Nevada: Atheist Groups Seek Equal Treatment for all Prisoners


The American Humanist Association’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center filed suit against the Nevada Department of Corrections (NDoC) and its head chaplain on behalf of a humanist inmate, who is unconstitutionally being discriminated against for his humanist convictions in October, 2016.

Benjamin Espinosa, an inmate at Northern Nevada Correctional Center, was trying to form a study group in which he and other inmates who share his worldview can meet and discuss humanism on the same terms as theistic groups. Over a two-year period, Espinosa’s requests for humanist accommodations have been repeatedly ignored or denied. The Nevada Department of Corrections said back then that Espinosa wasn’t part of a recognized faith group.

“All prisoners should be granted basic rights and human dignity, but the Nevada Department of Corrections is unjustly discriminating against humanists,” said Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association. “Prisoners are already maligned by our society, and denying humanist inmates the right to practice and derive comfort from their deeply held convictions further strips them of their humanity.”

In December, U.S. District Judge Robert C. Jones said in his decision that the prisoner “had not alleged how his Humanist beliefs differed from traditional secular moral philosophy in a way sufficient to qualify as a religion under the religion clauses.” The case was actually about the treatment of all prisoners no matter what they believe in, not about the concrete religion.

On February 20, 2018, the American Humanist Association (AHA) filed its opening appellate brief in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in its appeal from the U.S. District Court of Nevada’s dismissal of their case filed on behalf of Humanist inmates in Nevada state prisons.

“The District Court’s decision overtly discriminates against Humanists, favors theism over nontheism, and flouts decades of Supreme Court precedent,” said Monica Miller, senior counsel for the AHA. “Not only did the Supreme Court make clear decades ago that Secular Humanism is deemed a religion for constitutional purposes, but it has also repeatedly held that the government is forbidden from promoting religion over nonreligion.”

Roy Speckhardt, executive director of AHA agrees. “Our Constitution doesn’t allow government to favor one religion over another or religion itself over nonreligion. That’s why it’s discriminatory and illegal for the government to accommodate traditional religious groups, but disallow otherwise identically structured humanist and nonreligious groups.”

Both the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) and Americans United (AU) for Separation of Church and State supported the AHA in its fight. Those groups filed a joint amicus brief in defense of the AHA and Espinosa. “Like the rights of all Americans, the rights of prisoners should never depend on whether they believe in a divine authority,” said Americans United Associate Legal Director Alex J. Luchenitser. “Prisons should give Humanist inmates the same rights that other inmates have to observe and study their beliefs.”

It remains to be seen whether atheists deserve the same rights under the law as religious people, even if they don’t believe in mythical creatures.

Photo Credits: Backyard Skeptics

If you like our posts, subscribe to the Atheist Republic newsletter to get exclusive content delivered weekly to your inbox. Also, get the book "Why There is No God" for free.

Click Here to Subscribe

Donating = Loving

Heart Icon

Bringing you atheist articles and building active godless communities takes hundreds of hours and resources each month. If you find any joy or stimulation at Atheist Republic, please consider becoming a Supporting Member with a recurring monthly donation of your choosing, between a cup of tea and a good dinner.

Or make a one-time donation in any amount.