(Raleigh, NC, March 29, 2018)—The American Humanist Association (AHA) Appignani Humanist Legal Center won a monumental victory today in its case against the North Carolina Department of Public Safety (NCDPS) on behalf of Humanist inmates, including Plaintiff Kwame Teague, being denied equal treatment.
The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina has ruled that NCDPS violated both the Establishment and Equal Protection Clauses of the Constitution by refusing to recognize Humanism as a faith group and by refusing to allow Humanists to meet in study groups. In a 19-page decision, the court entered a permanent injunction ordering NCDPS to recognize Humanism and permit Humanist inmates to meet in Humanist study groups on the same terms authorized for inmates of theistic faith groups.
“This is a great victory for Humanist inmates and nontheists everywhere,” said Monica Miller, Senior Counsel of the AHA’s Legal Center. “North Carolina’s unequal treatment of Humanist inmates violated decades of clearly established legal precedent. The Supreme Court has long held that Secular Humanism, and even atheism, must be treated as equivalent to a religion for First Amendment purposes. Today’s ruling vindicates the rights of equality and religious freedom guaranteed by the First and Fourteenth Amendments.”
The lawsuit, originally filed in February 2015, asserted that NCDPS’s refusal to allow Humanist inmates to study and discuss their shared convictions in a group setting while simultaneously authorizing study groups for many faith groups of similar and smaller sizes violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment and Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The lawsuit further asserted that NCDPS’s refusal to recognize Humanism an approved “Faith Group,” while approving many other traditions including Buddhism and Wicca, violated these constitutional mandates as well.
“Humanist inmates have the same constitutional right to study and discuss their values in a group as other religious inmates do,” said Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the AHA. “We are thrilled with the court’s just decision today and stand ready to defend others who face discrimination because of their Humanist views.”
In 2015, the AHA scored a legal victory on behalf of Humanists in federal prisons in their case against the U.S. Department of Justice. After a federal judge refused to dismiss the case in 2014, declaring that Humanists must be accorded equal treatment, the Federal Bureau of Prisons agreed to recognize Humanism and accord its adherents the same benefits enjoyed by inmates of other faiths, including time and space for Humanist meetings.