April 2018 Church & State Magazine - April 2018

AU Urges Federal Appeals Court To End Discrimination Against Humanist Prisoner In Nevada

  Liz Hayes

Americans United on Feb. 27 urged a federal appeals court to stop Nevada’s Department of Corrections from discriminating against a Humanist prisoner.

AU joined the Freedom From Religion Foundation in filing a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of Benjamin Espinosa, a Humanist who is imprisoned in Nevada’s Lovelock Correctional Center. For more than three years, Espinosa has been trying to form a Humanist study group so that he and like-minded prisoners can gather to discuss their beliefs. But prison officials have refused Espinosa’s request, even though adherents of more than two dozen theistic faith groups are permitted to gather and discuss their views. The American Humanist Association is representing Espinosa in court.

“Like the rights of all Americans, the rights of prisoners should never depend on whether they believe in a divine authority,” said AU Associate Legal Director Alex J. Luchenitser. “Prisons should give Humanist inmates the same rights that other inmates have to observe and study their beliefs.”

That’s why AU filed the brief with the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Espinosa v. Dzurenda. AU and FFRF urged the 9th Circuit to reverse the lower court’s ruling that Nev­a­da’s Department of Corrections doesn’t have to recognize the rights of Humanists.

The brief explains that the U.S. Supreme Court and a multitude of other federal courts have consistently determined that Humanism, atheism and other nontheistic belief systems are covered by the Constitution’s religious-freedom protections.

Several federal agencies, including the Bureau of Prisons, the Department of Defense, the Department of Veterans Affairs and the IRS, plus several state corrections bureaus, have formally recognized Humanism as a belief system and given its adherents the same rights as followers of theistic religions.

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