Thursday, 13 October 2011
The Supreme Court has held that what makes a belief religious is "whether it is a sincere and meaningful belief occupying in the life of its possessor a place parallel to that filled by the God." Since most of us live for something or the other, this test would mean that most of us are religious. Including atheists.
The Court even explicitly says so: "[A]mong religions in this country which do not teach what would generally be considered a belief in the existence of God are Buddhism, Taoism, Ethical Culture, Secular Humanism and others." (US v. Seeger) Essentially, belief in no God and commitment to study the non-existence of God are protected by the free exercise clause of the 1st Amendment.
The relevant part of the 1st Amendment is this: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..." So atheism is a protected practice. I agree. Atheism should be treated as a religion under the 1st Amendment. Atheists should be allowed to express their fundamental rights that religious people have. This means, (as it did in Kaufman v. McCaughtry) that atheists may practice their beliefs in jail by studying atheism and promoting it, and that (as in U.S. v. Seeger) secular humanists may be conscientious objectors to war based on their religious beliefs.
But if atheism is a religion for the free-exercise clause, then it must be a religion for the establishment clause. The government must not promote one religion over another.
But the reality is that the government (unintentionally or not) promotes atheism all the time.
I took a philosophy of mind class back in undergrad taught by a materialist, and he expressly said at the beginning of the semester "For this class, we will assume materialism is true." That baffled me, since some of the emerging theories of mind (Searle, Chalmers, Nagel) are actually anti-reductionist/materialist. My favorite literature class was taught by an ardent atheist who would rant every few weeks against religion and the Bible, even though it had absolutely nothing to do with The Last of The Mohicans. Even my public speaking and communications professor was an atheist who would go on and on about how his back pain disproves the existence of an intelligent designer.
If state-sponsored religious professors can't set up classes to prove that Christianity is true, may state-sponsored atheist professors use class time to argue against religion? Why should they be? What exactly is the difference between that and Intelligent Design?