While searching for specific information about the court stating that Secular Humanism is a religion (Torcaso v. Watkins – 1961) for another topic, I came across the following, numbered “1" at the top of the webpage:
“Humanism is the approach to life based on rational thinking and includes ethics based on our shared human values and on human compassion. If you live life without religion and strive to do good within society just for the sake of doing good, then, you are a natural humanist. Humanism’s core belief is that everything has a natural cause rather than a supernatural cause, therefore it falls under the banner of philosophical naturalism and the vast majority of humanists are atheists although there are some agnostics too. Science and reason continue to be major positive influences on Humanism. Humanist activists typically battle for human rights and for secular politics. Secularism, promoted by secularists, is the belief that religion should be a private, personal, voluntary affair that does not impose upon other people. Public spaces and officialdom should therefore be religion-neutral. Secularism ensures that religions are treated fairly and that no bias exists for a particular religion, and also that non-religious folk such as Humanists are treated with equal respect.” (http://www.humanreligions.info/humanism.html)
The webpage goes on to assert that humanism is no religion – as other humanist pages also assert. They decry the abuse of the footnote reference in the Supreme Court decision that lumps secular humanism in with other religions that do not hold to the existence of a deity (such as Buddhism and Taoism). It is not right or fair to lump them together, or to use this footnote as any sort of indication that, before the law, secular humanism is a religion.
Okay, let us look at what humanists assert and go from there. A caveat: in the course of the article, “humanism” is used to refer not to the general philosophical category, but to the political and religious movement, whether formal or informal. The Humanist Manifestoes (one and two) both make assertions of a clearly religious nature, denying explicitly the existence of a God, rejecting as unreal and irrational any talk of a savior or salvation coming from outside of ourselves, and decrying specific religious texts. The original Humanist Manifesto referred, in point of fact, to the humanism it espoused as “religious humanism”. Their goal was, “To establish such a religion”.
The second Humanist Manifesto reflected the forty years of experience following the writing of the first, and attempted to shed the explicitly religious image of the original, but failed. The opening assertions were boldly religious, and they identified themselves again in religious terms. “We believe, however, that traditional dogmatic or authoritarian religions that place revelation, God, ritual, or creed above human needs and experience do a disservice to the human species.” A statement of belief, making theological points, does not mark one as non-religious. They even take a position that must be marked as religious: “As nontheists, we begin with humans not God, nature not deity.”
I quote these ancient resources to make the point simply that modern humanism is distinctively religious from its foundations. The courts acknowledgment of that fact does not establish humanism as a religion, it simply acknowledges the obvious. So, our modern resource, above, is being disingenuous when it asserts that humanists are non-religious, “non-religious folk such as Humanists”. In number 2 on the same website, the authors say, “Humanism as a religion in its own right, rather than a philosophy or outlook, has been proposed occasionally, although it has never gained much support.”
The truth is that humanism may not be identified with any single specific religious organization, (although the recent news of the establishment of “the Atheist Church” challenges that notion) but that does not exempt it from being a religion. If that were the identifying feature of something not being a religion, Christianity would fail the same test. There are hundreds of bodies that claim Christian doctrines, but distance themselves in their teachings from others. Humanism is a religion, with very specific doctrines, which the Humanist Manifestoes go to great lengths to detail.
The vast majority of humanists are atheists, according to the author of this web-article. Others could make counter-claims, I am sure, although many humanist sites would agree with this author’s assessment, and, as pointed out previously, doctrinal variety does not remove one from the sphere of religion. The notion offered above that “Secularists” are a separate and autonomous group fighting to create a religion neutral space is simply another fraud of humanism. When one makes it necessary to ignore the existence of a deity, in specific or in general, they are making a theological statement, and establishing (in the sense of the Constitution) a religious viewpoint or doctrine in public policy. Such a policy is contrary to the Constitution, and making atheism the standard of public discourse is a distinctively religious action.
Even the now common restriction on naming a specific God is an unconstitutional infringement on the rights of anyone praying in public. That is true even if the Courts might rule otherwise. The Courts have erred egregiously before! Just as certainly as one might invoke the right not to hear another deity appealed to in prayer, it would be as rightly said that the rights of the offended not to hear another’s prayer extend only as far as the right of the next man to freely exercise his religion. You may have the right not to listen to my prayers, but your right not to listen does not extend so far as to limit my right to pray. Surely the religious garb of a Muslim forces the confession of his or her faith upon everyone who can see them. The yarmulke of the observant Jew confesses his faith. The cross or prayer of the Christian is no more offensive.
Banning, restricting, or limiting any of these observances is wrong. Restricting one particular confession while ignoring the others is to establish their faith in preference to the discriminated-against one. Barring them all from public would be tantamount to establishing those faiths which do not acknowledge a god, and suppressing and abusing those who would otherwise mark their faith by sign, attire, or audible prayer. Regulating prayer, as in the case of forbidding a public prayer before a football game, violates the free exercise clause of the first amendment, and gives priority (thereby establishing, in the reasoning of the court in recent years) the faith of those who would plead offense. They have the right to not listen. They do not have the right to regulate the rights of others to pray.
Humanists have stated the goal of establishing a world free from religions which contradict theirs. They are surely free to set such goals and pursue them. The rest of us do not need, and dare not attempt, to pretend that those goals are religiously neutral. They advance the religion of Humanism. These are not morally or ethically neutral activities. They are the establishment and advancement, by the courts and any participating legislatures, of a specific creed. The rest of us have no duty to respect that activity. We have our rights, too. The plea of the humanist for our sensitivity is, like the rest of Humanism (as a political and religious movement) a fraud.