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Judge to North Carolina prisons: Humanism is a faith group

RALEIGH, N. C. – The North Carolina prison system must recognize humanism as a belief of the group and leave her followers behind bars to meet and study of their beliefs, a federal judge has ruled in an order released Thursday.

The American Humanist Association and a North Carolina inmate serving a life sentence for murder, sued Department of Public Safety officers in 2015. She blamed prison leaders for the violation of the religious establishment and the equal protection of the provisions of the Constitution by repeatedly refusing the recognition on request of the inmate, Kwame Jamal Teague.

In the order, U. S. District Judge Terrence Boyle wrote that the prison officials failed to justify the treatment of the humanism, that is different from those religions that are contained behind bars. Boyle also ordered the state to adjust its computer system so that the prisoners, who consider themselves humanists may be registered under that group.

Federal prisons began to recognize humanism as a belief of the group in 2015 after a similar lawsuit was filed.

Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association, praised Boyle’s decision.

“Humanist prisoners have the same constitutional rights to study and discuss their values in a group as other religious prisoners,” Speckhardt said in a statement.

The association describes humanism as a nontheistic belief to argue for rational thinking and living ethically for the greater good of the society.

The court in its order noted that the state prison authorities maintain a list of approved faith groups, giving them the time and space for study and worship. But Boyle’s to be noted that there are no written standards in that department referred to, to determine what has the faith of the group.

A prison department committee that decides on religious practices had previously rejected Teague’s request for various reasons in the course of the time, including humanism proved to be “a philosophy of life” instead of a religion, the practice, according to court documents. The judgment of the court said that the commission had determined that humanism appeared, the lack of a religious structure, which is a hierarchy of religious leaders. The commission did, however, allow Teague to the study of humanism on its own and receive pastoral visits.

Boyle, in the order, dated Wednesday, said the department had adopted other faith groups that have no formal structure or centralized head, such as Hinduism, Rastafarianism, and Indigenous religion. State officials have “not been demonstrated that a secular purpose for denying the humanism recognized as a religious group, or for the decision to prohibit humanist prisoners of organizing the meetings of the group,” Boyle wrote.

Pamela Walker, a department spokeswoman, wrote late Thursday in an e-mail that the agency needs to make the decision before deciding on next steps, including a possible appeal.

Teague and the association identified at least eight detainees other than Teague that humanists and the members of the association, according to Boyle’s order. There are more than 37,000 people in North Carolina state prisons. Teague previously designated themselves as Muslim, but later changed to Buddhist because it was the only nontheistic option other than “none”, the ruling said.

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