December 10 - 16, 2006

This column will provide links to, plus quotes and summaries of, on-line articles that might be of interest to the Infidel community. Because is concerned with educational issues, the articles selected will help to inform and enlighten readers as well as entertain them. In order to conform to "fair use practices," only small segments of the articles will be quoted. One caveat: to read the entire linked article, readers may have to subscribe to on-line versions of newspapers or magazines.

Leading off this update, a news story just in time for the holidays, from the web site of Americans United for Separation of Church and State:

A group of Pagans in Albemarle County, Va., was recently given permission to advertise their multi-cultural holiday program to public school children – and they have the Rev. Jerry Falwell to thank for it.
The dispute started last summer when Gabriel and Joshua Rakoski, twins who attend Hollymead Elementary School, sought permission to distribute fliers about their church’s Vacation Bible School to their peers via “backpack mail.” [...]

School officials originally denied the request from the twins’ father, Ray Rakoski, citing a school policy barring “distribution of literature that is for partisan, sectarian, religious or political purposes.”

A Charlottesville weekly newspaper, The Hook, reports that Rakoski “sicced the Liberty Counsel on the county,” and the policy was soon revised to allow religious groups to use the backpack mail system. Liberty Counsel is a Religious Right legal group founded by Mathew Staver and now affiliated with Falwell.

Some local Pagans who attend Thomas Jefferson Memorial Church, a Unitarian-Universalist congregation in Charlottesville, decided to take advantage of the new forum as well. They created a one-page flier advertising a Dec. 9 event celebrating the December holidays with a Pagan twist and used the backpack system to invite the entire school community.

Read the full story at...

From The Christian Science Monitor, an op ed advancing the idea to remove Christmas as an official holiday:

MORRISTOWN, N.J. – I'm not a fanatic atheist or a self-righteous secular humanist. I'm a practicing Christian. But I think Christmas should be stricken from the list of legal holidays in America. [...]

And the "December dilemma" looms large in schools. I refer to the mood affecting teachers, parents, and students as they wonder whether they can mention Jesus, Bethlehem, Wise Men, or shepherds without offending someone. Adults tend to deal with the issue by banishing materials that might be construed as religious. Children are thus rightly confused at the notion of celebrating a holiday - really, a holy day - whose origin cannot be mentioned. I remember having tense discussions about the content in what is now routinely called the "holiday music program." Fear of offending anyone usually produces programs that are saccharine, devoid of meaningful content.

Read the full CSM story here...

What is once basically secular Hugo Chavez up to, now invoking Jesus as his guide, as he seeks to build a socialist Venezuela? Chavez was once a critic of the Church. From the Miami Herald:

CARACAS - It was during a driving rain on Sunday night when newly reelected Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez took to the presidential palace balcony in central Caracas and mentioned his latest guiding figure: Jesus Christ.

''The Kingdom of Christ is the kingdom of love, of peace; the kingdom of justice, of solidarity, brotherhood, the kingdom of socialism,'' he told the raucous crowd celebrating below. ``This is the kingdom of the future of Venezuela.''

Hardly words of a hard-core leftist, Chávez's pronouncements were part of the increasingly religious flavor that he has given his ''21st Century Socialism.'' These days, the president evokes Christ almost as much as he talks about his other hero, Simón Bolívar, who led a long stretch of the Andes to independence from Spain in the 19th Century.

It's far from clear what Chávez's newfound religion will mean for Venezuela, its neighbors and the U.S. government in his next six-year term.

Read the full story at the Miami Herald...

I'll close with three news clips that concern growing cultural tensions among Catholics, "Judeo-Christians," and Muslims, including at U.S. universities.

From The New York Times, a debate about building another mosque in Germany, this time in Munich, where some of the conservative Catholics have amusingly defined the city's culture (see the end of the excerpt):

Of the many ways that Christians and Muslims rub up against each other in this country, the construction of mosques has become one of the most contentious. Symbols of a foreign faith, rising in German cities, they are stoking anti-foreign sentiment and reinforcing fears that Christianity is under threat.
Why, Mrs. Schandl asked, do the Turks want to build their mosque right here, on a site opposite St. Korbinian? Like churches everywhere in Germany, hers is struggling to survive in a secular society. A few empty churches are being converted into banks or restaurants.

For Onder Yildiz, a soft-spoken but intense leader of the Turkish community, the answer is simple: “A mosque next to a church helps intensify dialogue between the religions,” he said.

On one level, Mr. Yildiz is right: St. Korbinian church and the city’s mayor have welcomed the mosque, which would be the third, and most prominent, in Munich, the heartland of German Catholicism.

But a vocal minority of residents has resisted, holding protest meetings, collecting signatures, and filing a petition with the Bavarian Parliament. “Bavarian life,” the petition declares, “is marked by the drinking of beer and the eating of pork. In Muslim faith, both are unclean and forbidden.”

Read the full story here...

And a similar story, published in The Boston Globe, regarding a Texas town near Houston:

KATY, Texas -- A plan to build a mosque in this Houston suburb has triggered a neighborhood dispute, with community members warning that the place will become a terrorist hotbed and one man threatening to hold pig races on Fridays just to offend the Muslims.

Many neighborhood residents maintain they have nothing against Muslims and are more concerned about property values, drainage, and traffic.
But one resident has set up an anti-Islamic website with an odometer-like counter that tracks terrorist attacks since Sept. 11. A committee has formed to buy another property and offer to trade it for the Muslims' land. And next-door neighbor Craig Baker has threatened to race pigs on the edge of the property on the Muslim holy day. Muslims consider pigs unclean and do not eat pork.

"Neighbors have created havoc for us, and we didn't expect that," said Kamel Fotouh, president of the Katy Islamic Association.

Read the Boston Globe story here...

And finally, from the San Francisco Chronicle, regarding "shout outs" on campus, which censor invited speakers:

In 2004, UC Berkeley became the locus for bullying behavior during a speech by Islam scholar Daniel Pipes. I was witness to the spectacle, one I'll never forget. Members of the Muslim Student Association and other protesters formed a disruptive group in the audience, shouting, jeering and chanting continually. They booed loudly throughout and called Pipes everything from "racist" and "Zionist" (which in their minds is an insult) to "racist Jew" -- all because Pipes had the audacity to propose that moderate Muslims distance themselves from extremist elements in their midst; that in tackling terrorism authorities take into account the preponderance of Muslim perpetrators and that Israel has a right to exist peacefully among its neighbors.

This was hardly the first time that UC Berkeley students had espoused hostility toward speakers with "unpopular" views or those hailing from "unpopular" countries such as Israel. [...]

Recently, reformers from within the Arab world itself have been on the receiving end of such treatment. Whether it be the work of student groups or faculty, insurmountable security restrictions and last-minute cancellations have a strange way of arising whenever such figures are invited to speak on college campuses.

Arab American activist and author Nonie Darwish was to speak at Brown University earlier this month, when the event was canceled because her views were deemed "too controversial" by members of the Muslim Students' Association. Given that Darwish is the author of the recently released book, "Now They Call Me Infidel: Why I Renounced Jihad for America, Israel and the War on Terror," such claims are hardly unpredictable. Like most Arab reformers, Darwish must overcome the resistance within her own community, aided and abetted by misguided liberal sympathizers, in order to get her message across.

Read the full story here...

The Talk of Lawrence