Well the crap has hit the fan in the battle of the hearts and minds of average Americans.
The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on the case Kaufman v McCaughtry. A Wisconsin prison inmate tried to form an atheist discussion group. Prison authorities refused and Kaufman sued. The court ruled that Atheism is a religion for “legal purposes”.
The crap hitting the fan is what the words “legal purposes” mean. One reading is that atheism is covered under the same 1st Amendment that protects theistic religions. Another take is that now that Atheism is ruled as a religion then it needs to be removed from the public schools etc…
The issue has been a long simmering one in the freethought community. For further reading on the issue check out:
What this post is going to discuss is the religious right chomping on the bit with a legal view that proves all they have said for decades about Atheism and Secular Humanism.
Reading various religious right and other political conservative writings on the issue of the “religion of secularism” one would get the idea that there is a “religion of secularism” and that it is trying to corrupt “our children” and “our values”. Evolution, sex education, abortion and everything else against their beliefs is seen as the creed of the “religion of secularism”.
Being that this website is called the Secular Left, you can be sure that the religious right is wrong on all accounts. But don’t take my word for it, let the evidence back me up.
One web article had this to say:
In 1961, the Supreme Court defined “secular humanism” as a religion in Torcaso v. Watkins. In the 1965 case United States v. Seeger, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of a conscientious objector who claimed that his “skepticism or disbelief in the existence of God” did “not necessarily mean lack of faith in anything whatsoever.”
Evolution is Unconstitutional
The decision in Torcaso v. Watkins has been used against Secular Humanism at least since the 1980’s when the Moral Majority picked us for their enemy. However the Torcaso decision didn’t rule that secular humanism was a religion. In fact the case wasn’t even about secular humanism. Secular humanism was mentioned in a footnote of the case by Justice Hugo Black among other belief systems he felt were religious for “legal purposes”. A first year law student can tell you that footnotes in Supreme Court cases are just comments and don’t have the force of a ruling.
In Peloza v. Capistrano School District, a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals case in 1994, a science teacher argued that, by requiring him to teach evolution, his school district was forcing him to teach the “religion” of secular humanism. The Court responded, “We reject this claim because neither the Supreme Court, nor this circuit, has ever held that evolutionism or secular humanism are `religions’ for Establishment Clause purposes.” The Supreme Court refused to review the case; they refused to reverse a ruling that secular humanism is not a religion.
In fact the Federal Courts all the way up the Supreme Court have never ruled secular humanism is a religion nor have they even defined “religious” in any concrete terms. Most times when it is defined, like in the IRS tax code – for a tax exemption – religion is simply a firmly held belief:
The Court elaborated upon the Seeger definition in Welsh v. United States, 398 U.S. 33 (1970), stating that ‘[i]f an individual deeply and sincerely holds beliefs that are purely ethical or moral in source and content but that nevertheless impose upon him a duty of conscience to refrain from participating in any war at any time, those beliefs certainly occupy in the life of that individual a place parallel to that filled by… God in the lives of traditionally religious persons.’ Thus, religious beliefs include many beliefs (for example, Taoism, Buddhism, and Secular Humanism) that do not posit the existence of a Supreme Being in the conventional sense.”
Leo Pfeffer, a lawyer who worked on the Torcaso case and who coined the term “secular humanism” in 1958, explained why secular humanism is not a religion:
If secular humanism is a religion it is a funny kind of religion. It has no credo other than humanism–which is hardly an indispensable aspect of religion as is manifested by general and judicial recognition as religions of creeds that forbid blood transfusions (Jehovah’s Witnesses), medical treatment (Church of Christian Science), or abortion even where necessary to save the life of a human being (Roman Catholic Church). It has no great founder or leader such as Moses, Jesus, Mohammed, Joseph Smith, Mary Baker Eddy, or Reverend Sun Myung Moon. It has no prayers, no sermons or sermonizers, no rituals, no priesthoods, no symbols such as crosses, crucifixes and Stars of David, and no sacred books, such as the Old or New Testament, the Koran, Mary Baker Eddy’s Science and Health With Key to the Scriptures, or Book of Mormon. Marriage ceremonies performed by secular humanists are not likely to be recognized by states that accept ceremonial marriages performed by clergymen. Indeed, the term secular by itself indicates something that is not religious.
Where the religious right goes off the deep end in this issue is when they make a statement like:
Today, any science that borders on religious claims is kept out of the classroom, then Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution should be kept out of the classroom, too, because it is little more than a glorified presentation of the atheistic religion.
Charles Darwin’s “Origin of the Species” gave rise to the atheist religion of Darwinism that ultimately morphed from religion into a so-called scientific fact, but even as a theory is has now rapidly falling into discredit.
Actually, the comment noted above is a perfect reason why Evolution should be taught in the schools. Ignorance may be good for the religious but it is not good for the health of our nation.
Evolution is not a part of any religion. Evolution is a science fact and has been since Darwin introduced it back in 1859.
Asking to keep Evolution out of the schools would be like asking to keep gravity out of the schools. Evolution isn’t just an idea. It won’t simply stop existing.
There are far more religious people who support Evolution as a natural explanation of our world including the Catholic Church:
The Catholic Church has never had a problem with “evolution” (as opposed to philosophical Darwinism, which sees man solely as the product of materialist forces). Unlike Luther and Calvin and modem fundamentalists, the Church has never taught that the first chapter of Genesis is meant to teach science.
“The doctrine of faith, however, invariably affirms that man’s spiritual soul is created directly by God. According to the hypothesis mentioned, it is possible that the human body, following the order impressed by the Creator on the energies of life, could have been gradually prepared in the forms of antecedent living beings” (Pope John Paul II, General Audiences, January 24 and April 16, 1986).
The war against Evolution by the anti-science religious right is far more dangerous to “our children” than teaching Evolution. Trying to equate Atheism or Secular Humanism to Evolution as a form of religion is dishonest and just plain ignorant.
The fight against intelligence and science by the religious right and their political conservative patronizers, worries me more than some idiot televangelist asking for the assassination of a foreign head of state.