Atheist Vies For
S.C. Notary Status
by Jesse J. Holland
October 3, 1996
COLUMBIA, South Carolina (AP) -- Herb Silverman is an atheist who wants to be a notary public. South Carolina won't allow it.
Silverman contends that's because he refuses to acknowledge God, a requirement in the state constitution for all public officers. So today he took his case to a higher authority -- the state Supreme Court.
The battle is about more than just being a notary public, with the authority to witness signatures and, in this state, even preside at weddings. Silverman, a 54-year-old math professor at the College of Charleston, says it's the first step in fighting for atheists' rights in a Bible Belt state.
"The first thing people ask you when you move here is what church you go to, and when you tell them that you don't believe in God, all of a sudden you don't have many friends," said Silverman, a Philadelphia native who moved to South Carolina in 1976.
A lower court judge sided with Silverman, throwing out the constitution's "God clause."
The state appealed, contending the case isn't about religion. Silverman, who crossed out the word God in "so help me God," should not have crossed out any word on the notary application, and besides, he did not have enough of the required signatures on his second application, the state's lawyers say.
"If the word 'protect,' 'preserve' or 'defend,' had been struck from the application, the result would have been exactly the same," state lawyer Brad Waring told justices today.
Secretary of State Jim Miles did return the application initially because Silverman had removed the word "God" from it, Waring said earlier. When Silverman resubmitted the application to then-Gov. Carroll Campbell, it also had "God" crossed out, but was returned also because he was short a legislative signature, Waring said.
Under the state's complex rules for becoming a notary public, Silverman actually had the required number of legislators' signatures -- eight -- at the time of his first application. But redistricting had changed the required number to nine, and when his second application was rejected he opted to take the whole matter to court.
Since 1868, South Carolina's Constitution has declared: "No person who denies the existence of the Supreme Being shall hold any office under this Constitution."
As a state-sanctioned official, a notary public swears in the application to fulfill the duties of the office, and protect and defend the state and U.S. constitutions "so help me God."
The only other states that require in their constitutions that public officers have a belief in a higher power are Arkansas, Maryland, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Tennessee and Texas, said Robert Boston, a spokesman for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, based in Washington, D.C. The rule, however, is not enforced, he added.
In 1961, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states cannot require constitutional officers to profess a belief in God.
"It's been a dead issue since 1961, because we thought that the Supreme Court took care of that problem then," Boston said.
Silverman began pursuing a notary commission after he ran unsuccessfully for governor as a write-in candidate in 1990 to challenge the constitutional requirement. His lawsuit was thrown out because he was not elected.
"Being a notary public is not a lifelong dream of mine," Silverman said. "My issue is just to change the state constitution."
He said he's received phone calls from people saying they pray that God would "eliminate" him from South Carolina.
"As long as they are just praying for it, obviously I'm not worried," he said.
South Carolina Court
Okays Atheists for Public Office
July 31, 1997
An atheist does not have to swear to a "supreme being" to hold public office in South Carolina, the state Supreme Court has ruled.
According to a report in The State, the court's five justices unanimously agreed that the requirement violates the U.S. Constitution and upheld a lower court ruling in the case of a College of Charleston professor. The professor, Herb Silverman, is an atheist whose application for notary public was turned down because he had crossed out the part of an oath that read "so help me God."
"The state Supreme Court didn't hesitate to find the religious test for public office to be a violation of religious freedom," Steven Bates, Executive Director of the ACLU of South Carolina, told the State.
The ACLU had filed the original lawsuit in 1993 on behalf of Professor Silverman.
The South Carolina high court agreed that forcing public officers to acknowledge the existence of a "supreme being" — required by the state's constitution — violated the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment that provides for religious liberty and separation of church and state.
South Carolina was one of seven states that require belief in a higher power to hold public office, the State said.
Arkansas, Maryland, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Tennessee and Texas have similar clauses, the paper said, but they don't enforce them.
Evolution Video Reinstated
in Colorado School
by Conrad Goeringer
"One of the best learning resources available in the country ..."
September 6, 1996
A video which included mention of evolution and had been pulled from a science class in Colorado was reinstated last night thanks to a 3-1 vote on the Jefferson County School Board. The decision followed an emotional public hearing that drew more than 300 spectators and speakers, including American Atheist State Director Margie Wait. The Board rejected a proposal by a high school superintendent to circulate The Miracle of Life with a study guide and "warning label" which declared that the video "contains scientific material that some students may find objectionable." In accordance with the proposed "guide" directives, teachers would have fast-forwarded through parts of the video, including a section that declared: "From these one-celled organisms evolved all life on Earth." The Board also called for a change in the administrative policy which permitted the tape to be withdrawn without consultation of a review committee.
The Colorado case attracted national media attention last month, making it the latest in an on-going round of battles being waged throughout the nation's schools over the evolution-creationism controversy. References to evolution, especially in high school texts and science guides, have come under increasing attack by Christian fundamentalists and evangelicals who warn that it denigrates religious faith in divine creation and the authenticity of the bible.
The video was first challenged by a 15-year-old student, Danny Phillips, who identified himself as a fundamentalist Christian and maintained that its contents abridged his freedom of religion. But last night, in a five-minute address to the Board, Phillips insisted that "this is not a creation-evolution debate," although he did suggest that a creationist tape be substituted for the The Miracle of Life.
Another speaker pointed out that if the Board prohibited the video and substituted one which expressed a creationist "alternative," then views of other religious groups -- including Muslims and Taoists -- had to be given equal time. Creationists defended Phillips, maintaining that "if schools teach evolution as a fact rather than a theory, they are indoctrinating children."
According to the Rocky Mountain News, science teachers at last night's hearing "present evolution as a robust theory that has the support of most biologists, geologists and other scientists." One insisted that The Miracle of Life, produced by the award-winning PBS series Nova, "is the best available ... and would be difficult to replace."
School Board member Dave DiGiacomo told the Denver Post that the controversial video was "one of the best learning resources available in the country," and added that "The board cannot take away an important resource from other children because of one student's concerns."
Behind A Public Statement: Deeper Issues
While Mr. Phillips said that last night's board decision was not about evolution and creationism, earlier statements he made suggests a different story. In Freedom Watch, a publication of the Citizens Project in Colorado, Phillips is quoted as insisting that the bible should be used in public schools because of "scientific works that have to be revised and corrected every few years ... If science is pervaded with theories like this (evolution) and that is all there is to it, then science is obviously nothing more than an attempt to discredit religion and should not be taught in public schools."
Freedom Watch also noted that Phillips suggested using a creationist book, Of Pandas and People.
Phillips and other creationist supporters also have reportedly received assistance from Focus on the Family, the huge Colorado Springs-based fundamentalist group headed by "bible-discipline" guru James Dobson. Mr. Phillips also reportedly attended a summer course on creationism, sponsored by the Institute for Creation Research.
A Double Strategy: Censor or Subsidize
The tone of letters to newspapers and even editorials in some Colorado media reflects a strategy currently in vogue with creationists and their conservative religious allies. If evolution cannot be banned or "balanced" in public schools by presenting it as merely a competing theory about the origin of life and universe along with biblical accounts of creationism, then religious students should be "accommodated" or have their "religious liberty" protected by establishing special, faith-based schools, or instituting voucher schemes and other forms of aid so they may attend private schools. In this way, the creationist debate has now been linked with both the "religious liberty" question and state subsidies for church schools masquerading under the banner of "educational choice."
Not even all religionists were in agreement with the creationist position last night, however. The pastor of a local United Methodist Church told the board that he supported use of the video, adding: "The idea that Christianity is in opposition to science is embarrassing to me ... Please don't lose your sense of reason. Please don't ban a perfectly good teaching tool." But according to reports, the creationists have pledged to carry on their fight; one said that the school board "just chickened out."
American Atheists Statement
to the Jefferson School Board
(Here is the text of a release presented last evening to the Jefferson County School Board and the news media by Frank Zindler, Science Advisor for American Atheists and a nationally-recognized authority in the creationism-evolution debate.)
It is regrettable that there are religions that cannot accept scientific reality; their existence, though, must not deflect the public schools of this state from carrying out their obligations to teach science as it is understood by its foremost practitioners. It is as much a fact that evolution has occurred as that our bodies are made of atoms. Evolutionary theory is just as factual as atomic theory. The change in species of plants and animals through time as documented in the fossil record shows beyond a shadow of doubt that evolution has occurred. Moreover, our studies of DNA and the processes of mutation and natural selection have revealed quite precisely the chemical basis of evolutionary change. The differences between men, mice and mosses are simply the result of the fact that the DNA messages that encode them are "spelled" differently, in a four-letter chemical alphabet (A,T,C,G) that was first discovered in the middle of this century. Moreover, there are no known chemical barriers that can prevent such changes from occurring from time to time, making evolution essentially inevitable.
In the last century, some people in Missouri decided that the Bible required the value of pi to be exactly 3.0 rather than 3.14150.... An attempt was made to pass a law setting the value at 3.0, and we may suppose that at least some religionists forbade their children to believed in the established value of pi. Today this is laughable, but a century ago the distress caused by the clash between religion and reality was certainly just as great as that which adherents of creationist religions experience today. We may suppose that people in the future will look back at the creationist controversy with as much laughter as we now look back to the pi problem.
Religions themselves evolve, even religions that disallow belief in evolution. In time the creationist churches will come to terms with the world that science has shown to be reality. But until that evolution takes place, the public schools must continue to present the best understanding of science that is available at any given point in time. It is sad that this may cause discomfort to certain individuals. But the fact that reality is not "fair" may itself be an important lesson for our children to learn, over and above any lessons they may learn about human origins.
Our children deserve the best possible education we can offer them today to prepare them for the real world. They must learn to properly evaluate and distinguish between what is real and what is fantasy in order to make the decisions of tomorrow. Their chances for success depend on their understanding of real science, where hypotheses must be tested repeatedly and subjected to possible falsification, before being accepted. No reputable scientist accepts the pseudo-scientific world of "creation science," nor should we be teaching our children a corrupt form of "science" which is based on belief, or acceptance without evidence.
To ban any teaching tool from the science classroom because it presents a scientific fact which offends those who still desperately want to believe otherwise, is to do a great disservice to the students of today and the leaders of tomorrow.
American Atheists urges this board of public education not to bow to pressure from any religious organization that wishes to impose its beliefs upon the manner in which science is taught in our public classrooms.
A note to AANEWS readers: we have learned that the Rocky Mountain Family Legal Foundation has now vowed to take the issue of the "Miracle of Life" video to court in an effort to either ban the film, or segments thereof.
Literacy Drive Uses
Scientology Founder's Lessons
by Duke Helfand
Los Angeles Times staff writer
Friday, August 1, 1997
Education: Head of inner-city campaign praises methods. Applied Scholastics officials deny that the program is an attempt to recruit members. By Duke Helfand, Times Staff Writer
Applied Scholastics International, the Hollywood organization that promotes the teaching methods of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, is spreading its ideas and school textbooks through inner-city communities in a partnership with a Baptist minister from Compton.
The company has teamed up with the Rev. Alfreddie Johnson in a grass-roots campaign to bring Hubbard's "Study Technology" to church and community tutoring programs in low-income areas.
The Hubbard methods and their relationship to Scientology have come under scrutiny in recent weeks because of a proposed charter school in the Los Angeles Unified School District that would rely on the techniques.
The proposal has called into question whether the Applied Scholastics texts -- which are nearing approval from the state Department of Education for use in public schools -- violate the constitutional separation of church and state.
Critics of the 5-year-old campaign to build links with the inner city call it a veiled attempt to recruit members to Scientology, the controversial religion Hubbard founded in the early 1950s that has been variously criticized as a for-profit business and a cult.
Former Scientologists say one goal of the church's "social betterment" programs, such as Applied Scholastics, is to build broad acceptance for the religion and Hubbard.
Johnson runs the World Literacy Crusade, which has more than 35 chapters from South Los Angeles to South Africa that he says have been established to promote the educational program.
Johnson, who works out of his storefront church and community center, says he is not troubled by suggestions that Applied Scholastics has greater ambitions than education.
"I'm only interested in the product, and Applied Scholastics produces responsible human beings with the ability to learn and communicate in any subject," said Johnson, who keeps copies of the Hubbard texts on bookshelves in his True Faith Christian Center.
Applied Scholastics and Johnson observe a simple philosophy: Illiteracy is at the root of social ills, from crime and drug use to poverty itself.
Applied Scholastics, which charges Johnson and the other groups from Pacoima to Miami a licensing fee to use its methods, actively promotes the crusade. It supplies volunteers to train local activists in the Hubbard techniques and has featured Johnson in one of its glossy annual reports.
Another Scientology organization that promotes Applied Scholastics, the Assn. for Better Living and Education, devoted a recent issue of its magazine, "Solutions," to Johnson's crusade, complete with testimonials from young students.
Advocates of the Hubbard techniques say they help students by removing three "barriers" to learning. Students use dictionaries to look up words they do not understand, so they fully grasp reading material; they apply their lessons to real life; and they master each rung of a lesson to obtain a thorough understanding of a subject.
The colorful books that make up the Applied Scholastics series prominently feature Hubbard's name on the front and a short biography in the back that makes no mention of him as Scientology's founder.
"These are front groups," said Robert Vaughn Young, a former national Scientology spokesman who left the church in 1989. "They are set up to get Scientology into areas where it could never go as a religion."
Church spokeswoman Gail Armstrong called Young's assertions a "mischaracterization." She said the church publicly reaches out for new members with its own programs.
"This claim that we are seeking to get new recruits through these programs is completely disingenuous," she said.
Applied Scholastics officials say the World Literacy Crusade is merely one of many educational endeavors they promote, and say the Hubbard books contain no references to any religion.
They complain that they are being singled out for criticism while organizations affiliated with other churches earn praise for working in needy communities.
"The purpose of Applied Scholastics is to help students of all ages to improve their studies. If someone can find some hidden agenda, I have not heard of it," said Rena Weinberg, a spokeswoman. "I have never been asked to take some kid who is a gang member and bring him into Scientology."
Religious scholars have mixed opinions about the inner-city campaign, seeing both altruism and opportunism.
J. Gordon Melton, author of the Encyclopedia of American Religion, has reviewed the Hubbard textbooks and calls them "purely secular." Melton said he has collected about 200 works of Scientology.
"For those who run Applied Scholastics, I think it's a perfectly honest attempt to help people," said Melton, who is a research specialist in the religious studies department at UC Santa Barbara. "I think among the higher-ups in the Church of Scientology, those at a strategic level, they see this as a way of indirectly spreading Scientology by building the reputation of their leader."
Church spokeswoman Armstrong said that Scientologists proudly take part in Applied Scholastics campaigns and that any resulting community goodwill is a "natural byproduct," not a goal, of the programs.
Clearly, Applied Scholastics has managed to generate goodwill with Johnson and his followers.
Johnson says that Applied Scholastics has never pressed anyone at his church to study Scientology, and that none of the 700 people who have used the techniques follow the religion.
Johnson acknowledges that the "nonreligious" methods may engender skepticism from outsiders, but he sees them as a means to improve lives.
"The power to become a fireman or a doctor or a scientist is bound up in concepts, which are bound up in words," he said.
Johnson co-founded the Compton Literacy Project with another minister, Frederick Shaw Jr., shortly after the Los Angeles riots in 1992. Johnson learned about the Hubbard methods at an Applied Scholastics meeting at Shaw's home. Shaw is the son of Compton City Councilwoman Marcine Shaw, whose late husband was a Scientologist.
At the time, Johnson was running a community program in Compton offering young men counseling and other services. He recalled hearing about the idea of clearing up midsunderstood words -- one key to the Hubbard methods -- and being immediately impressed by its potential for teaching literacy.
"The light went off," said Johnson, who subsequently moved the headquarters of his community center to Lynwood. "It's what I was looking for. This was what I needed for my boys."
Shaw has even taken a handful of classes given by Scientologists.
"I love Scientologists," he said. "They are wonderful people."
Johnson says he employs other literacy tools, such as a phonics program.
Students of the Hubbard methods at the center say it has transformed their lives.
Ronnie Brown, who spent 13 years in various jails for drug-related offenses and at one point lost custody of his three young children, says the "study tech" helped him improve his reading level and taught him how to focus on his work.
"A lot of times we give up on learning, thinking there's something wrong with us, that we're dumb or we can't get it," said Brown, 40. "After completing this course, I understand that there are certain barriers to learning."
Now Brown is working at the center and says he has regained custody of his three children. Making progress on his scholastics also has brought realizations about his personal life.
"The tech gave me the ability to understand why I used drugs," he said. "It was because of my ignorance and the pain and hurt within me."
Such stories of success have won Johnson's World Literacy Crusade recognition from local officials in Compton, where the City Council earlier this year declared Jan. 18 "World Literacy Crusade Day" in honor of the organization's five-year anniversary.
Compton Councilwoman Shaw says the methods can break the cycle of violence in her community.
"The only way to do it is to make a person literate so they can become self-sustaining," said Shaw, who is a Baptist. The Rev. Joseph Peay, who began using the Hubbard methods earlier this month at his Praise Sanctuary in the Crenshaw district, shares the enthusiasm.
Peay says that he was initially reluctant to embrace the methods because of the link to Hubbard, but that fellow ministers encouraged him to try the techniques, thinking they might provide a new and valuable educational tool. He reviewed the materials and says he found nothing religious in them. An Applied Scholastics volunteer came to the church in recent months and trained six of his parishioners, who in turn are now tutoring about 12 students.
Peay says that one of his tutors' children, a 5-year-old boy, came to his office recently to show how he could read the Bible -- in part because of listening to the Applied Scholastics training. Peay had the boy read the same passages aloud to his congregation at a subsequent Sunday church service.
The minister and members of his parish plan to walk door-to-door in their neighborhood next week to attract more students.
"There is no doubt in my mind that this particular course of instruction can remedy the educational deficiencies in South-Central Los Angeles," Peay said.
Peay says there is an added benefit to the instruction: It is helping his congregants gain a deeper appreciation of their own religion.
"This program has made me realize that when the Gospel is being preached, people don't understand because they don't understand the words," he said. "And if they don't understand, how can they be saved?"
Baptist Minister Using
in Literacy Program
by Conrad Goeringer
A California literacy program initiated by a Baptist minister is using materials from a firm believed linked to the Scientology movement, a religion founded by the late science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard.
According to news reports in the Los Angeles Times and elsewhere, a firm known as Applied Scholastics International, based in Hollywood, "is spreading its ideas and school textbooks through inner-city communities" in what the paper describes as a "partnership" with Baptist minister Alfreddie Johnson. The link to Scientology and the involvement of ASI is under scrutiny since the materials would be used in a new charter school within the Los Angeles School District. Charter schools can be founded by any individual or group, and are essentially exempt from controls and standards of local school boards.
The Times noted that the use of materials based on Hubbard's writings is, according to critics, "a veiled attempt to recruit members to Scientology ... (which) has been variously criticized as a for-profit business and a cult."
Rev. Johnson operates the World Literacy Crusade which has 35 chapter groups throughout the world. The Crusade, and any other group using the Hubbard materials, is charged a licensing fee by Applied Scholastics.
Another organization, identified as the Assn. for Better Living and Education, is linked to Scientology and has devoted a recent issue of its magazine to a profile of Rev. Johnson.
There is disagreement over what the involvement of Scientology in the literacy programs mean. The Times noted that the API books feature Hubbard's name on the cover and include a biography, but make no mention of the late writer as the founder of Scientology. "These are front groups," charges Robert Vaughn Young, identified by the Times as a "national Scientology spokesman who left the church in 1989." "They are set up to get Scientology into areas where it could never go as a religion."
A Scientology Church spokesperson said that Young's claim was a "mischaracterization."
J. Gordon Melton, a chronicler and historian on religious movements, told the Times that the Applied Scholastics materials were "purely secular," and suggested that "it's a perfectly honest attempt to help people." He added, though, "I think among the higher-ups in the Church of Scientology, those at a strategic level, they see this as a way of indirectly spreading Scientology by building the reputation of their leader."
Other area religious and political leaders endorse the Scientology-Hubbard
materials. Compton Councilwoman Macine Shaw, whose late husband was a Scientologist,
claimed that the methods used in the ASI regimen can prevent violence in
the community, and that "The only way to do it is to make a person
literate so they can become self-sustaining." Ms. Shaw is identified
as a Baptist; her son, Frederick Shaw, Jr. co-founded the Compton
Literacy Project with Rev. Johnson following the LA riots of 1992. The
Times chronology suggests that Frederick Shaw attended a "handful
of classes given by Scientologists," and incorporated the "Hubbard
methods" into his programs.
State-Church Separation Concerns And Public Programs
The use of Scientology-related materials has raised concerns not only about the goals of the Church, but the wider issue of which materials may be used in public programs and charter schools. Any publically-funded programs may not use materials which proselytize religious ideologies.
Charter schools are a particularly sensitive area; some, including many "Christian academies," use textbooks and source reading materials provided by the Christian fundamentalist Bob Jones University. Since education departments have no authority over those schools, students are often taught religious perspectives on subjects like biology, history and geology.