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Godless Humanists Continue Fight for Equality in Federal Appeals Court

For Immediate Release


Sarah Henry, 202-238-9088,

Monica Miller, 202-238-9088,

(Washington, D.C., August 8, 2018) – Today, American Humanist Association (AHA) attorneys filed their reply brief in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in a lawsuit challenging the Nevada Department of Corrections’ discrimination against humanist inmates.

“It’s past time for Nevada to treat humanist inmates equally, regardless of their belief or lack thereof in the supernatural. The Department of Corrections’ actions violate a fundamental American value: freedom of religion,” asserts AHA executive director Roy Speckhardt.

In October 2016, the AHA filed a lawsuit seeking the recognition of secular humanism as an approved “Faith Group” so that humanists have an equal opportunity to study and discuss their shared convictions in a group setting. The Nevada Department of Corrections recognizes 28 “Faith Groups” including Scientology and Wicca, and provides weekly meetings for such groups, even those with as few as two members. Officials continue an apparent prejudicial refusal to recognize and accommodate secular humanism, despite there being at least ten humanists in plaintiff Benjamin Espinosa’s facility. The lawsuit asserts that the department’s discrimination against humanists violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

The U.S. District Court of Nevada dismissed the complaint back in December on the grounds that secular humanism “rejects the existence of a supreme being,” “rejects all supernaturalism,” and is “non-theistic.” The AHA’s appeal to the Ninth Circuit argued that the decision flouts decades of binding precedent. In the just-filed reply brief, the AHA rebuts the various arguments presented in the department’s brief.

“The Nevada Department of Corrections is unable to defend the lower court’s flagrant ruling, especially in light of the long settled Supreme Court precedent holding that ‘Secular Humanism’ is a ‘religion’ for constitutional purposes,” said Monica Miller, Senior Counsel for the AHA and lead counsel on the case. “More critically, just like the District Court, the department fails to grasp that the Establishment and Equal Protection Clauses require equal treatment of humanists regardless of whether humanism is considered a “religion or a nonreligion.”

“We are confident that, with this final brief, the Ninth Circuit will overturn the lower court’s erroneous decision, leveling the playing field for everyone,” added Speckhardt.

The AHA has prevailed in its two previous lawsuits challenging discriminatory treatment against humanists in the prison setting. The AHA’s first prisoner case, filed against the United States Bureau of Prisons in 2014 resulted in the federal government recognizing “Secular Humanism” as a faith group and allowing humanist meetings in federal facilities across the nation through a settlement that directly followed the court’s ruling in the AHA’s favor. More recently, the AHA won its lawsuit against the North Carolina Department of Public Safety, with the court ruling that the state violated the Establishment and Equal Protection Clauses by refusing to recognize humanism and allow weekly humanist meetings.

Read the American Humanist Association’s Reply Brief in the Ninth Circuit here.

Read the American Humanist Association’s Opening Brief in the Ninth Circuit here.

Read the Complaint (October 2016) filed in the United States District of Nevada here.


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 worldview 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.

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