NC Prisons Must Recognize Humanism as a Faith Group

The prison authorities must provide humanists the needed space and time to practice their faith.

A federal judge, Terrence Boyle, has ruled the prison system of North Carolina must recognize humanism as a faith group. The U.S. District Judge ruled that prison authorities must permit the adherents of humanism to meet and study their beliefs. This ruling was prompted by a case when a North Carolina inmate helped by American Humanist Association (AHA) filed a suit against officials of Department of Public Safety in 2015. The former accused prison leaders violated equal protection and religious establishment clauses enshrined in the United States Constitution by repeatedly rebuffing of the requests of inmate Kwame Jamal Teague.

The District Judge wrote the prison officials were unable to prove that humanism is different from the religions recognized within the prison system. Boyle ordered North Carolina to change its computer system so prisoners who have declared themselves as humanists are registered as such. The recognition of humanism as a faith group is already present in federal prisons since 2015.

The judge’s order prescribed that the state prison authorities collect a list of all approved faith groups. The authorities must provide them the required space and time for due study and worship. The order also noted that there are not written standards to define what makes any group a faith group.

Kwame Teague became an inmate of a North Carolina prison in 1996. He was convicted of kidnapping and then murdering two individuals in a field outside the town of Goldsboro. Two life sentences were handed to him. The 45-year-old became a well-known fiction author when he wrote tales concerning a Dutch “gangster extraordinaire”. He also lobbied for six years to make sure the prison system in North Carolina recognizes humanism to be a faith group. His petition was rejected multiple times as humanism is “a philosophy of life” and not a religious practice, as per the court filings.

Judge Boyle’s decision was greeted with praise by Roy Speckhardt, executive director, American Humanist Association. He said that this decision enables inmates identifying themselves with humanism to study and discuss values within a group like other religious inmates. The AHA defines humanism as a nontheistic belief system which promotes rational thinking. Humanism also encourages ethical living for the betterment of society.

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