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From owner-aanews@atheists.org Sun Aug 13 06:31:43 2000
Date: Sat, 12 Aug 2000 18:11:21 EDT
Subject: AANEWS for Saturday, August 12, 2000
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To: brownh@hartford-hwp.com
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subject: AANEWS for August 12, 2000

Election campaign or religious revival?

AANews, #803 12 August 2000


If there is any warning about the status of First Amendment freedom and state-church separation in America, it is not just over issues like posting the Ten Commandments or returning prayer to public school classrooms. Rather, it is the capture of the whole ethos of the election 2000 campaign, where parties and candidates stumble over each other in a frenetic effort to showcase their commitment to "moral values" and religion-friendly social schemes ranging from vouchers to public support of faith-based programs.

* The imbroglio over President Bill Clinton's Oval Office dalliance with intern Monica Lewinsky is once again being mainstreamed off the front page of tabloid sheets and on to the evening news. Clinton survived the impeachment scandal despite a cautious defense from his own party -- and even a few internal attacks from fellow Democrats including current VP-hopeful Joe Lieberman -- amidst a barrage of Republican and religious right grandstanding. It didn't seem to matter that GOP morality police had their own skeletons rattling in the closet, to wit former House Speaker Newt Gingrich's penchant for divorce. Amidst the Ken Starr witch hunt and salacious questioning concerning the ins-and-outs of oral sex, no major political figure took to the congressional well or news podium to ask the question: Was any of this anyone's business anyway? In Europe, media and heads of states rightfully puzzled over "the big deal" Americans seemed to be making out of a botched assignation.

The political linkage between Clinton and Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore has resulted in a full-scale retreat by Democratic party handlers. Republicans, and by default their religious right cronies who for years have worked overtime fueling the embers of "Clintongate," have the offensive -- and even Clinton has caved in.

This past week, Mr. Clinton groveled and asked forgiveness for his "terrible mistake" during a 90-minute question-and-answer session -- or was it a church trial? -- before an assembly of 4,500 evangelical ministers in suburban Chicago. The president's appearance before the Willow Creek Church Association had been scheduled six months ago, and according to conference organizer Rev. Bill Hybels, was not to focus on the Lewinsky encounter. White House press secretary Joe Lockhart told reporters, though, that conservative members of the group insisted by Hybels goad Clinton in further discussing his alleged moral transgression. Clinton turned the forum into a public confessional, telling his inquisitional audience: "I'm now in the second year of a process of trying to totally rebuild my life from a terrible mistake I made. I had to come to terms with a lot of things about the fundamental importance of character and integrity."

The political screws then turned, and it was the Republicans' chance to comment on the Clinton mea culpa. For them, the groveling was not sufficient, the apology too muted. It brought to mind Dick Cheney's statement from the GOP Convention where he told delegates, "Mr. Gore will try to separate himself from his leader's shadow. But somehow, we will never see one without thinking of the other."

* Smelling political blood, Gov. George W. Bush yesterday called on Vice President Al Gore to denounce Clinton for his private sexual conduct. "If Al Gore has got differences with the president, he ought to say them loud and clear," Bush said, responding to the vice president's statement that he wants to give the country "a fresh start." Critics noted the contradiction, though, between Bush's earlier pledge about bringing civility to Washington and conducting a forward-looking campaign with the fact that he continues to summon the specter of Clinton's philandering as a useful campaign wedge against Al Gore. Still, Bush seems like a stuck record on the campaign trail, constantly reminding audiences that he will "uphold the honor and integrity" of the office. Words like "decency" and "morality" pepper GOP speeches.

* Democrats have caved-in to the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights over the issue of a fund raising event at the Playboy Mansion. Officially, the soiree is on behalf of the Hispanic Unity USA. Vice President Gore and Democratic National Committee strategists, though, were uncomfortable with the fact that the event was organized by Calif. Rep. Loretta Sanchez (a DNC co-chairman).

Catholic League officials described the gathering as a "Gorgy," and demanded that the vice president either distance himself from the fund raiser, or find an alternative location. Last week, Gore handlers informed Sanchez that if the Playboy venue was not canceled, her spot as a keynote speaker at next week's Los Angeles Democratic National Convention would be. There was even the threat that the party would not support her reelection campaign. Yesterday, Sanchez ran up the white flag.

The mere fact of Democratic arm twisting and consternation over so minor an issue as having a party at the Playboy Mansion suggests that, indeed, as one party strategist mused, the Democrats are working to "take back God" as an election issue. Party officials, and Sanchez, put on a public show of unity over the matter. She told the Washington Post: "To continue to dwell on where our event is held, and whether my role as a DNC officer conflicts with my role at a party for a good cause, frankly makes no sense. The only real party I am interested in is a party that represents real people, with real needs..." Democratic National Chairman Joe Andrew said he was "glad that by working together we were able to come up with a suitable (alternate) location for her fundraiser.

The Post noted that "Even though the Gore campaign has accepted contributions from Hugh Hefner (Playboy founder) and his daughter, Christie, the vice president recently has been emphasizing moral values in his presidential campaign, and several campaign officials felt holding a reception at a place known for scantily clad women was inappropriate."

Republicans could not resist the temptation to stir the pot further. RNC Chairman Jim Nicholson told Christianity.com news service, "They (Democrats) may not like talking about it, but they sure do enjoy that Playboy money."

It is worth noting that the tussle over the Playboy Mansion fund raiser peaked just three days after Mr. Gore chose Sen. Joseph Lieberman, an Orthodox Jew and culture warrior, as his running mate.

* Religious conservatives are frantically trying to publicize another issue they say tars the Democrats with the brush of moral corruption -- and thus raises the stakes in Mr. Gore's effort to distance himself from Bill Clinton. This is the latest "Porngate" scandal reverberating through the White House, following revelations that dozens of staffers and officials had downloaded "hard-core" images and videos from the internet on to their government computers. Leading the charge on this breaking story is World Net Daily (www.worldnetdaily.com), a conservative news site, which reported that a consultant hired to improve security in the White House's network discovered "massive pornographic video files passing through the system's Internet firewall." Administration spokesman Jake Siewert told reporters on Thursday, "A handful of White House employees were reprimanded and one was suspended without pay a year ago" over the incident.

As expected, the Bush campaign went into turbo mode. Spokesperson Mindy Tucker said that "Porngate" scandal suggested everything from moral debauchery and "lack of respect," to misuse of time by White House staffers. "Gov. Bush would certainly hope that anyone working in the White House is using the resources and time there for the taxpayers' business," she said. Tucker added that restoring "decency" to the office "is something the people are wanting, and Gov. Bush, if elected, will uphold the honor and dignity" of that position."

For further information:

("Lieberman choice as VP stirs buzz, questions about civil liberties, state-church separation raised," 8/11/00)

("Bush gets GOP nod, promises to mobilizes churches," 8-6-00)

("Atheists to picket at GOP, Democratic National conventions," 7/20/00)

("Starr Struck -- The New Sexual McCarthyism," 10/4/98)


August 11, 2000



"Can we PLEASE have an end to the moral posturing, sermonizing and acts of public humiliation and kneebending and get on with the real issues?" asked American Atheists President Ellen Johnson today.

In the past 24-48 hours:

* Democrats have caved in to the inquisitorial thuggery of the Catholic League by trying to cancel a fund raiser at the Playboy Mansion.

* President Clinton has again shamelessly groveled before a meeting of evangelicals, and felt compelled to "apologize" for personal deeds and misdeeds which are no one's business but his own.

* Republicans and Democrats are trading charges over George Bush's public Christianity versus Joe Lieberman's public Orthodoxy -- a point raised in today's Wall Street Journal by self-appointed culture guru Michael Medved.

"The repulsive use of religious creeds, slogans and doctrines as campaign stickers is reaching a fever pitch," said Ellen Johnson. "All of these candidates are citing their religious beliefs as if they are legitimate credentials for public office, even if it means 'buying' religious votes by promising to institute vouchers, and put sectarian groups on the welfare rolls through 'charitable choice' schemes and expensive 'faith-based' partnerships," noted Ms. Johnson. She specifically cited GOP Vice Presidential hopeful Dick Cheney's visit to a St. Louis rescue mission. "They openly preach religious submission there as part of their social outreach, and Cheney wants them to receive federal subsidies." It's their religion, and Cheney would use our money - and we say, 'No way!"

"It is a disgrace that in this election, neither party and neither slate of candidates are saying anything about how they will uphold the constitutional separation of church and state or deal with real problems in the real world," Ms. Johnson said.

Ron Barrier, National Spokesperson for American Atheists added, "All they can think about is turning their election campaigns into traveling religious road shows, finding new ways of violating the First Amendment and putting supernaturalism on the public dole.

"The current campaign is ignoring the concerns of tens of millions of Atheists, freethinkers and others who are decent people but lend no credence to the concept of the existence of benign invisible beings from beyond space."

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