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Free Inquiry

Volume 19, Number 2
Spring, 1999

The following articles are from Free Inquiry magazine, Volume 19, Number 2.

Incoming House Speaker Comfortable on the Right

by Tom Flynn

He's not Newt Gingrich, but church-state watchdogs warn that incoming Republican Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert is decidedly friendly to the religious Right. A statement by the People for the American Way Foundation identifies Hastert as an evangelical Christian and notes that his last-minute bid for the Speaker's chair was welcomed by James Dobson's Focus on the Family, Pat Robertson's Christian Coalition, Gary Bauer's Family Research Council, Phyllis Schafly's Eagle Forum, and National Right to Life. "The religious Right may not have been unhappy with the earlier choice of Representative Bob Livingston, but Hastert is a much better fit," the organization stated. Livingston withdrew his name from consideration for the Speakership in connection with a sex scandal.

Media accounts portray Hastert as amiable, even grandfatherly, in contrast to the partisan and often abrasive Gingrich. But Capitol watchers say Hastert, who served conservative Representative Tom DeLay as Deputy Minority Whip, is a social and economic conservative whose agenda and appetite for partisan wrangling behind closed doors mirror that of DeLay and ultraconservative Representative Dick Armey.

Hastert is not only against abortion, but contraception too: he co-sponsored the so-called human life amendment four times and voted against federal employee health plans covering the cost of contraceptives. He has supported several proposed constitutional amendments that would permit state-sanctioned, government-sponsored prayer in public schools, and voted in favor of channeling federal tax dollars to private schools in Washington, D.C.. He consistently opposes federal recognition of and civil rights for gays and lesbians.

"Hastert's portrayal as a compromiser and bridge-builder is in sharp contrast to his down-the-line support for the agenda of the religious Right," says the Foundation. The Christian Coalition apparently agrees: in 1996 it gave Hastert its "Friend of the Family" award.

Taslima Nasrin Safe Again

by Andrea Szalanski

Bangladeshi physician and social critic Taslima Nasrin has once again defied danger for an act of conscience and triumphed.

In 1994, Nasrin was forced to flee her native land because her writings prompted death threats from Muslims who said she had offended their faith. But she returned last year to minister to her dying mother. A change in government and an international campaign calling for her protection, which the Council for Secular Humanism helped lead, raised hopes that she would not have to fear for her life any longer.

But by late January, after her mother had died and death threats were continuing, it was apparent that would not be the case. She departed Bangladesh for Sweden.

"I feel safe and at the same time I feel so empty because of not having a loving mother," she told Free Inquiry staff. "I am so grateful for what you have done for me."

Perhaps there is hope for Nasrin yet. India has granted its most famous native dissident, Salman Rushdie, a visa for the first time since 1988, when The Satanic Verses was published. However, some Muslims have threatened violence when he returns, as they believe Rushdie is still under death sentence for blasphemy.

Deadly Alliance

by James A. Haught

America-the only nation that suffers "pro-life" murder - may be in for intensified attacks on abortion clinic employees. Several new reports warn that religious extremists in the pro-life movement are teaming up with armed neo-Nazi and militia groups. One product of the partnership is Eric Rudolph, the fugitive suspected of bombing two clinics and a lesbian nightclub. Rudolph isn't a typical Bible-hugging protester. He's an adherent of Christian identity, the armed sect that thinks Anglo-Saxons are the Lost Tribe of Israel, that blacks are "mud people," and Jews are agents of Satan.

Other presumed elements of the shadowy alliance include the racist Phineas Priests, who bombed a Spokane, Washington, clinic and newspaper, and James Kopp, an itinerant protester with the Catholic Lambs of Christ, who is suspected in the October 1998 sniper murder of an Amherst, New York, clinic doctor. Such zealots pass around a hate-filled Army of God manual and share Internet links. Frederick Clarkson, author of Eternal Hostility: The Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy (Common Courage Press, 1997), studied the growing alliance for the Southern Poverty Law Center. The worst fanatics in both camps, he said, smell "revolution in the air. The goal is to replace constitutional democracy with a revolutionary theocratic state that would more closely resemble Shi'ite Iran or Taliban-controlled Afghanistan."

Of course, only a tiny fringe swallows this bizarre agenda - but a few True Believers can cause terrible harm. Only two wrought the nightmare in Oklahoma City.

So far, America has suffered seven clinic murders, 16 attempted murders, more than 200 bombings and arsons, 750 death threats and bomb threats, and hundreds of other "pro-life" crimes. It will be tragic if support from covert paramilitary groups causes the violence to escalate.

Cast Out Caste, Say Untouchables

by Andrea Szalanski

For centuries members of the bottom caste of Indian society - the Untouchables or Dalits - have been scorned, shunned, and been forced to take the worst jobs, all because of an accident of birth. Now Dalits are demanding a better life.

Groups representing India's 260 million Dalits have presented a Dalits Human Rights Charter to the Indian government. The petition and accompanying 22-point charter asks the Indian government to enforce laws already on the books that protect Dalits. It asks the United Nations to declare untouchability a "crime against humanity" and to include caste discrimination in its condemnation of other forms of discrimination.

According to the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights, Dalits "are denied not only the means to live but also the right to create their own space for living." Resource allocation is lopsided in favor of the upper castes. In addition, Dalits are subject to violence, including assault, rape, and murder.

Republicans Attack D.C. Abortion Funding

by Norm Allen

Two Republican members of the House committee that directs the District of Columbia's budget have asked a federal prosecutor to investigate the use of money to pay for abortions.

Though Congress stipulated in 1993 that the District was not permitted to provide money to poor women for abortions, District officials admit that the practice continued until recently, when a financial control board officer discovered the restriction in the latest appropriations act.

Representatives Todd Tiahrt of Kansas and Robert Aderholt of Alabama wrote in a letter to Wilma Lewis, U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, "We are outraged that officials and employees of the District of Columbia government have feigned ignorance to justify their blatant violation of federal law." Lewis did not comment on the probe.

District officials admit that the abortion ban had been ignored, even though it could be found consistently in appropriation bills and those measures were heavily reported in local newspapers. Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District of Columbia's delegate in the House, said that all evidence shows there had been an administrative mistake.

Judge Strikes Down Internet Filtering

by Timothy Binga

On November 23, 1998, U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema struck down the Loudoun County (Virginia) Library policy of requiring Internet filtering software (which prevents access to sites that contain adult materials) on all its computers all the time. In this historic decision, Brinkema stated that the library policy did not allow adults their First Amendment guarantee of freedom of speech. American Libraries (January 1999) reported that almost immediately after the decision was handed down, the library board suspended Internet service until they revised the policy to comply. There are now privacy screens, and adults are required to sign an "acceptable-use policy" statement before logging on to an unblocked computer. There are also several blocked computers for children.

The Loudoun County Library had used Log-On Data Corporation's X-Stop software to filter their Internet computers. The software was found to block access to a variety of "mainstream" sites, including a Beanie Baby site.

Library officials are reserving their right to appeal this ruling. Several groups, including the National Center for Law and the American Center for Law, have contacted the library board members to offer their services pro bono for the appeal. Virginia State Representative Richard Black is also trying to pass two bills that will require Internet filters on all computers in Virginia's public libraries and schools.

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