Secular Humanists win big in Federal Court

Secular Humanists win big in Federal Court November 3, 2014

A federal court rules Secular Humanists should enjoy the same rights and protections granted to Christians and members of other religious groups.

The court decision declares that Secular Humanism is a religion “for Establishment Clause purposes.”

In essence, the court’s ruling grants First Amendment protections to Secular Humanist organizations. This is a good thing.

Religion Clause reports:

In American Humanist Association v. United States, (D OR, Oct. 30, 2014), an Oregon federal district court held that “Humanism is a religion for Establishment Clause purposes,” observing that “such a view is consistent with longstanding Supreme Court jurisprudence.” The holding comes in a case in which a federal prisoner sought recognition of Humanism so the prison would create a Humanist study group.

Think Progress reports:

On Thursday, October 30, Senior District Judge Ancer Haggerty issued a ruling on American Humanist Association v. United States, a case that was brought by the American Humanist Association (AHA) and Jason Holden, a federal prisoner. Holden pushed for the lawsuit because he wanted Humanism — which the AHA defines as “an ethical and life-affirming philosophy free of belief in any gods and other supernatural forces” — recognized as a religion so that his prison would allow for the creation of a Humanist study group. Haggerty sided with the plaintiffs in his decision, citing existing legal precedent and arguing that denying Humanists the same rights as groups such as Christianity would be a violation of the Establishment Clause in the U.S. Constitution, which declares that Congress “shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.”

Greg Epstein, Humanist Chaplain at Harvard University and author of Good Without God: What a Billion Nonreligious People Do Believe, told Think Progress:

I really don’t care if Humanism is called a religion or not. But if you’re going to give special rights to religions, then you have to give them to Humanism as well, and I think that’s what this case was about.

Nonreligious people are just one of the large groups in American society today. Increasingly, we need to be recognized not just for our non-belief, but also as a community, and this decision affirms that.

Some non-theists are concerned with Humanism being identified as a religion. However, it is important to note that Secular Humanism is not the same as atheism. Atheism is simply a lack of belief in any gods; atheism is not a religion.

On the other hand, Secular Humanism is a positive philosophy or life stance embracing human reason, ethics, and philosophical naturalism while specifically rejecting religious dogma, supernaturalism, pseudoscience, and superstition as the basis of morality and decision making.

While calling Secular Humanism a religion may bother some because of the moral and intellectual toxicity associated with the vast majority of world religions, others rightly believe that the larger pursuit of equal rights for non-theists ultimately trumps the aesthetic discomfort the semantic and legal classification of Secular Humanism as a religion may induce.

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