In a previous article, (Doug Holtsinger) says: > Torcaso v. Watkins,

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In a previous article, (Doug Holtsinger) says: > > Torcaso v. Watkins, 367 US at 495 (1961) > > "We repeat and again reaffirm that neither a State nor > the Federal Government can constitutionally force a > person ``to profess a belief in any religion.'' Neither > can constitutionally pass laws or impose requirements > which aid all religions as against non-believers, and > neither can aid those religions based on a belief in > the existence of God as against those religions founded > on different beliefs [11]. > > [11] 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. As a law school reference librarian I have occasionally come across this question from members of the general public, mostly somewhat glassy-eyed but well-intentioned people who want to see "the case in which the Supreme Court declared secular humanism to be a religion." The first time I searched LEXIS for 25 minutes and all I could come up with was the case you have quoted here, in which a judge in 1961 listed secular humanism with some religions in footnote 11 of his opinion. There is something you need to know about this. In law there is a thing called "dicta," which means offhand comments made in a judicial opinion which do not have binding authority on the courts. The inclusion of an item in an offhand list in a footnote, as in this case, is a prime example. The fact that this text appears in the Supreme Court Reports no more amounts to an official "declaration" than something the same judge might have said over the newspaper on Sunday morning to his wife. Yet, conservatives of every ilk have picked up on it and beat it half to death. There are dozens of references to it in the Congressional Record by the likes of Jesse Helms. Taking a few words out of context from a holy book and trying to make something really important out of them is something funda- mentalists do very well. In this case the holy book happens to be the United States Reports. -- James Quinn


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