May 2018 Church & State Magazine - May 2018

Federal Judge Orders North Carolina Prisons To Recognize Humanism

  Liz Hayes

A federal judge on March 29 ruled that a North Carolina prison must give Humanist prisoners the same rights granted to prisoners of other faiths.

Kwame Teague, 45, a New Jersey native who is incarcerated in North Carolina’s prison system, has been asking prison officials to recognize Humanism for the past six years. The recognition would allow him and other Humanist prisoners to meet to discuss and study their beliefs – a right that is granted to other faith groups.

After prison officials had repeatedly refused Teague’s requests, the American Humanist Association (AHA) filed a federal lawsuit, Teague v. Perry, on his behalf.

The lawsuit contends prison officials are violating Teague’s constitutional right to religious freedom. Ruling in Teague’s favor, U.S. District Judge Terrence Boyle wrote that officials had failed to justify treating Humanism differently from other religions that are recognized in the state’s prisons.

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

Boyle’s ruling came a month after Americans United joined the Freedom From Religion Foundation in filing a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of Benjamin Espinosa, a Humanist prisoner facing similar discrimination in Nevada.

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