Atheist Groups Demand Equal Treatment for Humanist Nevada Prison Inmate

By Hemant Mehta

After a federal judge said Humanism doesn’t count as a “religion” when it comes to a non-religious federal prisoner who just wanted the same perks and privileges offered to his religious colleagues, the American Humanist Association is filing an appeal. And they have support from two other major groups promoting church/state separation.

This case was originally filed in October of 2016. Benjamin Espinosa, an inmate at Northern Nevada Correctional Center, said he just wanted to start a Humanist study group, much like Christian inmates who get together to study the Bible. But he wasn’t able to do that — or a lot of other things religious inmates could do — because the Nevada Department of Corrections (NDoC) said he wasn’t part of a recognized faith group.

Here’s what Espinosa was asking for since it’s what all the other inmates got:

(1) ability to meet with community-funded or volunteer chaplains on a regular basis; (2) ability to keep religious items both in their cells and in faith group storage containers in the prison chapel; (3) eligibility for enrollment in a religious correspondence course; (4) to have community chaplain perform religious rites/rituals; (5) work proscription days and observance of holidays; and (6) to receive donated materials or to purchase items such as books, DVDs, and various articles such as medallions, crosses, crystals, herbs, incense, etc.

In addition to not being able to do the secular equivalents of all that, he also wasn’t able to schedule meeting times the same way, nor was he given a venue for those gatherings.

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