Post by Mark Henderson
Kaufman v. McCaughtry, 419 F. 3d 678 - Court of Appeals, 7th
Really ignorant trolls consistently engage in cherry picking quotes
from texts, whether religious, scientific or legal and then insisting
the quote supports their preconceived notion. The case cited above is
We address his claim under the Free Exercise Clause first. An inmate
retains the right to exercise his religious beliefs in prison. Tarpley
v. Allen County, 312 F.3d 895, 898 (7th Cir.2002). The problem here
was that the prison officials did not treat atheism as a "religion,"
perhaps in keeping with Kaufman's own insistence that it is the
antithesis of religion. But whether atheism is a "religion" for First
Amendment purposes is a somewhat different question than whether its
adherents believe in a supreme being, or attend regular devotional
services, or have a sacred Scripture. The Supreme Court has said that
a religion, for purposes of the First Amendment, is distinct from a
"way of life," even if that way of life is inspired by philosophical
beliefs or other secular concerns. See Wisconsin v. Yoder, 406 U.S.
205, 215-16, 92 S.Ct. 1526, 32 L.Ed.2d 15 (1972). A religion need not
be based on a belief in the existence of a supreme being (or beings,
for polytheistic faiths), see Torcaso v. Watkins, 367 U.S. 488, 495 &
n. 11, 81 S.Ct. 1680, 6 L.Ed.2d 982 (1961); Malnak v. Yogi, 592 F.2d
197, 200-15 (3d Cir.1979) (Adams, J., concurring); Theriault v.
Silber, 547 F.2d 1279, 1281 (5th Cir.1977) (per curiam), nor must it
be a mainstream faith, see Thomas v. Review Bd., 450 U.S. 707, 714,
101 S.Ct. 1425, 67 L.Ed.2d 624 (1981); Lindell v. McCallum, 352 F.3d
1107, 1110 (7th Cir.2003).
Without venturing too far into the realm of the philosophical, we have
suggested in the past that when a person sincerely holds beliefs
dealing with issues of "ultimate concern" that for her occupy a "place
parallel to that filled by ... God in traditionally religious
persons," those beliefs represent her religion. Fleischfresser v.
682*682 Dirs. of Sch. Dist. 200, 15 F.3d 680, 688 n. 5 (7th Cir.1994)
(internal citation and quotation omitted); see also Welsh v. United
States, 398 U.S. 333, 340, 90 S.Ct. 1792, 26 L.Ed.2d 308 (1970);
United States v. Seeger, 380 U.S. 163, 184-88, 85 S.Ct. 850, 13 L.Ed.
2d 733 (1965). We have already indicated that atheism may be
considered, in this specialized sense, a religion. See Reed v. Great
Lakes Cos., 330 F.3d 931, 934 (7th Cir.2003) ("If we think of religion
as taking a position on divinity, then atheism is indeed a form of
religion."). Kaufman claims that his atheist beliefs play a central
role in his life, and the defendants do not dispute that his beliefs
are deeply and sincerely held.
The Supreme Court has recognized atheism as equivalent to a "religion"
for purposes of the First Amendment on numerous occasions, most
recently in McCreary County, Ky. v. American Civil Liberties Union of
Ky., ___ U.S. ___, 125 S.Ct. 2722, 162 L.Ed.2d 729 (2005). The
Establishment Clause itself says only that "Congress shall make no law
respecting an establishment of religion," but the Court understands
the reference to religion to include what it often calls
Thus the court held that *** for purposes of the First Amendment *** a
person who is a professed atheist is considered as having a belief
system the equivalent to that of a religion which espouses a belief in