(Carson City, NV, Oct. 6, 2016)—The American Humanist Association’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center filed suit against the Nevada Department of Corrections and its head chaplain on behalf of a humanist inmate who is unconstitutionally being discriminated against for his humanist convictions.
Benjamin Espinosa is a member of the American Humanist Association and an inmate at Northern Nevada Correctional Center outside Carson City, Nevada. As a humanist, Espinosa seeks 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. Espinosa also wishes to identify as a humanist for assignment purposes. However, the Nevada Department of Corrections does not include humanism or atheism in its list of recognized faith groups. Over a two-year period, Espinosa’s requests for humanist accommodations have been repeatedly ignored or denied.
“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.”
“The Federal Bureau of Prisons recognizes humanism for official assignment purposes and permits humanist study groups to meet,” said Monica Miller, senior counsel at the Appignani Humanist Legal Center, in reference to the American Humanist Association's successful settlement of a lawsuit on behalf of humanist, federal inmate Jason Holden. “The Nevada Department of Corrections is violating the First Amendment's Establishment Clause and the Fourteenth Amendment by denying privileges to humanist inmates that are accorded to theistic inmates.”
The complaint asks the Court to declare that the Nevada Department of Corrections violated the Establishment Clause and the Equal Protection Clause and to require the prison to grant humanist and atheist inmates the same rights and privileges given to inmates of theistic religions.
Founded in 1941 and headquartered in Washington, D.C., the American Humanist Association (AHA) works to protect the rights of humanists, atheists, and other nontheistic Americans. The AHA advances the ethical and life-affirming philosophy of humanism, which—without beliefs in any gods or other supernatural forces—encourages individuals to live informed and meaningful lives that aspire to the greater good of humanity.
Special thanks to the Louis J. Appignani Foundation for their support of the Appignani Humanist Legal Center.