In the midst of debates regarding religious liberty, efforts are being made to expand the idea of “religion” to include any worldview, whether it explicitly recognizes a deity or not.
The most recent example is the inclusion of “humanism” as a religion in federal prisons, with the corresponding rights to time and space for activities, visits by humanist chaplains and access to literature and study materials.
Often used as a code word for atheism, humanism, or “secular humanism,” refers to a unifying philosophy of life that seeks meaning in human events without reference to spiritual or non-material realities.
According to the American Humanist Association, humanism expressly excludes belief in God, and is “a progressive philosophy of life that, without theism and other supernatural beliefs, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that aspire to the greater good of humanity.”
The recent ruling follows on last year’s decision by the U.S. Army to include “humanism” as a religion, a move that garnered the support of the ACLU, the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers and the Secular Coalition for America.
“This settlement is a victory for all humanists in the federal prison system, who will no longer be denied the rights that religious individuals are accorded,” said Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association.
As religious freedom debates have heated up in the United States, those who are hostile to religion or profess no religion have sought ways to profit from exemptions accorded to religious persons.
A recent example is the Satanic Temple, a group that claims to be an “organized religion” for the purpose of legal benefits, though the cult’s founders claim not to actually believe in the devil. Associating itself with secularists and atheists in opposing religion, especially in the Judeo-Christian tradition, the Satanic Temple seeks religious exemption for devil-worshipping women seeking abortions from mandatory waiting periods or “informed consent” materials.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome