Humanism symbol

Humanism symbol Wikimedia Commons

Somewhere, Brevard Hand is smiling.

The late federal judge in the Southern District of Alabama gained notoriety three decades ago for ordering the removal of 44 social studies and history textbooks used in his state on the grounds that they promoted a religion of Secular Humanism and as such were in violation of the Establishment Clause. His decision was unanimously reversed by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, which said that instead of promoting such a religion, the “message conveyed by these textbooks with regard to theistic religion is one of neutrality: the textbooks neither endorse theistic religion as a system of belief, nor discredit it.”

Now comes the Army, approving Humanism as a religious preference for its personnel. So Hand is vindicated, right?

Nah.

The Humanists approved for dog tags, gravemarkers, and (eventually, one presumes) military chaplains are personnel who see themselves as bearing an identity of non-theist belief, and want to be recognized as such in the collective. That is their right under the First Amendment’s guarantee of free exercise of religion, which is what entitles anyone in the military to religious services, be they Christian or Jewish, Muslim or Bahai, Hindu or Buddhist, Sikh or Wiccan.

By contrast, the Secular Humanism counted as religion by Judge Hand is merely the position of government neutrality asserted by the 11th Circuit, relying on Supreme Court decisions. To be sure, the judge, who was no country bumpkin, took the position that such neutrality couldn’t really exist. The United States was founded on the principle that it can.

Categories: Institutions

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Mark Silk

Mark Silk

Mark Silk is Professor of Religion in Public Life at Trinity College and director of the college's Leonard E. Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life. He is a Contributing Editor of the Religion News Service

2 Comments

  1. Edward Borges-Silva

    If religion is to be defined as a set of principles or practices to which an individual gives his or her whole hearted devotion; which essentisally meets the 4th definition of religion in the American Heritage Dictionary, then Humanism certainly meets the case. In that sense religion need not be spiritually based, though ideology might be a more precise term; for human consequences the end result is the same.

  2. The Army labeling secular humanism a religion is, in my opinion, just another attempt by the religious right to quell atheists and humanists from pointing out their beliefs that religion is nothing more than somebody’s belief system and that often religious fanatics try to force their particuler brand of religion on the unbelievers. Such is the case here with the Army. By labeling humanism as a religion they are in fact trying to silence humanists and atheists By doing this they effectively silence their critics and in doing so they are able to promote Christianity in a sneaky backdoor way. If it were me, I would outright ban, and punish anyone who attempts to promote, convert, or in any way trys to force another to practice religion against the persons will. That is basically what is the official rule now but all too often that rule is ignored and those in authority are able to force those below them in rank to pray, praise God, etc. Don’t believe me? Just ask Mikey Weinstein about what goes on here in Colorado Springs at the Air Force Academy. I have no problem with anyone who, individually is practicing his faith but do have a big problem when that individual tries to force his religion on those around him or her.

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