As this site declares: https://donotlink.it/9NEO

While sometimes labeled “Secular” Humanism (to falsely frame it as non-religious), Humanism most certainly is a religion, and was acknowledged as such by the US Supreme Court in Footnote 11 of Justice Hugo Black’s majority opinion in Torcaso v Watkins (1961).

Importantly, Hugo Black was FDR’s Marxist agent on the court who shifted the US Constitution from a Biblical to a Humanist foundation in Everson v Board of Education(1947) and then leveraged the Everson ruling to, in effect, declare Atheism a religion vested under the 14th Amendment with “equal protection of the law” in Torcaso.

This doesn’t sound right at all. Athiesm is a belief yes but not a religious one.

  • Is Atheism a belief? Seems more like a lack of belief to me.
    – brhans
    Feb 27, 2019 at 21:00
  • 1
    @brhans Strictly speaking, atheism is a belief that there is no god. Lack of any belief on the subject is agnosticism. Feb 28, 2019 at 23:01
  • 1
    "Religion: a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe." Athiesm is one answer to these "ultimate" questions; ergo, a religion. Mar 1, 2019 at 12:21
  • @Bill_Stewart what is the source of that definition? Under it, astronomical theories of cosmology, such as the "Big bang" theory, are religions, which i do not think is a useful definition. Mar 2, 2019 at 2:53
  • 1
    The definition came from dictionary.com, but it sounds like you're conflating a description (cosmology) with an interpretation (athiesm). Mar 2, 2019 at 5:11

2 Answers 2


The relevant passage from the opinion in Torcaso v. Watkins, 367 U.S. 488 (1961) is:

We repeat and again reaffirm that neither a State nor the Federal Government can constitutionally force a person "to profess a belief or disbelief in any religion." Neither can constitutionally pass laws or impose requirements which aid all religions as against nonbelievers, [Footnote 10] and neither can aid those religions based on a belief in the existence of God as against those religions founded on different beliefs. [Footnote 11]

The text of the footnote is:

Among 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. See Washington Ethical Society v. District of Columbia, 101 U.S.App.D.C. 371, 249 F.2d 127; Fellowship of Humanity v. County of Alameda, 153 Cal.App.2d 673, 315 P.2d 394; II Encyclopaedia of the Social Sciences 293; 4 Encyclopaedia Britannica (1957 ed.) 325-327; 21 id. at 797; Archer, Faiths Men Live By (2d ed. revised by Purinton), 120-138, 254-313; 1961 World Almanac 695, 712; Year Book of American Churches for 1961, at 29, 47.

This was a case where a man was appointed to the office of Notery Public, but Maryland law required him to declare a belief in God to assume the office. The US Supreme court held that this violated the man's rights under the First Amendment's establishment clause, which had been incorporated against the states by the Fourteenth. The man was not, as far as I can tell, himself a Secular Humanist, and Secular Humanism was mentioned in the footnote merely as an example of a belief system that did not include a belief in God. Why Justice Black used the term "religion" to refer to it, I cannot say, some of the other groups listed in the footnote are clearly religions, and others are belief systems that for First Amendment purposes are often treated similarly to religions.

What might better describe the Court's rulings here than the linked site does is that believers in Secular Humanism, Ethical Culture, and other similar belief systems will have their beliefs protected in just the same way that believers in any religion will. Freedom of Religion includes the right not to have a religion. By the way, the passage from Everson v. Board of Education, 330 US 1 which is quoted in Torcaso v. Watkins and to which the linked web site probably refers is:

The 'establishment of religion' clause of the First Amendment means at least this: neither a state nor the Federal Government can set up a church. Neither can pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religions, or prefer one religion over another. Neither can force nor influence a person to go to or to remain away from church against his will or force him to profess a belief or disbelief in any religion. No person can be punished for entertaining or professing religious beliefs or disbeliefs, for church attendance or nonattendance. No tax in any amount, large or small, can be levied to support any religious activities or institutions, whatever they may be called, or whatever form they may adopt to teach or practice religion. Neither a state nor the Federal Government can, openly or secretly, participate in the affairs of any religious organizations or groups, and vice versa. In the words of Jefferson, the clause against establishment of religion by law was intended to erect 'a wall of separation between church and State.'

By the way, any site which proclaims that Hugo Black was a "Marxist agent" has lost much credibility in my opinion. Read the linked article and other easily available sources and judge for yourself.


The Supreme Court usually goes to great pains not to describe any particular practice as a "religion" or "not a religion" if it can at all manage to do so. To do so could be seen as a government endorsement or sanctioning of a religion, or a repudiation thereof, and thus a violation of the establishment clause! That's why phrases such as "closely held beliefs" are used, instead, such as in the Hobby Lobby case. And Atheism, etc. can certainly be "closely held beliefs". Individuals may or may not describe their "closely held beliefs" as "religious", but that's not what the Court cares about. The threshold for potentially entering 1st amendment religious protections is "closely held beliefs".

A simplified way of reading the particular decisions in question, as were more thoroughly quoted in David's answer, is:

Practicing a religion and not practicing a religion are both equally protected by religious freedom.

Which makes a great deal of sense if you think about it: how can you be free to practice religion as you desire if you are not free to not practice a (given) religion? So atheism, in the sense that it consists of not practicing any religion at all*, is also protected of necessity.

* Technically that's inaccurate, as the literal meaning is a non-belief in gods, be they singular or plural. Surely one can have religious beliefs without requiring deities. Buddhism essentially does this, though depending on the particular school/branch of Buddhism it has likely inherited a lot of Hindu mysticism and gods, but these gods are not the subject of worship or meaningful study and practice. In modern terms, they would be more like "powerful aliens". Scientology basically doesn't believe in gods, either, though with some semantic wrangling they claim that they do. Of course in modern parlance the word "atheism" has ceased to be used in this sense, so really I'm just nitpicking.

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