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Gathering storms.

Despite a couple of defeats at the hands of the Supreme Court recently, the religious radical right is still gathering strength for its continuing assaults on church-state separation and fundamental liberties. Here are some of the major developments.

On June 27, the Supreme Court ruled six to three in Kiryas Joel School District v. Grumet that the 1989 New York State law creating a special publicschool district for a Hasidic Jewish sect is unconstitutional. (The American Humanist Association joined an amicus curiae brief in the case, which was filed by the National Coalition for Public Education and Religious Liberty.) Writing for the Court majority, Justice Souter said that the state law "crosses the line from permissible accommodation to impermissible establishment." Justice Kennedy, in a separate opinion, called the arrangement "specific religious gerrymandering." In a sarcastic dissent joined by Justices Rehnquist and Thomas, Justice Scalia blasted the Court's long history of church-state jurisprudence.

The New York legislature immediately passed new bills designed to circumvent the ruling. At this writing, Governor Mario Cuomo is expected to sign the bills. We will have to go back to court and fight the battle all over again, and New York lawmakers will have wasted more of the taxpayers' money.

On June 30, the Supreme Court ruled six to three in Mausen v. Women's Health Center that a Florida judge had properly enjoined disruptive protestors from blocking access to an abortion clinic. The lower court had ordered a 36-foot buffer zone around the Melbourne, Florida, clinic. The ruling gives added weight to a June 16 federal court ruling in Virginia dismissing a challenge to the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act (FACE) recently passed by Congress. (The AHA joined with People for the American Way, Americans for Religious Liberty, the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, and other groups in an amicus brief in Mansen.)

In June, a summer storm blew in over whether the Guidelines on Workplace Harassment, proposed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), should apply to religious harassment. Jerry Falwell and other religious right activists have launched a campaign to remove religious harassment from the guidelines on the grounds that the EEOC might interfere with the free exercise of religion. Falwell charged that, under the guidelines, employees could be fired for praying at lunch, wearing a cross, or listening to religious music. But People for the American Way's John Buchanan told a conference in June that Falwell's "Stop Anti-Christian Bigotry" letter "has more errors on page one than I have made in my whole life."

Members of Congress are coming under pressure from the religious right to delete religious harassment from the guidelines. On June 21, a statement issued on behalf of Jewish and Protestant organizations, as well as the American Civil Liberties Union, Americans for Religious Liberty, the AHA, and other groups, declared that "deleting religion as a protected category from the EEOC's guidelines would disserve employers who would continue to be subject to liability for violation of Title VII {of the 1964 Civil Rights Act}. It also would undermine the religious liberty of employees to be free from pervasive slurs, epithets, and discriminatory ridicule based on their religious affiliations and beliefs."

On other fronts, the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic church--which is out of sync with most Catholics and non-Catholics on these issues--is going all out to block the United Nation's International Conference on Population and Development, to take place in Cairo in September, from dealing effectively with the problems of overpopulation and widespread limitations on reproductive choice. The church leadership is also attempting to block the U.S. Congress from including abortion services in a national health-care reform program. This massive assault on the fundamental right of all persons to reproductive choice, and on the responsibility of governments to cope humanely with the worldwide problem of overpopulation and irreversible resource depletion, is dangerously irresponsible and something less than sane. Even the pope's own Pontifical Academy of Sciences declared in June that birthrates must be brought down.

It is time for thinking men and women--Catholics and non-Catholics the world over--to stand up and cry, "Enough!" Human rights and human welfare must take precedence over authoritarian medieval dogmatism.

The threats to American pluralism, tolerance, religious liberty, civil liberties, and church-state separation posed by the growing strength of the religious radical right are deadly serious. Indispensable tools for understanding and dealing with these threats are the following books:

The Religious Right: The Assault on Tolerance and Pluralism in America by David Cantor (Anti-Defamation League, 823 United Nations Plaza, New York, NY 10017; 193 pp.; $7.50) is a comprehensive, documented guide to the organizations, leaders, methods, and connections of the fundamentalist Protestant sector of the religious right.

A New Rite: Conservative Catholic Organizations and Their Allies by Steve Askin (Catholics for a Free Choice, 1436 U Street NW, Suite 301, Washington, DC 20009; 91 pp.; $15.00) is an equally thorough study of the Catholic right.

Challenging the Christian Right: The Activist's Handbook by Frederick Clarkson and Skipp Porteous (Institute for First Amendment Studies, Box 589, Great Barrington, MA 02130; 290 pp.; $20.00) covers much of the material in the ADL volume but also contains a great deal of additional material.

How to Win: A Practical Guide for Defeating the Radical Right in Your Community (Radical Right Task Force, c/o National Jewish Democratic Council, 711 Second Street NW, Washington, DC 20002; 252 pp.; $25.00) is a blockbuster how-to book for combatting the radical right on the community and state levels. Dozens of experts (including this writer) have contributed concise information on the issues--creationism, parochiaid, vouchers, school prayer, censorship, abortion rights, gay and lesbian rights, and the environment--together with practical guidelines on organizing and directories of resources and groups.

Any or all of these materials may be ordered from Americans for Religious Liberty, Box 6656, Silver Spring, MD 20916. (Add $2.00 to orders for postage and handling.)
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No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1994, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:church and state court cases
Author:Doerr, Edd
Publication:The Humanist
Date:Sep 1, 1994
Previous Article:Environmental politics.
Next Article:Blues for single-payer.

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