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These people are going to drive me crazy

September 1, 2005 Leave a comment Go to comments

Christ, the stupidity keeps flowing in the Chronicle’s letters section.

Court cramming ‘religion’ of atheism down our throats

You just know it’s going to be great with a title like that.

Most would agree it is not only annoying, but insulting, to have someone else’s religion pushed in your face and rammed down your throat. As most are aware, it happens all the time. And it’s getting worse. No, I’m not talking about Christianity. I’m talking about atheism.

He begins by trying to show that atheism is a religion:

On Aug. 19, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Wisconsin prison officials violated an inmate’s rights because they did not treat atheism as a religion. “Atheism is [the inmate’s] religion, and the group he wanted to start was religious in nature even though it expressly rejects a belief in a supreme being.” The court decided the inmate’s First Amendment rights were violated because the prison refused to allow him to create a study group for atheists.

It’s a little more complicated than that. Some quotes from the decision:

The Supreme Court has recognized atheism as equivalent to a “religion” for purposes of the First Amendment on numerous occasions, most recently in McCreary County, Ky. v. American Civil Liberties Union of Ky., 125 S.Ct. 2722 (2005). The Establishment Clause itself says only that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,” but the Court understands the reference to religion to include what it often calls “nonreligion.” In McCreary County, it described the touchstone of Establishment Clause analysis as “the principle that the First Amendment mandates government neutrality between religion and religion, and between religion and nonreligion.”

Atheism is, among other things, a school of thought that takes a position on religion, the existence and importance of a supreme being, and a code of ethics. As such, we are satisfied that it qualifies as Kaufman’s religion for purposes of the First Amendment claims he is attempting to raise.

Other than the fact that atheism doesn’t take a position on ethics, this is almost correct. Atheism takes a position on religious issues and therefore should be protected under the Establishment Clause. In that very very broad sense, it is a religion. In another sense, atheism doesn’t meet the definition of religion. My response to the next paragraph illustrates some of that idea:

The Supreme Court has stated 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.

This is sort of correct, but it has its problems. The CSH has an article about this:

Attorneys know full well that a mention in a footnote amounts to “dicta,” but not to a “holding.” This footnote does not establish any law whatsoever. Moreover, the use of this quote by those who try to prove secular humanism is a religion takes it entirely out of its context and forty years of subsequent interpretation.

In 1994, the Ninth Circuit soundly denounced both the classification of secular humanism as a religion and evolution as a religious tenet. In Peloza v. Capistrano Unified School District, the Ninth Circuit held:

. . . neither the Supreme Court, nor this circuit, has ever held that evolutionism or secular humanism are “religious” for Establishment Clause purposes. Indeed, both the dictionary definition of religion and the clear weight of the caselaw are to the contrary. The Supreme Court has held unequivocally that while the belief in a divine creator of the universe is a religious belief, the scientific theory that higher forms of life evolved from lower forms is not. [Edwards v. Aguillard (1987). Peloza, p. 521.]

In 2000, the D.C. Circuit court considered a line of cases regarding the definition of religion, and specifically whether secular humanism was one. It noted the narrow context of Torcaso and its predecessors, which grew out of consideration of tax-exempt status, as well as the fact that Torcaso was not a holding, but only dicta. In Kalka v. Hawk, the D.C. Circuit stated:

The Court’s statement in Torcaso does not stand for the proposition that humanism, no matter in what form and no matter how practiced, amounts to a religion under the First Amendment. The most one may read into the Torcaso footnote is the idea that a particular non-theistic group calling itself the “Fellowship of Humanity” qualified as a religious organization under California law. [It cited, among others, Peloza’s holding that secular humanism has never been held to be a religion.]

So, what to make of this? In the broad sense that the Establishment Clause treats all religious beliefs equivalently, atheism can be considered a religion. This isn’t the normal sense of the word, as the dictionary definition linked above shows. Atheism is the antithesis of religion in that sense. Moving on:

Make no mistake: Atheism, aka secular humanism, is a religion. It has a priesthood called the American Civil Liberties Union. It even has a messiah, Roger Baldwin, the ACLU’s founder. And this religion is in our faces every day. Witness the demonizing of the Boy Scouts because their religion doesn’t conform to the religion of atheism. Baldwin stated, “Civil liberties, like democracy, are useful only as tools for social change.”

Ok, obviously atheism and secular humanism are not the same thing. That would be like me saying “theism, aka Christianity.” Then, of course, some nice ACLU bashing. For Baldwin being the atheist messiah, it’s surely odd that this atheist hadn’t heard of him until now.

Atheism is a backdoor religion. Unlike Christianity or Judaism, it functions in the shadows. It surreptitiously recruits and converts its members.

Oh noes! The atheists are hiding in the shadows, ready to pounce at any second!

I’m sorry that this guy wants atheists to evangelize more. I think it’s a strength that atheists tend to avoid that.

Hopefully, [Montana State University President] Geoff Gamble and other college presidents will recognize the court’s ruling on atheism and act appropriately. Perhaps the non-denominational Danforth Chapel on the MSU campus can be outfitted to accommodate the school’s atheist faculty members. Then, they wouldn’t have to conduct their worship services in the classroom.

Oh, I thought he was going to present us with some evidence that atheism is being shoved down our throats. I guess not. Too bad.

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