Judges on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments Tuesday from lawyers fighting for a Carson City prisoner’s right to have Humanism — a worldview that does not accept the existence of a supreme being — fully recognized as a religion behind bars.
The case stems from a 2016 lawsuit brought by inmate Benjamin Espinosa against Nevada Department of Corrections (NDOC) Director James Dzurenda, a prison chaplain, and the department’s Religious Review Team. The lawsuit alleges that Espinosa’s constitutional rights are being denied because NDOC has failed to offer Humanists the same benefits as other faith groups.
Lawyer Monica Miller of the American Humanist Association — a group whose slogan is “Good Without a God” — first had to fight against the notion that the case was moot because the prison system has since listed Humanism as a recognized religious group on an official chart. She noted that certain rights, such as recognizing Humanist holidays and pre-approving group meetings, are not delineated on the chart for Humanists but were afforded seemingly automatically to Hebrew Israelites, another religious group approved at the same time.
Humanists also have holidays including National Day of Reason (May 2), Darwin Day (February 12), HumanLight (in December), as well as solstice-related holidays. They have clergy, who are typically known as “celebrants” and perform weddings, funerals, baby-welcoming ceremonies and counseling, and adherents are united by a document called the Humanist Manifesto III.