He doesn't seem to grasp the point I was trying to make, so I thought that I would expand it into a full blog post. Within a few days I will also make a post on the history of the Supreme Court's jurisprudence on the Free Exercise and Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. Contrary to what Dan believes, this is not the first time the questions of "what is religion" and "does atheism, philosophy, and other irreligious beliefs covered under the protection of the First Amendment." There was, in fact, nothing new in the court case mentioned in his post. You can read my original comments there.
Technical terms vs lay terms
One of the many things I found interesting about Dan and this whole the courts have decided "atheism is a religion" episode is that it's so much like the battle of terms in evolutionary theory with the public. We know the difference between a lay theory and a scientific theory, so I won't go into it here. If you don't know the difference or have made the argument "evolution is just a theory," I encourage you to read the Wikipedia article on theory vs fact, wherein evolution is used as an example.
The same problem is happening here. The Court considers atheism a religion in a legal sense: for the purpose of protection under the First Amendment. The Court also considers corporations persons in a legal sense as well. Does this mean that, since the Supreme Court has ruled that "corporations are persons" (Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific R. Co.), corporations are literally people as we understand the term in the laity? Obviously, according to Dan, yes we should.
The mentioned case, Kaufman v McCaughtry
What is interesting about the case he mentions in his blog post, Kaufman v McCaughtry, the judge has actually said that atheism is not a religion, as we understand religions. I have emphasized the portions when it discusses that atheism is only going to be considered a religion for the special purpose of protection under the First Amendment.
An inmate retains the right to exercise his religious beliefs in prison. The problem here was that the prison officials did not treat atheism as a "religion," perhaps in keeping with Kaufman's own insistence that it is the antithesis of religion. But whether atheism is a "religion" for First Amendment purpose is a somewhat different question than whether its adherents believe in a supreme being, or attend regular devotional services, or have a sacred Scripture.And just why was he raising First Amendment claims? Because he had tried to form an atheist study group which would work "to stimulate and promote Freedom of Thought and inquiry concerning religious beliefs, creeds, dogmas, tenets, rituals and practicies." They were denied the official form which they submitted, entitled "Request for New Religious Practice." While they were rejected, actual religions were allowed, including "Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, and Wiccan" groups.
Without venturing too far into the realm of the philosophical, we have suggested in the past that when a person sincerely holds beliefs dealing with issues of "ultimate concern" that for her occupy a "place parallel to that filled by... God in traditionally religious persons," those beliefs represent her religion.
We have already indicated that atheism may be considered, in this specialized sense, a religion. ("If we think of religion as taking a position on divinity, then atheism is indeed a form of religion.")
The Supreme Court has recognized atheism as equivalent to a "religion" for purposes of the First Amendment on numerous occasions...
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 Country, 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."
As such, we are satisfied that it qualifies as Kaufman's religion for purposes of the First Amendment claims he is attempting to raise.
Since atheism is considered a religion for the purpose of protection under the First Amendment, Kaufman's rights were clearly violated. It's a win for baby-eating atheists everywhere.
Example of how America views atheism as a religion?
The real kicker to all this, though, is that Dan used it as an example of how America views atheism as a religion. The prison officials, though, had denied the request as they didn't view atheism as a religion. As such, they subjected it "under the procedure for forming a new inmate activity group."
The Next Time On DisComforting Ignorance...
As I mentioned at the beginning, I will soon make a post on the history of the Supreme Court's jurisprudence on the First Amendment with regard to the Free Exercise and Establishment Clauses. The history is quite interesting, as it starts with a polygamy case. I will focus especially on its treatment of irreligion under the First Amendment.