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Atheism Is Protected As a Religion, says Court

For the purposes of protection under the First Amendment, the U.S. Court of
Appeals for the Second Circuit (May 13, 1997), decided the Orange County N.Y.
Department of Probation could not force Robert Warner, an atheist, to attend
religion-based alcoholic treatment programs against the dictates of his own

"The district court agreed with Mr. Warner's argument that these meetings involved
a substantial religious element. Participants were told to "believe that a Power
greater than ourselves could restore us," and that they must "turn our will and
our 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 our
wrongs," be "entirely ready to have God remove all these defects ... (and) ask Him
to remove our shortcomings," and to seek "through prayer and meditation to improve
our conscious contact with God, as we (understand) Him. The meetings were also
punctuated with frequent prayers of a Christian nature."

Four months into the program Mr. Warner complained that, as an Atheist, he found
the meetings objectionable due to their religious nature. It was then that his
probation officer determined that Warner lacked sufficient commitment to the idea
of learning the techniques of remaining sober, even though he apparently had not
been 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]

Atheist Groups in Prison

But two years earlier,in the case of Kaufman v. McCaughtry, the 7th Circuit Court
of Appeals declared atheism a religion for purposes of protection under the
Establishment Clause. The court said prison officials violated an inmate's rights
because they did not treat atheism as a religion.

"James Kaufman filed suit while incarcerated at the Waupun Correctional

Institution after submitting an official document titled "Request for New
Religious Practices." He asked permission to form an inmate group "to stimulate
and promote Freedom of Thought, and inquiry concerning religious beliefs, creeds,
dogmas, tenets, rituals and practices, (and to) educate and provide information
concerning religious beliefs, creeds, dogmas, tenets, rituals, and practices."

Court Made Good and Bad Decisions, says Atheist Blogger

An atheist blogger saw a good side and a bad side to this ruling. "What the
Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals got right:" said Matt Dillahunty, was that
"atheism is a 'religion' for First Amendment purposes is a somewhat different
question than whether its adherents believe in a supreme being, or attend regular
devotional services, or have a sacred Scripture."

What court got wrong, Dillahunty said, is that "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."

The Court in this case recognized that unless the prison system had prevented all
gatherings of religion, preventing a group of atheists to gather was a violation
of the Establishment Clause.
"Tthey didn't declare that atheism was a religion, they declared that atheism was
afforded equal protection with religions under the Establishment Clause." [italics
How did the court come to this conclusion? The Supreme Court and Circuit Courts
use the "Lemon" test, Lemon v. Kurtzman, a three-pronged test concerning the
secular nature of government laws and regulations. http://www.atheist-

Another Court, Another Time

In Wallace v. Jaffree, another court said: "At one time it was thought that this
right [referring to the right to choose one’s own creed] merely proscribed the
preference of one Christian sect over another, but would not require equal respect
for the conscience of the infidel, the atheist, or the adherent of a non-Christian
faith such as Islam or Judaism. But when the underlying principle has been
examined in the crucible of litigation, the Court has unambiguously concluded that
the individual freedom of conscience protected by the First Amendment embraces the
right to select any religious faith or none at all."

Historical Precedence and Jefferson

This has clear historical relevance in the way the framers of the Constitution
(and it's backers) thought of the secular nature of government and the need to
keep it out of the way of the sovereignty of the individual. Thomas Jefferson's
proudest achievement was not the Declaration of Independence. It was the Virginia
Act for Religious Freedom in which his principle of the "wall of separation
between church and state" first took lawful form. Jefferson said that the purpose
of the separation was that, "within the mantle of [the law's] protection, [were]
the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mohammedan, the Hindoo and Infidel of
every denomination." What better example of an "infidel" than an atheist?

Jefferson also said some other things concerning religion which I wish modern
Americans would take heed of:

1. "I inquire after no man's [religion,] and trouble none with mine."
2. "I never will, by any word or act, bow to the shrine of intolerance or admit a
right of inquiry into the religious opinions of others."
3. "I have considered [religion] as a matter between every man and his Maker in
which no other, and far less the public, had a right to intermeddle."

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