Humanists Seek Court Ruling Demanding Equality for Humanist Inmates

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Contact: Amy Couch, 202-238-9088, 

Monica Miller, 202-238-9088, 

(Raleigh, NC, July 28, 2017)—The American Humanist Association (AHA) Appignani Humanist Legal Center moved for summary judgment today in its case against the North Carolina Department of Public Safety on behalf of Humanist inmates, including Plaintiff Kwame Teague, being denied equal treatment.

The lawsuit, originally filed in February 2015, asserts that the Department’s refusal to allow Humanist inmates to study and discuss their shared convictions in a group setting while simultaneously authorizing study groups for many faith groups of similar and smaller sizes violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment and Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.  The lawsuit further asserts that the Department’s refusal to recognize Humanism an approved “Faith Group,” while approving many other traditions including Buddhism and Wicca, violates these constitutional mandates as well.

“The Department’s disparate treatment of Humanist inmates violates decades of clearly established legal precedent,” said Monica Miller, Senior Counsel at the Appignani Humanist Legal Center. “The Supreme Court has long held that Secular Humanism, and even atheism, must be treated as equivalent to a religion for First Amendment purposes.” 

The AHA’s motion asks the judge to grant judgment in AHA’s favor as a matter of law. In its brief, the AHA points out that in refusing to approve the Humanist group, the Department even admitted that  “there is no reason to conclude that Humanism would impose a threat to the security, control, operation and safety of a correctional institution.”

 “The fact that the Department is unwilling to allow Humanist inmates to study and discuss Humanist values in a group while allowing so many other traditions to meet signifies the deep-rooted discrimination that non-theists face,” said Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the AHA. “We stand ready to defend the rights of those who face discrimination because of their Humanist views.” 

In 2015, the AHA scored a legal victory on behalf of Humanists in federal prisons in their case against the U.S. Department of Justice. After a federal judge refused to dismiss the case in 2014, declaring that Humanists must be accorded equal treatment, the Federal Bureau of Prisons agreed to recognize Humanism and accord its adherents the same benefits enjoyed by inmates of other faiths, including time and space for Humanist meetings. 

The brief in support of the motion for summary judgment can be viewed here. The complaint can be viewed here. The summary judgment memorandum can be viewed here.

 

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Founded in 1941 and headquartered in Washington, D.C., the American Humanist Association (AHA) works to protect the rights of humanists, atheists, and other nontheistic Americans. The AHA advances the ethical and life-affirming philosophy of humanism, which—without beliefs in any gods or other supernatural forces—encourages individuals to live informed and meaningful lives that aspire to the greater good of humanity.

Special thanks to the Louis J. Appignani Foundation for their support of the Appignani Humanist Legal Center.

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