Humanism as Religion: Perks and Limitations
Updated: Feb 15
Should humanists have the same rights or “perks” as other religious groups? That question has been the subject of debate for decades, dating all the way back to the 1961 Supreme Court case of Torcaso v. Watkins.[i] The ruling opinion of that case, along with the opinion of a more recent U.S. District Court Case, American Humanists v. U.S., classified humanism as a religion in order to protect the free exercise of humanist beliefs.[ii]
Now, I understand that some Christians are concerned about humanism enjoying the “perks” of the official, religious status. For example, some are concerned about negative consequences of military services employing humanist chaplains. While I can empathize with these types of concerns, I believe classifying humanism as a religion should be culturally accepted for the sake of Truth. I can think of two major advantages of pragmatically and legally classifying humanism as a religion:
1. Classifying humanism as a religion reveals an important truth: humanists worship a god, even if that god is the god of self.
2. If humanism is going to enjoy “perks” of religious status, then it should also be subject to the same limitations. In today’s culture, the religion of humanism enjoys free reign behind various veils and masks such as so-called “civil rights” and “science.”
Therefore, while I was examining the Friendly Atheist Facebook page's posts one evening, there was one post that immediately caught my attention. The Friendly Atheist blogger, Hemant Mehta, posted the following:
Should Nevada give atheist prisoners the same perks afforded to religious inmates? That's the question at the heart of a major legal battle going on right now.
As always, there were numerous supporting comments in reply to Hemant Mehta's post. I chose to respond to one particular comment, posted by humanist JD. Below is Part 1 of 6 of the Humanism as Religion Debate, which consists of JD’s comment and my reply.
They want the Torah, Holy Bible, and Qur'an? Fantastic. I want copies of The End of Faith, The God Delusion, and God is Not Great available please.
I agree with the position that humanism is a religion, which certainly requires certain rights or “perks” in accordance with the constitution. By the same token, If the religion of humanism should enjoy the same perks as other religions, shouldn’t it also be subject to the same limitations due to the establishment clause? For example, if the Bible and its teachings are not allowed to be taught in public schools, then shouldn’t The God Delusion and other humanist works be banned from the public classroom as well? Similarly, if biblical creation should be banned from the public classroom, then shouldn’t unverifiable evolutionary ideas (life evolving from non-life, complex “upward” evolution such as an originally-blind organism evolving eyesight, etc.) be banned from the classroom as well (or, should schools just allow the teaching of both worldviews)?
JD’s comment and my reply set the stage for the rest of the debate. Five other humanists joined the discussion, and the whole debate thread turned out to be rather fascinating and revealing. This is one of my favorite discussions to date. I will share Part 2 of 6 of the debate in my next post.
[i] Torcaso v. Watkins, Supreme Court, 367 U.S. 488 (1961).
[ii] American Humanist Association v. U.S., U.S. District Court, Oregon, 3:14-cv-00565-HA (2014).