How Myths Get Started

Angels Leave Money,
Business Card
by Cliff Walker

February, 20, 1998

Charlston, West Virginia -- A strangely dressed man and woman have reportedly shown up at the door of churches and soup kitchens and left money. "They were standing there holding a bag of coins," said Althea Burns, of the Soup Kitchen of Greater Wheeling, Inc. "They said, 'No, we're not the Blues Brothers. We're angels from heaven.' They dropped a card in the container that said, 'Smile, Jesus loves you.'"

Then, according to Burns, they vanished, leaving behind a bag containing 240 Susan B. Anthony dollars. They also left a business card with the initials SMAB.

"I didn't even have time to get up off my chair to thank them," said Burns. "I really do believe they're angels."

Did the above scenario take place each of the three times?

Also, these "angels" seem unaware that Susan B. Anthony was a well-known atheist. Anthony also advocated for equal rights and equal opportunity -- not for freebies and hand-outs.

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Glow Worms
Eat Nuclear Waste
by Cliff Walker

February 20, 1998

Thomas Stanley Huntington, 51, of Farmington, New Mexico, was arrested for selling "California Red Superworms" -- which he claimed could eat nuclear waste.

Huntington allegedly sold the worms to entrepreneurs and said they could use them as breeding stock, raise more worms and then "make big money" selling them back to Huntington for use at the federal nuclear waste dump southeast of Carlsbad.

"Easiest job ever!!!" the brochure released by the attorney general's office said. It promised income would "double every year with this great opportunity."

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Glow-Worms Huckster Guilty
by Chuck Shepherd

Follow-up: post and link with alleloooo.htm Glow Worms

June, 1998

Thomas Stanley Huntington, 52, pleaded no contest to fraud in Aztec, New Mexico, in a scheme to sell "California Red Superworms," which he swore could eat up nuclear waste.

He told buyers (who paid $125 a pound) that a nearby radiation-waste cleanup plant would buy all the worms they could breed, but it was left to the state attorney general to inform the buyers that worms can't do that.

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Mayor Giuliani Agrees

Catholic Group Stops
Anti-AIDS Benefit
by Conrad Goeringer
American Atheists

December, 1998

Pressure from the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights has led to cancellation of a World AIDS Day event scheduled for next week. Among the slated activities was a 35-foot Christmas tree decorated with condoms to be located near the Central Park skating rink, and a benefit concert.

The "Tree of Life" was to be a statement on the need to practice safe sex, and was sponsored by Levi Strauss & Co. The private subcontractor for the event, though, decided to cancel the program after the Catholic group threatened to organize a boycott of Levi products.

Mayor Rudolph Giuliani agreed with the decision, telling reporters "I think Christmas trees have a certain symbolic importance ... to a lot of people. I think what they were suggesting would probably be inconsistent with that."

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Religious Liberals Agree:
"To The Public Treasury!"

Church Coalition Wants Subsidy
For Welfare Services
by Conrad Goeringer
from AANEWS by American Atheists

December 14, 1997

An alliance of mainstream and "liberal" religious groups is calling for a greater role in church administration of social service and welfare programs -- at taxpayer expense. In a statement issued this past week, the Call To Renewal appealed to the nation's governors to involve religious groups in administering welfare outreaches, and cited recent changes in the nation's legal code which permit the constitutionally-suspect practice known as "charitable choice."

Call To Renewal, organized in 1995, has attempted to position itself as an alternative to fundamentalist conservative groups like the Christian Coalition. In fact, the organization announced shortly after its founding, that "the Religious Right does not speak for all or most Christians and that there are alternative voices."

Even so, last week's announcement symbolized the growing intersection of both liberal-mainstream religious groups and their right wing counterparts like the Christian Coalition over what they see as the lucrative and powerful future for "faith based" outreaches established as an alternative to secular government welfare. Indeed, it was the Christian Coalition that first called for an overhaul of the nation's welfare system in its 1995 "Contract With the American Family," a document which called upon government leaders and taxpayers to begin subsidizing "faith based" social services.

Until now, mainstream religious interest groups like the Call To Renewal were able to distance themselves from fundamentalist and evangelical political movements such as Christian Coalition by announcing public opposition to racism, and adopting a more liberal stance on issues like campaign finance reform and "Rebuilding family and community."

Background: "Spiritual Politics"

Where the religious right often emphasizes a punitive agenda calling for school prayer, bans on abortion, regulation of gambling and pornography and "privatizing welfare" through vouchers and other financial schemes, more liberal religious groups such as Call to Renewal announce that they are "beyond politics," or favor a "renewed political vision." Thirty CTR's Coordinating Committee also embraces a somewhat more ecumenical list of religious supporters, only some of which approve of the overall social agenda of the Christian Coalition. They include representatives of the Roman Catholic Church and Protestant sects, such as the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, Maryknoll Justice and Peace, Reformed Church of America, United Methodist Church, Evangelicals for Social Action, Project Equality, American Baptist Churches, Urban Leadership Institute, Riverside Church (New York), Children's Defense Fund, NETWORK (A Catholic "social justice" lobby) Interdenominational Theological Seminary (Atlanta) and the Faith and Politics Institute.

Despite the more liberal agendas of these groups, though, when contrasted with hard shell organizations on the religious right, there are a growing number of areas where both sides seem to agree. Call to Renewal, for instance, disguises it's anti-abortion agenda by "affirming life" and calls to "reduce the tragic number of 1.3 million abortions in this country annually." Where the group would part company with religious right organizations, though, is over other "life" issues which it lists as capital punishment, nuclear weapons and pollution." Another intersection is over the role of "faith based" organizations in the administration of social welfare projects. For years, church groups have made money by acting as professional operators of government-funded outreaches -- clinics, homes for the aged, soup kitchens and more. National Catholic Charities receives more than 60% of its budget from local, state and federal grants, and charges as much as another 10% in "administrative costs." In short, welfare programs have subsidized activities which many citizens mistakenly consider to be church-run "charity" and provided religious groups with media visibility and prestige.

Those programs, however, come at a price. Any religious group administering a social welfare outreach must observe certain protocols, including restrictions which in theory prevent those "charities" from engaging in blatant religious proselytizing. Their operation and purpose must be exclusively secular. Critics have wondered if this is even possible; one example is the trend in Roman Catholic hospitals which profit from Medicare and other reimbursements to refuse abortion services. Even more benign social services like rescue missions and soup kitchens for the poor often mix a religious message with their government-backed aid, despite prohibitions not to do so.

The Christian Coalition was first to demand that government start handing over resources to "faith based" religious groups, beginning with those involved in alcohol or drug rehabilitation. The idea of government funding for "faith based" projects, though, has caught on inside Catholic and mainstream Protestant groups. Since the original "Contract With the American Family" (a CC rendition of the Republican Party's "Contract With America" which articulated its social agenda), the National Conference of Catholic Bishops and "progressive" Protestant religious groups have jumped on the bandwagon. In the era of privatization and down sizing of social services, turning over welfare and related activities to religious groups is perceived as both politically astute and financially sensible. Elected officials can promise to "cut bureaucracy" generally associated with the old welfare system, and identify themselves with religious officials in an era overflowing with talk of "rebuilding" and "community renewal." For churches, it is a godsend of a different sort, a way of raising money in an era of empty pews when the population seems to be moving away from institutional religion in favor of a vague, do-it-yourself spirituality.

Pressuring The Governors

Call To Renewal will kick off its efforts to cash-in on "faith based" social welfare this coming week when it contacts the nation's governors with a special letter signed by more than 40 Catholic and evangelical religious leaders. Part of the pitch will be an invitation for politicians to "think outside the box" and "partner with the religious community in new efforts to end poverty." CTR will cite changes in the law, specifically the Welfare Reform Act which now make it easier to churches and other religious groups to receive state funding, and provide for "charitable choice." The New York Times described the latter as a system where "states may contract with non-governmental and religious organizations to provide social services like job training, high school equivalency programs, courses in English as a second language, nutrition programs, homes for unmarried mothers and drug and alcohol treatment."

In today's edition, the Times added that , "The religious groups have a right to retain their religious character by displaying religious symbols or using religious criteria in selecting employees."

Some former stipulations, though, regarding state-church separation still apply. Under the Welfare Reform Act, church groups may not actively and openly evangelize or discriminate on the basis of religious belief when administering programs. But those regulations are in jeopardy on several fronts, starting with proposed legislation on Capitol Hill:

Compelling Atheists to Subsidize a Religious Agenda

Even with the few restrictions which try to limit the activity of religious groups operating publicly funded social outreaches, the stampede by organizations such as Christian Coalition and Call To Renewal in the direction of the public treasury remains a threat to state-church separation and the rights of nonbelievers. A spokesperson for CTR told the Times that, "From the government side there have been all these objections to church-state cooperation ... Some people are just terribly nervous about churches."

While the Coalition and religious right groups are blatant in their advocacy for funding "faith based" programs, CTR and religious liberals are more circumspect in their language. "Spiritual politics" is emphasized, along with "cooperation" with government and, by default, the taxpayer. The effect, however, could be a dangerous assault on state-church separation and the rights of nonbelievers. The "cooperation" between government and religion, even within the bounds of the latest welfare reforms, could simply be another step in eliminating restrictions against proselytizing and the use of public monies in promoting religious beliefs. Is it even sensible to think that churches can resist the temptation to blend doctrines and symbols with what would otherwise be a secular welfare program?

There is also the nagging issue of violation of nonbeliever rights. Over ten percent of the American people describe themselves as atheists, freethinkers or skeptics of some kind in matters of religion. Indeed, the historical thrust of the First Amendment's Establishment Clause was to end any religious test for the exercise of rights, and abolition of the compulsory support of religious bodies by the citizenry. Is allowing religious groups a key role in the administration of social programs -- especially if they retain symbols, "identity" or even a fiat to proselytize -- a form of compulsory support of belief? Many secularists would argue that it is. And critics note that "charitable choice" is a disingenuous use of terms; there is little or no "choice" in the matter of taxation. Public funds -- used in what would otherwise be a secular, nonreligious welfare program -- are not "privatized" in the real sense of the word. One is compelled, through taxation, to support these religious enterprises.

A Faith Consensus?

While diverse, even competing religious groups at different ends of the political spectrum may disagree on specifics, both right and liberal/left churches and movements seem to concur that more -- not less -- religious involvement is needed in American society. This "faith consensus" has been building around several core issues. They include "life" questions such as abortion and bio-engineering; opposition to the spread of legalized gambling; continued tax exemptions and other perks for religious groups; general agreement on the need to combat "immorality" in the form of alcohol consumption, cigarettes, a need for government "to act" in controlling or banning certain expressions in the public square which are "obscene" or "violent; drug use; defense of marriage as an enshrined institution; a growing opposition to public expression which criticizes, "insults" or demeans religion (the case of author Salman Rushdie is a good example); and the need to throw open the public treasury on behalf of "faith based" programs and religious "solutions" to problems like poverty, drug use and violence.

In the end, this "faith consensus" poses an enormous challenge to state-church separation in America; and it threatens to compel millions of nonbelievers to support, through their taxes, an enormous church social service bureaucracy. This week's "invitation" for the nation's governor to open their purses will talk about reconciliation, community and solutions -- but only for those willing to pay, pray and believe.

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Atheists: "Not With Our Money, You Don't!"

Atheists Blast
Church Subsidy Scheme
by Conrad Goeringer
from AANEWS by American Atheists

December 18, 1997

American Atheists today criticized a proposal from the "liberal" religious group "Call To Renewal" which would grant churches more of a role in administering taxpayer-funded social welfare programs, and involve religious organizations in a "partnership" with the state.

"This is as bad, if not worse, than what the Christian Coalition wants to do," said American Atheists President Ellen Johnson. "The constitution says that churches and government should be separate -- not partners. Involving religious groups in what should be secular programs is a dangerous violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment."

Ron Barrier, National Spokesperson for American Atheists, accused Call To Renewal of "jumping in with the religious right for a midnight raid on the public treasury."

"This proposal to 'religionize' welfare and other social programs would compel millions of Americans who are atheists or nonbelievers of some kind to subsidize religion." He also cited "dangerous" changes in American welfare laws which now make it easier for public monies to flow into religious coffers under the veneer of "charitable choice."

"This makes Uncle Sam a tax collector for religious organizations," said Mr. Barrier. "It undermines the real meaning of charity, and sets up a scheme which compels Americans to support religious activities."

"Does anyone really believe that churches, mosques and temples will separate their religious message from any social welfare activities?' asked Ms. Johnson. "And what happens when Muslims, Wiccans, Scientologists or some other religious groups wants a piece of the public pie? Should atheists -- or anyone else -- be forced to pay?"

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