of all appropriations. There is no provision in the
Ohio Constitution which stipulates that the state is obligated to subsidize
private or private religious schools. But while the voucher scheme now goes
into effect, the state's formula for funding school districts is being
challenged in court by more than 500 of the 611 school districts in Ohio.
In the voucher battle, though, it is ultimately the parents and children
who are caught in the middle. Press accounts in local and national media
indicate that many parents, including those who live in the inner city, are
concerned about the deteriorating environment of public schools, citing
everything from dangerous structures (the roof of one school collapsed last
year) to crime and other issues. But Ron Merec, president of the Ohio
Federation of Teachers, told the New York Times that voucher schemes and
"private school flight" "allows them to escape the problem, but it doesn't
solve the problem for 70,000 other kids." Others point to skewed priorities,
including a new $300,000,000 professional sports center.
With all of the hype on behalf of vouchers, the supply of qualified schools
cannot meet the demand. As of Monday, at least 5 private "schools" were not
open; at anyother voucher school, administrators were given money from the
public school transportation budget in order to hire taxis to transport
nearly 1,000 students to and from school.
THEISTWATCH SHORT SHOTS
One great benefit of liberalized divorce laws -- at least in Britain -- is
that we won't have to listen to the virtual torrent of giddy media claptrap
about Prince Charles, Lady Camilla Parker-Bowles, Princess Di and the rest of
the Winsor love triangle-square, pentagram or however many sides it has.
Right? Not necessarily. The divorce decree has been "made absolute," the
ink is dry on the settlement, and now there is outrage over whether Prince
Chalres is so fallen a human being because of divorce, that he should not
someday become king.
It appears that even in a country like Britain which enjoys a relatively
sterling reputation for tolerance, regular churchgoers believe that Charles
should not wear the crown. The Gallup organization conducted a poll of 1,000
clergy and 840 "lay" people, regular church attendees, on behalf of the
Protestant Reformation Society. Fifty-four percent of the laity (defined as
those who had attended church during the previous month) opposed succession
to the coveted titled as Head of the Church of England by the philadering
Prince of Wales -- or it Prince of Wails? -- and they were supported by
fifty-one percent of retired clergy. Should Charles be permitted to become
King? Fifty two percent of bishops said no way, as did 56% of full-time
clergy and 70% of the retired clergy.
There could be a doctrinal split within Church of England ranks over the
succession question. It is significant that the Protestant Reformation
Society commissioned and publicized the poll; that group was established in
1827 "to safeguard the doctrine and theology of the English Reformation,"
according to The Times of London.
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