Humanism is Not a Religion: CFI Leadership Responds to Federal Court Decision

November 10, 2014

At the Center for Inquiry, we strongly believe that those who subscribe to nonreligious worldviews, including atheism and humanism, deserve the same rights as those belonging to religious traditions. We believe it is incorrect, however, to classify secular humanism as a religion, and that to do so undermines much of what secular humanism aims to accomplish.

In a recent federal court case involving an inmate who sought to have his humanist study group authorized by a federal prison, Senior District Judge Ancer Haggerty ruled that “Secular Humanism is a religion for Establishment Clause purposes.” Though this was a victory for the equal treatment of a particular set of nonbelievers, which we applaud, we believe this decision may also have negative implications for secular humanism.

To explain why, three members of CFI’s leadership – Tom Flynn, Ronald A. Lindsay, and Nicholas J. Little – have co-authored an article, “Secular Humanism: Not a Religion.” In it they write, “In the larger domain of social rhetoric, [Judge Haggerty’s decision] will likely resonate like a cannon-shot. … it seems likely to provoke an entirely unnecessary revival of those old tropes about the ‘religion of humanism.’”

The article will serve as the lead editorial in the February-March 2015 issue of Free Inquiry, and is available to read now in its entirety at our Free Thinking blog.

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The Center for Inquiry (CFI) is a nonprofit educational, advocacy, and research organization headquartered in Amherst, New York, with executive offices in Washington, D.C. It is also home to the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science, the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, and the Council for Secular Humanism. The Center for Inquiry strives to foster a secular society based on reason, science, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values. Visit CFI on the web at