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August 23, 2005

Court rules Atheism is a religion

From the American Family Association...

A federal court of appeals has ruled in favor of an inmate who claimed that Wisconsin prison officials violated his rights under the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment because they refused to allow him to create a study group for atheists.

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that prison officials erred because they “did not treat atheism as a ‘religion.’” “Atheism,” said the court, “is [the inmate’s] religion, and the group that he wanted to start was religious in nature even though it expressly rejects a belief in a supreme being.”

Brian Fahling, senior trial attorney for the American Family Association Center for Law & Policy, described the court’s ruling as “a sort of Alice in Wonderland jurisprudence.” “Up is down, and atheism, the antithesis of religion, is religion,” stated Fahling.

The Supreme Court has said that a religion need not be based on a belief in the existence of a supreme being. In the 1961 case of Torcaso v. Watkins, the Court described “secular humanism” as a religion.

I don't know how many times over the years I've debated Atheists (and Agnostics) who claim that Atheism isn't a religion. But when it comes to getting the benefits of religion, they seem to be more than willing to claim it is. As for the court case, the inmate is right, he should be allowed to meet with fellow Atheists, and have his beliefs respects as much as the beliefs of Christians, Jews, Moslems, etc. While I generally agree with the AFA, in this case I have to disagree with them. Atheism is indeed a religion and should be treated as such. It simply doesn't make sense to limit the definition of religion to a belief in a Supreme Being. Buddhism and Hinduism have no such beliefs, but are considered religions. We have an abundance of religions today that are more philosophical in nature, Scientology is an obvious example, but are nonetheless religions.

Every person has a set of beliefs regarding where we came from, who we are, how we should live our lives and what is the ultimate meaning of our lives. That's not to say all of them are correct — they obviously can't be — but every person should be free to determine for themselves what that belief is. And every person should also be free to be able to share their ideas about those concepts with others.

As I wrote back in June of 2002...

Let me go on the record here as saying that every Moslem should have the right to strive to conquer the world, in the name of their religion, as long as they limit their tools to words and ideas. The same goes for any other religion, philosophy, ideology, form of government, or soft drink company. Hey, if that's what you want to do -- go for it. That's one of the things that makes America so great -- the freedom to say what you want to say. The First Amendment to the Constitution provides for Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Religion. Think of it as capitalism of thought, the free market place of ideas. You want me to become a Moslem, a Buddhist, a Hindu, an Amway Rep, then you have the right to tell me why I should, as long as I'm willing to listen. But this nonsense that no one should try to change the world has got to be exposed.

Most people I know who are intelligent enough to hold a halfway interesting conversation would like to think that they, in at least some small way, are helping to make the world a better place. Isn't that pretty much what we're talking about here? So Abdul over there want to convince everyone that we'd all be happier as Moslems. Joe over there wants to convince the world we'd all be happier under Socialism. Harry here wants to convince everyone we'd all be happier as Libertarians. And Rufus here thinks the world would be a much better place if we'd finally get those poor people off of Gilligan's Island. As long as everyone has the right to freely express their beliefs, then we can hope that the world will have enough intelligence to go with the one that actually will make us better off.

I see no harm in the government recognizing non-supernatural belief systems as religions. I can't see how it would hamper other religions, and it would put some reason and logic into the debate about the place of religion in society and politics.

Coverage: bLogicus

Posted by Danny Carlton at August 23, 2005 09:31 AM

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Comments

Got a laugh out of this one.

Posted by: heather at August 23, 2005 11:46 PM

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