The Sunday Assembly is a self-described “godless congregation that celebrates life.” Its motto is “live better, help often, wonder more” and its vision is “a godless congregation in every town, city and village that wants one.” The inaugural Sunday Assembly in Los Angeles recently attracted more than 400 attendees of like-minded Atheists in what may have appeared to many to be a Christian mega-church. Similar to Sunday mass, the atheist attendees heard inspirational music (including the Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun” and Bill Withers’ “Lean on Me”), a sermon, and several readings followed by quiet reflection. At the conclusion of the “service,” volunteers passed around cardboard boxes for donations while attendees gathered together over coffee.
This raises an interesting question — could places of assembly for atheists to share their beliefs be considered “religious exercise” protected by RLUIPA? An “atheist” is defined as “one who believes that there is no deity.” One definition for “religion” is “an interest, a belief, or an activity that is very important to a person or group.” Under this definition, must a group believe in a deity to be considered a religion? Would courts interpret RLUIPA to reach claims brought by atheists? As more atheist “mega-churches” appear throughout the country (they already have in San Diego, Nashville, and New York), a court may someday be faced with this perplexing issue.
For now, you can learn more about the Sunday Assembly at the organization’s website by clicking here.