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Atheism Is Protected As a Religion, says Court

Atheism Is Protected As a Religion, says Court

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Published by Curtis Edward Clark
Atheist Groups in Prison
Court Made Good and Bad Decisions, says Atheist Blogger
Another Court, Another Time
Historical Precedence and Jefferson
Atheist Groups in Prison
Court Made Good and Bad Decisions, says Atheist Blogger
Another Court, Another Time
Historical Precedence and Jefferson

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Published by: Curtis Edward Clark on Sep 15, 2008
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Atheism Is Protected As a Religion, says CourtFor the purposes of protection under the First Amendment, the U.S. Court ofAppeals for the Second Circuit (May 13, 1997), decided the Orange County N.Y.Department of Probation could not force Robert Warner, an atheist, to attendreligion-based alcoholic treatment programs against the dictates of his ownbeliefs."The district court agreed with Mr. Warner's argument that these meetings involveda substantial religious element. Participants were told to "believe that a Powergreater than ourselves could restore us," and that they must "turn our will andour lives over to the care of God as we understand him." In addition, the "Step"program ordered those participating to "Admit to God ... the exact nature of ourwrongs," be "entirely ready to have God remove all these defects ... (and) ask Himto remove our shortcomings," and to seek "through prayer and meditation to improveour conscious contact with God, as we (understand) Him. The meetings were alsopunctuated with frequent prayers of a Christian nature."Four months into the program Mr. Warner complained that, as an Atheist, he foundthe meetings objectionable due to their religious nature. It was then that hisprobation officer determined that Warner lacked sufficient commitment to the ideaof learning the techniques of remaining sober, even though he apparently had notbeen found in violation of his probation orders to remain sober!"Attorneys for Mr. Warner relied on a number of legal precedents, including:"[refer to link] http://www.atheists.org/flash.line/alanon1.htmAtheist Groups in PrisonBut two years earlier,in the case of Kaufman v. McCaughtry, the 7th Circuit Courtof Appeals declared atheism a religion for purposes of protection under theEstablishment Clause. The court said prison officials violated an inmate's rightsbecause they did not treat atheism as a religion."James Kaufman filed suit while incarcerated at the Waupun CorrectionalInstitution after submitting an official document titled "Request for NewReligious Practices." He asked permission to form an inmate group "to stimulateand promote Freedom of Thought, and inquiry concerning religious beliefs, creeds,dogmas, tenets, rituals and practices, (and to) educate and provide informationconcerning religious beliefs, creeds, dogmas, tenets, rituals, and practices."http://www.atheists.org/flash.line/court36.htmCourt Made Good and Bad Decisions, says Atheist BloggerAn atheist blogger saw a good side and a bad side to this ruling. "What theSeventh Circuit Court of Appeals got right:" said Matt Dillahunty, was that"atheism is a 'religion' for First Amendment purposes is a somewhat differentquestion than whether its adherents believe in a supreme being, or attend regulardevotional services, or have a sacred Scripture."What court got wrong, Dillahunty said, is that "Atheism is, among other things, aschool of thought that takes a position on religion, the existence and importanceof a supreme being, and a code of ethics."The Court in this case recognized that unless the prison system had prevented allgatherings of religion, preventing a group of atheists to gather was a violationof the Establishment Clause."Tthey didn't declare that atheism was a religion, they declared that atheism wasafforded equal protection with religions under the Establishment Clause." [italicsadded]

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