Thursday, July 30, 2015

Humanists Behind Bars

Recently, an inmate in a correctional facility in Oregon sued the prison for the right to practice his 'religion of humanism.' The Federal Bureau of Prisons recognized his plea. This means that, for the purpose of the prison system, humanism is considered a religion. This new designation affords humanist prisoners the right to form study groups, hire chaplains, and speak to philosophers.much in the same way that Christian inmates would be allowed to hire priests.

This seems to be following the US Army's example of recognizing humanism as a 'religious choice.'

Now, many atheists, most of whom refer to themselves as secular humanists, take this as a mixed blessing. And, honestly, I can sort of see where they're coming from. After all, humanism is not a religion, and recognizing it a such might contribute to the collapse of the already tumultuous relationship between outspoken atheists and conservative Christians. After all, we've spent years correctly denying the claim that atheism is a religion, and now it is being recognized as such. At least it is in one specific context.

So, doesn't this designation sort of undermine our push for scientific literacy and reason? We claim that said push is not about furthering a religious agenda, and this law seems to be in direct opposition to that claim.

In this context, I don't think it does. See, this isn't really about the classification of humanism. It isn't a religion, but I don't think designating it as such here will actually contribute to misinformation among theists. At least, not among those theists who still have functioning brains. There aren't many, but they're out there. My point here is that calling humanism a religion is a means to an end. If there were a way to get around that, I'm sure prison officials would have taken that path. But I don't know. Maybe I'm giving these people too much credit.

Or rather I would be, were it not for the fact that this case does not designate humanism as a religion. It explicitly calls it a religious choice, as the US Army did. This is not the same as a religion. I think it can best be summed it with a quote from Bill Maher. "Atheism is religion like abstinence is a sex position." Yes, these two things are very different, but they're on the same spectrum. Opposite ends of it, sure, but the same spectrum nonetheless.

This case is not about religion. It's about whether or not secular humanists are entitled to the same protections under law as religious folks. Quite simply, this is a matter of human rights. The FBP was sued by the American Humanist Association, and they agreed to acknowledge humanism as a worldview, rather than a religion. So, really, the argument against this is meaningless.

This decision allows humanists in prison to request time and space for activities, the right to form study and debate groups, and many other things. Before, only theists had these rights. This breaks down the barrier between special religious rights and opens the door for debate and discussion. This is about equality. We have to focus on that, rather than the technical label.

Just something to think about.

No comments:

Post a Comment