A federal court of appeals ruled yesterday 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 that he wanted to start was religious in nature even though it expressly rejects a belief in a supreme being,” the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals said.
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.
Brian Fahling, senior trial attorney for the American Family Association Center for Law & Policy, called the court’s ruling “a sort of Alice in Wonderland jurisprudence.”
“Up is down, and atheism, the antithesis of religion, is religion,” said Fahling.
The Supreme Court has said 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.
Fahling said today’s ruling was “further evidence of the incoherence of Establishment Clause jurisprudence.”
“It is difficult not to be somewhat jaundiced about our courts when they take clauses especially designed to protect religion from the state and turn them on their head by giving protective cover to a belief system, that, by every known definition other than the courts’ is not a religion, while simultaneously declaring public expressions of true religious faith to be prohibited,” Fahling said.