FROM THE ARCHIVES: States debate freedom of religious beliefs

Editor’s note: This regular feature explores topics covered in past issues of Aztec Press. This column is the second part of a two-part series.

By SIERRA J. RUSSELL

Students and employees at Pima Community College represent a wide range of religious beliefs. This is seen in the pages of the Aztec Press dating back to its earliest issues.

The newspaper featured an interview in the late ‘70s with instructor Donald A. Graham, who practiced Sufism, a form of mysticism with Islamic roots.

“At some point, every being will feel a sense of emptiness and will begin to seek something to fill that emptiness,” Graham said. “It is then he will turn to a spiritual path.”

Graham explained that Sufis are open to various paths of enlightenment.

“The real unity of Sufism is the realization that everything is a part of the same thing,” he said.

Like many religions, Sufism encourages self-discipline and sacrifice of frivolities and indulgences.

A 1992 article focused on the presence of Hare Krishna members at West Campus. They were handing out pamphlets, accepting donations for copies of the Bhagavad Gita and chanting in the gym courtyard.

“Chanting is a recommended process of self-realization for this day and age,” said Vaishnava Swami, a Hare Krishna member from the Chaitanya Cultural Center.

PCC students provided mixed opinions about their presence.

One student said he enjoyed the chanting and thought the members added “a little atmosphere to the campus.”

Another student considered the Hare Krishna members loud and distracting. He also found their appearance “too freaky.”

A second  article from 1992 looked into the Tucson chapter of American Atheist Veterans. PCC student Orin R. “Spike” Tyson had recently been named head of the local branch.

“An atheist is someone who does not have a set of beliefs,” Tyson said. “If you said ‘one plus one equals two,’ I’d ask you to prove it. We demand proof of anything.”

Tyson said there were laws in place to protect many religious beliefs, but the laws often left atheists without protection.

He cited Article 19 of the Arkansas Constitution, which does not allow atheists to hold office or testify in court. The restriction is still in place today.

Provisions in several other state constitutions also prohibit atheists from being elected.

For instance, Section 2, Article 9 of Tennessee’s state constitution reads, “No person who denies the being of God, or a future state of rewards and punishments, shall hold any office in the civil department of this state.”

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer’s recent veto of the controversial Senate Bill 1062 speaks volumes about the ongoing debate concerning religious rights.

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