U.S. Public Schools are required to base their curriculum on secularism because of the principle of separation of church and state which the U.S. Supreme Court has said is implicit in the 1st Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Humanism is also based on a secular view of the universe for philosophical reasons. Many mainline and liberal religious groups take secular views in many areas, ranging from human sexuality to geology. Thus public schools do not teach Humanist beliefs any more than they teach the beliefs of the United Church. The schools are simply secular, neither promoting nor demeaning religion.
Ethical behavior without a belief in God
Many people feel that ethical and moral behavior must be based on the absolute teachings found with the Christian Bible. Without a belief in the Christian God, the hope of Heaven and the threat of Hell, they believe that an individual will not be motivated to behave decently. This belief was seen in a US military policy in past decades which only allowed persons who believed in a God to achieve conscientious objector status.
Humanists have successfully developed moral and ethical systems which are independent of divine revelation from a deity. They are based upon such foundational beliefs as:
Is Humanism a Religion?
To most North Americans, "religion" probably means the belief that a God or Gods exist who created the world, who is/are to be worshipped, and who is/are responsible for creating ethical and behavioral codes. In that context, Humanism is definitely not a religion, and would not be perceived as one by its followers. Humanists do not generally believe in a supreme deity or deities, demons, ghosts, angels, supernatural elements in the universe, in heaven or hell, or in a divinely ordained ethical code that humans must follow. Most would regard the thousands of Gods and Goddesses who have been worshipped over thousands of years purely as a creations of humanity rather than the reverse.
Religious Humanism has been loosely defined as religion without deity worship and traditional theological beliefs. Replacing these factors is a belief in humanity as the highest known form of intelligent life, and a belief in the scientific method as the best way to determine truth.
Many Secular Humanists feel that the role of religion throughout history has been so profoundly negative, that the word "religion" should not be connected to their philosophy.
U.S. Court decisions concerning the relationship between humanism and religion:
Note that the court did not declare that the Fellowship of Humanity was a religious group. They merely determined that the group functioned like a church and so was entitled to similar protections and benefits. 3
During the 1990's federal prisoner Ben Kalka had attempted to form a Humanism group as part of the Religious Services Department at a federal prison in Jesup, GA. He was refused when the prison's Religious Issues Committee decided that Humanism was not a religion; they ruled that it was "more philosophical and educational in nature." They decided that he could freely practice his humanism and could organize a group within the prison's Education Department.
In 1998-SEP, a federal district court ruled that Humanism is a religion. But they decided that denying Kalka access to the prison chapel did not prevent him from practicing his humanist beliefs.
During 2000-JUN, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia confirmed the lower court's decision that Humanism is a religion. However, they ruled that:
Thus, the prison officials were entitled to qualified immunity, and were not ruled to be liable for penalties related to the violation of Kalka's civil liberties. 4
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Consultants on Religious Tolerance
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