Court Rules Atheism Is a Religion?

A common tactic of today’s creationists, including the Intelligent Design variety, is claiming that Darwin’s theory of evolution, and “materialist” science generally, is based on — or at least leads to — atheism, which leads to all the horrors in the world. We’ve discussed this many times — see, for example, Atheism, Science, and Darwin.

A variation of the foregoing is often deployed in connection with public schools, which (in the US) aren’t allowed to promote religion. This enrages the creationists, who frequently insist that if the wicked evolutionists can sneak their “religion” into the schools with a trick like claiming to be science, why can’t creationists do the same thing? That’s the strategy of the Discovery Institute, which has failed spectacularly — see Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District.

So all they’re left with is claiming: (1) science (especially evolution) is atheism; (2) atheism is religion; (3) therefore science (especially evolution) doesn’t belong in school. To advance their claim that atheism is a religion, creationists distort a line of court cases that say no such thing, but which can be quote-mined to give that impression. We’ve discussed this before — see WorldNetDaily: Cognitive Blowout!, where, speaking of atheism, we said:

Is it really a religion — with scripture, rituals, dogma, and all the usual trappings? Only an imbecile would think that atheism is literally equivalent to religion. The sort of case he refers to, in all likelihood, is Kaufman v Mccaughtry, from the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, which holds that a prison inmate’s religious liberties include allowing atheists to conduct study groups, just as religious prisoners are allowed to do. That case mentions a few US Supreme Court opinions that give atheism the same protection as religion, so they may be regarded as equivalent with respect to an individual’s freedom — but of course that doesn’t mean atheism is religion.

Aside from misrepresenting court cases, there’s a deeper problem that the most primitive creationists have, and it goes like this:

1. I know nothing other than what I’ve been told.
2. It’s the same with everyone else.
3. Everyone takes everything on faith, and faith is religion.
4. Therefore, science is just another religion.

That was a long introduction, but it leads us to what we found today at the website of Pat Robertson’s Christian News Network: Federal Court Rules ‘Secular Humanism’ a Religion, Extends Equal Protection Rights to Atheists. Here are some excerpts, with bold font added by us:

In a landmark decision last week, a federal judge in Oregon declared ‘secular humanism’ to be a religion, opining that those who profess to be atheists and secular humanists should be afforded equal protection rights under the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution and be allowed to enjoy the same liberties to practice religion that religious groups are able to enjoy.

[*Yawn*] The case they’re talking about was no “landmark decision.” It was a decision by a trial court judge in the US District Court of Oregon, and it follows well-established precedents.

Robertson’s website doesn’t link to the opinion, so we had to do some hunting. We found this information at the Justicia website: American Humanist Association et al v. Bureau of Prisons et al . And here’s the Opinion and Order signed on 10/30/2014 by Judge Ancer L. Haggerty. It’s long, so we only scanned it. It seems unremarkable. The judge followed precedent, as trial judges are supposed to do.

There’s no real news here. But Robertson’s website sees things differently. We’re not surprised. They say:

Senior District Judge Ancer Haggerty of the federal district court ruled in favor of Holden in order to exercise his constitutional right to form a humanist study group. Haggerty ruled that Holden’s constitutional rights were violated under the First and Fifth Amendments. In his ruling, he moved to recognize secular humanism as a religion for “Establishment Clause” purposes.

Yes, that’s right. But it’s no big deal. If there were a prison Donald Duck club, they might get the same treatment. Nevertheless, you can expect to see this “news” showing up on the usual creationist websites, ballyhooed with headlines like Atheistic Humanism declared a religion! Don’t be fooled. If atheism is a religion, then vacuum is an atmosphere.

Copyright © 2014. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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10 responses to “Court Rules Atheism Is a Religion?

  1. Is it really a religion — with scripture, rituals, dogma, and all the usual trappings?

    Why certainly. I belong to a group of evolution believers who gather every 6th Thursday in our splendid, grand laboratory, each bedecked in our white lab coats. There we read from the books of Darwin, heads bowed in respect, recite his words, hear the lab head give an inspiring sermon on Darwin’s sacred writings, ingest our sacred whole wheat crackers and generally commune with each other.

  2. Would anyone with a better understand of the tax exemption exception status that religions are allowed care to comment on the implications this has for research groups? Since your research facilities are now a House of Darwin? 😉

  3. As SC says, this isn’t anything particularly new and goes back at least to 1961 in a Supreme Court case named Torcaso v. Watkins. Essentially, it is not holding that “secularism” or “atheism” are religions, it holds that people holding such beliefs can organize themselves into groups that can claim certain rights/privileges granted by government to groups that hold to religious beliefs (i.e. “churches”) or semi-religious beliefs, such as Confucianism or certain sects of Buddhism. In Torasco (IIRC … I’m not bothering to look it up) a group of people organized an “Ethical Humanist Society” that owned a meeting place, where they gathered on a regular basis and had pre-planned sessions that included speeches and set topics. SCOTUS held that for purposes of tax breaks, if such a group walks like a church and quacks like a church, the government can’t deny the group tax benefits ON THE BASIS THAT IT ISN’T A RELIGION! That would violate the 1st Amendment because the government would be favoring religion over a non-religious organization that otherwise did the same sort of things.

  4. Atheism is a religion in much the same way that not collecting stamps is a hobby.

    Atheism is a single answer to a single question: Do you believe in a god or gods? If the answer is “no,” then congratulations — you’re an atheist. Being an atheist has nothing to do with certainty — you just don’t believes the claims that have been made so far for the existence of a god or gods. The god claimants simply have not met their burden of proof. That’s kinda where I stand.

  5. Exactly. Hobby Lobby can’t refuse to serve you if you are not a stamp collector.

    I get asked that a lot.

  6. The people who are making all the fuss about atheism being a religion and therefore inappropriate in public schools are the very same people who insist that their religion must be allowed in public schools.

    Don’t kid yourself that they want both to be allowed if secular beliefs are. They’ll claim that, when it suits their purposes, but they’ve left little doubt that their ultimate goal is to have only their beliefs taught, not in spite of their being religion-based but because they are.

  7. Waldteufel> “Atheism is a religion in much the same way that not collecting stamps is a hobby.”

    I am an avowed Aphilatelist, but I married a Philatelist. We try to avoid the subject for the good of the children.

  8. @TA: Does she insist that the children be raised in the Philatelist tradition?

    I was raised as a Philatelist myself, but I’m afraid I lost my religion when I could no longer remove stamps from envelopes with water.

    By the way, IMO waldteufel’s analogy is golden. Cheers, Forest Demon!

  9. It is interesting some Christians don’t consider Christianity a religion, it is a “relationship”
    While atheism isn’t a religion, it could be someone’s religion. The same is true of science, science could be a person’s religion. There are also religions that don’t have deities, Buddhism for example.
    Atheism is very much like the properties of zero, another example of nothing being something.

    I was thinking of a good analogy. If I get a last minute invitation to dinner with friends, but having already eaten I might order nothing at the restaurant. If someone asks me what I ordered I’ll say nothing. And if I’m questioning my right to order what I want in the restaurant it makes perfect sense that you should have the right to order nothing.

  10. @RSG: We decided to expose them to both systems of belief, so that they can decide for themselves when they are old enough.

    > … when I could no longer remove stamps from envelopes with water.

    Have you tried using alcohol for this?