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Secular World

edited by Deidre Conn


The following article is from the Secular Humanist Bulletin, Volume 14, Number 3.


Wisconsin Supreme Court Allows School Vouchers

On June 10 the Wisconsin State Supreme Court voted 4-2 to allow public school funds to be diverted to religious institutions through school vouchers, reversing an August Court of Appeals decision declaring it unconstitutional.

"This is the first ruling by an appeals court in the country that permits taxpayer money to go to pervasively sectarian schools for general K-12 education," said Peter Koneazy, Legal Director of the ACLU of Wisconsin, which is a co-counsel on behalf of the plaintiffs who originally challenged the state program in 1995. State court decisions in Ohio, Vermont and Maine on similar programs were not favorable to the voucher system. The ACLU is prepared to take the case to the U. S. Supreme Court.

ACLU of Wisconsin Executive Director Christopher Ahmuty stated that if the vouchers go ahead, it would mean that Wisconsin taxpayers will be coerced into supporting religions, including sects and cults, with which they may disagree. "We believe the Wisconsin court's decision is wrong," said Ahmuty. "It flies in the face of the clear meaning of our state and federal Constitutions."

Baptist Women are Told To Submit to Husbands

At this year's Southern Baptist Convention, held Salt Lake City, the nation's largest Protestant denomination voted to amend its Faith and Message statement with a 250-word declaration on family life, which states that a woman should "submit herself graciously" to her husband's leadership and a husband should "provide for, protect and lead his family."

The amendment ranks as one of the most prominent statements on family life by a major religious organization in recent years; until this year, the message statement had only been amended once before in 1963, when a section on higher education was included. It also stakes out one of the most conservative positions among Protestants, and represents a triumph for the denomination's conservative leadership, which came to power in 1979.

Many Baptists and religious scholars criticized the statement. Robert Parham, executive director of the independent Baptist Center for Ethics in Nashville, criticized the amendment, saying "They hope to make June Cleaver the biblical model for motherhood, despite numerous biblical references to women who worked outside the home."

Wailing Wall Wrangle

Despite violent protest, this year 300 men and women broke precedent and prayed together at Jerusalem's wailing wall during the first day of the Shavuot religious holiday. The mixed service consisted of U. S. members from the more liberal Reform and Conservative branches of Judaism. The wall traditionally follows Orthodox customs, where men and women pray separately, divided by a barrier.

This marked the first time police allowed men and women to pray together at Judaism's holiest site; on previous occasions, police forced Reform and Conservative Jews out of the plaza after stones, dirty diapers, and feces were thrown at them. After the Union of American Hebrew Congregations submitted a request to the Israeli government to assure their protection, police officers acted as a wall between the worshippers and protesters, who threw garbage and bags of chocolate milk this time.

Bishop's Suicide Protests Anti-Blasphemy Law

In Islamabad, Pakistan, Roman Catholic Bishop John Joseph, a prominent human rights campaigner, fatally shot himself in the head to protest the death sentence against a Christian for blaspheming Islam. It occurred in the same courthouse less than two weeks after Ayub Massih, a Catholic, was convicted under Pakistan's controversial blasphemy law, which requires death for anyone who defiles the prophet's name; critics say its vague wording leads to its frequent misuse by Muslim zealots against religious minorities.

Massih, 25, in jail pending appeal, was convicted of making favorable comments about British author Salman Rushdie, who was sentenced to death by Iranian religious leaders for his alleged blasphemy in "The Satanic Verses". Christian leaders stated they might launch nationwide protests if the government does not repeal the law, under which several Christians have been sentenced to death, but whose convictions have been overturned by higher courts. Of Pakistan's 140 million people, two million are Christians; the majority is Muslim.

German To Die For Sex

In Tehran, Iran, judges have ordered a new trial for a German businessman accused, convicted, and sentenced to death for having sex with a Muslim woman.

Helmut Hofer, 54, was convicted in January of having sex with a 26-year-old Muslim woman. Iranian law follows the teachings of Mohammed, who permitted Muslim men to have sex with non-Muslim women (indeed several of his concubines were non-Muslims), but made it a capital offense for a Muslim woman to have sex with a non-Muslim man. Hofer contends he converted before having sex with the Muslim woman. The Bonn government warns that German-Iranian relations will deteriorate if they execute Hofer. Germany is Iran's biggest trade partner in the European Union. The retrial has already begun.

The fate of the young woman has not been reported.

Mormons Rewrite History

Mormon history has changed. The new Relief Society manual, in use since January by church members in 22 languages, mentions only the first of the 55 wives of America's most famous polygamist and Mormon church father, Brigham Young. The absence of any mention of polygamy is one of many complaints leveled at the manual, the first in a series based on the selected teachings of presidents of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

Polygamy, secretly established by church founder Joseph Smith as "the new and everlasting covenant of marriage", was championed by Young, but dropped thirteen years after his death in 1877 and appears nowhere in the text of the new manual. Also missing are Young's theories that Adam was God the Father and Eve was just one of God's wives, the rest having been left on other worlds. Blood atonement, Young's doctrine that some sins were so terrible the only way to save the sinner was to kill them, was also left out.

According to Craig Manscill, chairman of the writing committee that produced the manual, the absence of polygamy should not be surprising; said Manscill, "Was it in the material that we reviewed? Oh, it was there. And did we ellipse in certain places? Of course we did. But we were following what our leaders had asked us to do."

Tempest in a World Cup

The Iranian World Cup soccer team was upset by the French telecast of an unflattering U. S. film on June 15. France's privately owned channel M6 screened "Not Without My Daughter", a film based on a book by Betty Mahmoudi which chronicles her escape from Iran with her daughter against the wishes of her Iranian husband.

Iranian soccer players have complained that the movie insults them and the fans. Iran's hard-line paper Resalat claimed the film was broadcast intentionally to exercise psychological pressure on the team and fans and to embarrass Iranians in general. Safaei Farahani, head of Iran's soccer federation, submitted a written protest to the world soccer federation FIFA, no doubt asking for the suppression of materials that show Iranians as suppressors.


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