What Makes a Religion a Religion Under Law?


A California court ruled that “Sun Worshipping Atheism” is not a religion and requires no accommodation based on its three-point religion checklist.

In March this year, Marshel Copple took his employer to court for failure to accommodate, religious discrimination and constructive discharge. He promptly lost his case when the court found that his “religion,”, Sun Worshipping Atheism, is not really a religion, but rather a “moral and secular philosophy.” Under the First Amendment, Congress isn’t permitted to create laws that respect the establishment of a religion, however there is a second clause, called the Free Exercise Clause, that prohibits the establishment of laws that don’t allow the freedom to exercise religion. According to several Supreme Court decisions, such as Everson v. Board of Education, states are bound by these clauses.

Three-Point Religion Checklist

The California Court of Appeal used a previous ruling from a case in which a vegan claimed that veganism was a religious creed. They composed a three-point checklist that a belief must meet in order to be a religion. It is how we can legally differ between the often hazy line between a belief system and a religion. In order for it to be a belief system, the religion must “address fundamental and ultimate questions having to do with deep and imponderable matters.” It must also be comprehensive by nature, and not simply have isolated teachings, as well as recognizable through “formal and external signs.”

Neither the Sun Worshipping Atheism, nor the veganism claims, were able to meet all three requirements, and therefore are not considered a religion.

Workplace Religious Freedom

The California Workplace Religious Freedom Act has been in effect since 2013, and prohibits workplace discrimination against religions. It also requires that employer’s provide reasonable accommodation to practices and observances. However, there are moments when an employer can refuse these accommodations. If there is a true safety issue, or the accommodation would be too expensive or difficult for the company to accomplish, they may not be required to accommodate it.


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