Does the Bill of Rights guarantee Atheism?



The Bill of Rights guarantees the right of people to worship as they choose, but does it guarantee the right not to worship?

Yes. Any endorsements of God/Gods is respecting an establishment of religion.

The state can’t really say anything about the nature of God, including whether or not he exists.

The Supreme Court has so found, so yes. I’ll try to track down the cases if you like.


Wouldn’t it be axiomatic, in any case, that the right to do something implies the right not to do that same thing?

pldennison: Not nececelery.

If the IRS says, “You have the right to pay your income taxes by check or by credit card,” that does not automatically give you the right to choose “Neither.”

I’d like to ask the same question regarding the Canadian Bill of Rights. The preamble begins:

Doesn’t sound promising.

Given the insistence that the USA is a “Christian Nation” – you’d think the US Constitution would have a preamble like Canada’s. Yet we don’t. How odd… (Many state constitutions have similar wording, however.)

Simply put, freedom of religion entails freedom from anybody else’s religion. Unless the government has some means of forcing everyone to choose some religion, that means atheism is a protected option.

Further, seemingly inoffensive actions (like putting “In God We Trust” on money) may not be the equivalent of, or the first step toward, an oppressive theocracy. But the point is that, if those actions accomplish nothing, then there’s no point in Congress taking them. Unless Congress is in the business of passing ineffectual laws.

The founders were wise enough to know that religion doesn’t need the government’s permission or approval to be believed or practice.

Well, is the Church of England an establishment in Canada like it is in Great Britain?

I was taught in my jurisprudence class that the First Amendment was originally created only to prevent the Feds from adopting a national religion. At the time of the founding, many of the states did actually have state-established religions; the 1st Amendment was intended only to create neutrality between sects. It wasn’t until the 1940s that the courts began applying it to the states, banning prayer in schools and such.

I didn’t pay much attention in that class, though, so don’t take my word on any of this… :smiley:

Since when has the United States been “a Christian Nation?”

You mean apart from the fact that most Americans are Christians of some sort?

—You mean apart from the fact that most Americans are Christians of some sort?—

Yes apart from that.

Or are you suggesting that merely because most of our citizens are white, we are a White nation, founded for Whites along White lines of thinking?

The religion of the majority of Americans is completely separate from any official religion. Most people who argue that the United States is a Christian nation are trying to prove that Christianity is the only state-sanctioned religion. This is what Monty is concerned about.

As an aside, I think TheeGrumpy’s use of the term “Christian Nation” was entirely sarcastic.

More importantly, should we have the right to not worship? I say yes. I am extremely uncomfortable with the notion that you are free to choose any religion as long as it’s a sect of Christianity. That’s not my idea of freedom. Reminds me of the Monty Python sketch where every menu choice had Spam in it.

Neptune, God is mentioned in the preambles to both the Canadian Bill of Rights and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, but as far as I know, the courts have not given any weight to those references. Instead, they have relied on the substantive provisions of the Charter, such as the prohbition on discrimination (s.15) and the guarantee of freedom of religion (s. 2) to conclude that governments cannot favour one religion over another.

The landmark case on this issue is R. v. Big M Drug Mart Ltd. [1985] 1 S.C.R. 295, in which the Supreme Court of Canada struck down the federal Lord’s Day Act, which compelled Sunday closings for stores. From the summary of the decision:

This case didn’t deal with the specific issue of atheists, but I would think the same principles apply.

I believe it may have been established in some of the eastern provinces in the pre-Confederation period. However, it is not currently established in Canada.

What about Nova Scotia? It’s still illegal for stores to open on Sunday here.

Maybe they changed the name, no longer affiliating it with religious practice. Those who condone the law say that it’s nice just for everyone to have one quiet day.

*Originally posted by Neptune *


Let’s assume for the moment that it does not. Who determines what is acceptable for worship? Given that I can choose to worship as I see fit so long as I worship something, let’s assume I choose to worship Satan. Is that good?

The determination that you must have some religion implies that some organization gets to yay or nay what constitutes valid worship. This is exactly what the constitution seeks to prevent. Thus, freedom of religion must include the freedom to have no religion.

If I am compelled to engage in any religious observance, that is not free exercise of religion. Consequently I cannot be compelled to engage in religious observance; this would abridge my right to the free exercise of religion.

A law which forbade me from expressing athiest views might arguably not be one prohibiting the free exercise of religion, but it would certainly be one abridging freedom of speech, and would be unconstitutional on that ground.

So it seems to me that the rights of athiests have similar protections to the rights of believers. Which, obviously, is as it should be.