Up until yesterday, I had been totally unaware that there was a case adjudicated in 2005 in Wisconsin, Kaufman v. McCaughtry. This case involved an Atheist inmate who filed a grievance as a result of being denied to form a study group for Atheists in his prison on the grounds that his First Amendment rightsÂ were thwarted byÂ denial to form the group by the prison authorities. In order to understand how this was adjudicated, we need to know exactly what Â the First Amendment regarding religion says: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;
Â This amendment has two clauses. The first clause is referred to as the establishment clause, as you see the word establishment used in the first clause of the sentence that creates the First Amendment in the Bill of Rights of the Constitution of the US. The second clause is referred to as the free exercise clause, as you see the phrase free exercise noted in the second clause. This is the law that judges use to determine cases where freedom of religion is an issue. They interpret the law according to the evidence of the case that is under consideration. Whatever they decide sets precedence, a rule of thumb, so to speak, or a preceding condition of judgment that determines the way subsequent or following cases will be interpreted.
When this atheist plaintiffâ€™s case was presented to the lower court, it was thrown out of court because the prisoner was asking to form a group that was not based on religious beliefs, but was considered by prison officials to be a request to form a non-religious group that was considered to be an activity group. At the time of his request, the prison authorities, defendants in the case, said that no other activity groups were permitted to be formed at that time, so the denial of his request by the prison officials was considered legitimate. The plaintiff himself did not see his atheism asÂ any more than really just an opposition to religionÂ so there had been no violation of either his right to establish the group or to exercise any religious belief.
The atheist was still not satisfied, so he appealed the case. When the case was brought before the higher court, it was further considered, that although the prison officials did not deem atheism a religion, perhaps it should have been considered a religion because it was a group that was "religious in nature even though it expressly rejects a belief in a supreme being." The case, therefore, was finally judged by the State Supreme Court as not being in violation of free exercise because the atheist would still be able to practice his atheism whether or not he was allowed to form the group, however, his right to establishment of that group that was religious in nature was denied, and thus a violation of his First Amendment rights. This case sets precedence that atheism is considered a religion by the United States Supreme Court.
Â This ruling raises a lot of issues and some questions. One of the questions that immediately comes to mind is that if the Supreme Court has declared Atheism to be a religion, then why are atheistic philosophies like Darwinism, whether taught in science class or not, still an atheist philosophy, allowed to be propagated in schools without also the creationist aspect of religion also allowed in the curriculum? It seems to me that atheists are being allowed to establish and practice their religion in their secularist and humanist curriculum in our public schools without allowing either the establishment or free exercise of any other religion but their own. They seem to be able to do this because they claim theirs isnâ€™t a religion, but the Supreme Court has declared that it is. Whatâ€™s wrong with this picture?