ADAMS, Circuit Judge.
On this appeal we are asked to determine whether the state and federal governments, in requiring Robert D. Callahan to obtain a social security number for his daughter before she could obtain public assistance benefits, even though procuring such a number would contravene what appellant asserts is a sincere religious belief, violated his First Amendment right to the free exercise of religion. Because the district court, 479 F.Supp. 621, in awarding summary judgment for the government, incorrectly construed plaintiff's beliefs as non-religious, we reverse its judgment and remand for a determination of the governments' interest in the regulation.
Callahan is married and has two children. Following his release from prison in 1974 he was unemployed, and his family became eligible to receive Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) benefits for both children. The State of California paid those benefits in full until May 10, 1977, when the County of Sonoma notified Callahan that his younger child, Serena, for whom Callahan refused to obtain a social security number, was no longer eligible. Callahan, his wife, and their older child all held social security numbers at the time. The State, in requiring a social security number for AFDC eligibility acted pursuant to the mandate of Section 402(a)(25) of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 602(a)(25) (1976).
According to Callahan, social security numbers are the "mark of the beast" — the sign of the Antichrist who threatens to control the world. To accept a number, he maintains, is to "serve the beast." Callahan acknowledges that his aversion to social security and other personal identification numbers predates his interest in religion. Nonetheless, he asserts that his objection is now religious in nature, that the Revelation text articulates a concept that he felt in a more inchoate form before studying the Bible. He and his wife freely accepted social security numbers, but according to appellant they did so before he arrived at his religious understanding. Although Callahan did not wish to obtain a number for his first child he did so, apparently fearing violation of his parole, which terminated in December 1975. Now he believes that, on behalf of Serena,
Upon receiving notification that benefits for Serena would be terminated, Callahan, pursuant to California administrative procedure, sought a hearing before the Department of Benefit Payments. The hearing officer found that Callahan held sincere religious beliefs that militated against issuance of a social security number for his daughter; nonetheless he held that federal regulations required the issuance of such a number before any more benefits could be paid on behalf of Serena. Callahan petitioned the Sonoma Superior Court for a writ of mandamus to compel the payment of those benefits. The Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare (now Health and Human Services) was joined in that action as the real party in interest, and the case was removed to federal court. In the district court, Callahan and the Secretary filed cross-motions for summary judgment. The judge held an evidentiary hearing, consisting of live testimony by the plaintiff. On the basis of that hearing as well as the pleadings and affidavits previously filed, the court found that Callahan's views on the undesirability of personal identification numbers were, though sincere, not religious in nature. Rather, he found that they were primarily manifestations of a personal, secular philosophy developed during Callahan's thirteen years of incarceration. The court concluded that although Callahan relied upon "concepts admittedly drawn from traditional religious text," he did so only "to justify and support a secular, philosophical objection to the use of social security numbers by the government." Callahan v. Woods, 479 F.Supp. 621, 625 (N.D.Cal.1979). Consequently the court granted the government's summary judgment motion, holding that the state, in requiring Callahan to acquire a number for Serena before she could receive AFDC benefits, did not burden a protected interest.
A religious claim, to merit protection under the free exercise clause of the First Amendment,
Initially we are faced with some ambiguity in the district court's application of the two-part test. It found that the plaintiff was sincere in his objection to identification numbers, but that his objection was not "rooted in religious belief." 479 F.Supp. at 624. The court did not explicitly attach its finding of sincerity to a specific idea or claim of Callahan's. Arguably, the court might have meant merely that Callahan sincerely dislikes social security numbers, but sincerity of that sort would be obvious from the very existence of this lawsuit. A First Amendment inquiry into sincerity generally has a different focus, addressing the sincerity with which the claimant holds the allegedly religious belief itself. See, e. g., Theriault v. Carlson, supra, 495 F.2d at 394-95. Thus, construed properly the trial court's blanket finding of sincerity must mean that the plaintiff, when he says that he opposes personal identification numbers because they are the "mark of the beast" and tools of the Antichrist, sincerely believes in the diabolical nature of those numbers. The remaining question, then, is whether Callahan's objections are "rooted in" a belief that is religious in nature. See Wisconsin v. Yoder, 406 U.S. 205, 215-16, 92 S.Ct. 1526, 1532-33, 32 L.Ed.2d 15 (1977).
In purportedly examining whether Callahan's views were "rooted in" his alleged scriptural interpretation, the court focused on issues that in this case were more relevant to the already settled question of sincerity. It is of course imaginable that in some circumstances a person might assert a First Amendment claim and attempt to justify it with a religious belief which, though sincerely held, was simply irrelevant to the claim. For example, Yoder involved claims by the Amish that public education for their children after the eighth grade violated their religious beliefs. If in that case the court had determined that the objection of the Amish to education was unrelated to their religious beliefs, then their constitutional claim would have had no merit even though their religious beliefs were sincere. See Yoder, 406 U.S. at 215-16, 92 S.Ct. at 1532-33. But just as the Supreme Court found in that case that the claim was related to the religious belief of the Amish, 406 U.S. at 215-16, 92 S.Ct. at 1532-33, here the relevance of Callahan's proffered beliefs to his claim is apparent. Indeed, it is hard to imagine how Callahan's belief that social security numbers are the "mark of the beast" could, if sincere, be considered irrelevant to his stand against the issuance of a number for Serena. Once his belief is established as sincere, it would seem undisputable that Callahan's objection must be "rooted in" that belief, at least in part.
479 F.Supp. at 625 n.6. This reasoning strongly suggests an underlying premise that a long-held secular belief invalidates First Amendment protection for a related but newly-alleged religious belief.
This premise may in some cases be applicable to the question of sincerity. A person seeking to advance a secular interest might, if frustrated in his pursuit, decide to mask the cause in religious garb in order to bring it under First Amendment protection. The existence of a longstanding philosophical belief which has only recently, and to the claimant's advantage, taken on theological overtones could certainly give rise to reasonable suspicion of dissimulation. If the district court had, after hearing Callahan's testimony, decided that his current objection to social security numbers had nothing to do with the reason proffered, and thus decided that his claims about the "mark of the beast" were fictitious trappings for his longstanding secular concerns,
Because Callahan's distaste for numbers is longstanding, one might infer that even if he now objects to numbers on scriptural grounds, he opposes them for personal and philosophical reasons as well. But a coincidence of religious and secular claims in no way extinguishes the weight appropriately accorded the religious one. In Yoder the Supreme Court warned that a belief that is based on "purely secular considerations" merits no protection under the free exercise clause. 406 U.S. at 215, 92 S.Ct. at 1532. It did not limit the scope of the First Amendment to "purely religious" claims; the area of overlap is presumably protected. The devout Seventh-Day Adventist may enjoy his Saturday leisure; the Orthodox Jew or Mohammedan may dislike the taste of pork. Such personal considerations are irrelevant to an analysis of the claimants' free exercise rights, so long as their religious motivation requires them to keep the Sabbath and avoid pork products. Religious duties need not contradict personal values or preferences in order to be protected. It might be argued that Callahan's personal animus toward numbers would by itself have been enough to motivate his refusal to give Serena a number.
In applying the free exercise clause of the First Amendment, courts may not inquire into the truth, validity, or reasonableness of a claimant's religious beliefs. See United States v. Ballard, 322 U.S. 78, 87, 64 S.Ct. 882, 886, 88 L.Ed. 1148 (1944); Stevens v. Berger, 428 F.Supp. 896, 899 (E.D.N.Y.1977) ("A religious belief can appear to every other member of the human race preposterous, yet merit the protections of the Bill of Rights.") The Supreme Court has recognized that if the free exercise right were dependent on one's ability to establish the truth of one's beliefs, then the First Amendment guarantees might be rendered illusory. In Ballard, leaders of the "I Am" movement, one of whom claimed status as a specially designated messenger of God, were convicted of mail fraud in their solicitations. The Supreme Court held that the district court had acted properly in withholding from the jury any consideration of the truth of the religious statements made and limiting the jury to a determination whether the defendants sincerely believed in their religious assertions. The Court explained:
322 U.S. at 87, 64 S.Ct. at 886.
It is nonetheless incumbent on the courts to ensure that a free exercise claim is granted only when the threatened belief is religious in nature. Wisconsin v. Yoder, 406 U.S. 205, 215-16, 92 S.Ct. 1526, 1532-33, 32 L.Ed.2d 15 (1972). While defining religious belief is often quite difficult, see Thomas v. Review Board of the Indiana Employment Security Division, 450 U.S. 707, 714, 101 S.Ct. 1425, 1430, 67 L.Ed.2d 624 (1981); United States v. Seeger, 380 U.S. 163, 174, 85 S.Ct. 850, 858, 13 L.Ed.2d 733 (1965), there can be little doubt that Callahan's interpretation of social security numbers as tools of the Antichrist is religious in nature.
While many cases have grappled with the difficult problem of identifying nontraditional beliefs that merit protection, see, e. g., Seeger, supra, this case presents a matter that in many respects is less difficult to resolve. Although traditional religious beliefs are entitled to no greater protection than many nontraditional dogmas, their status as religious beliefs is often more readily ascertained. Indeed, such doctrines are the standard by which other beliefs are measured for inclusion in the First Amendment guarantee. See Malnak v. Yogi, 592 F.2d 197, 207 (3d Cir. 1979) (Adams, J., concurring). And in this case, Callahan's views on social security numbers are closely tied to a theistic belief. Callahan is a member of the Baptist church; his ascription of diabolical status to social security numbers is derived from the New Testament's Book of Revelation, a text which his church, and indeed most churches, consider holy.
Callahan's interpretation of the scriptures may differ from the meaning members of his church generally find in that text, but such disagreement cannot itself invalidate his free exercise right. Though the district court did not have available the guidance of the Supreme Court's analysis in Thomas, since it was decided after the court's decision, that case establishes that "the guarantee of free exercise is not limited to beliefs which are shared by all of the members of a religious sect." 450 U.S. at 715, 101 S.Ct. at 1431. In Thomas, the Court held that a Jehovah's Witness's objection to producing armaments was religiously motivated
Given the close similarity of the ideas involved in this case and those in Stevens v. Berger, supra, Judge Weinstein's thorough and compelling analysis of the Stevenses' dogma is fully apposite here.
Id. at 905. Though Callahan's interpretation of Revelation may not have been as well articulated as the Stevenses' interpretation, it reaches the same conclusions for substantially the same stated reasons. And as the Supreme Court recently held in Thomas, a person's free exercise should not be curtailed simply because "his beliefs are not articulated with the clarity and precision that a more sophisticated person might employ." 450 U.S. at 715, 101 S.Ct. at 1430.
It would appear quite clear then that Callahan's views regarding social security numbers as the "mark of the beast" are theological in nature and plainly religious within the meaning of the First Amendment. As the district court found, Callahan sincerely holds those views. It would seem that both requirements of the threshold test for a free exercise claim are satisfied. The appropriate course, therefore, is to determine the extent to which Callahan's protected beliefs were burdened by the government's regulations, consider whether the government has a compelling interest in making social security numbers a prerequisite for AFDC benefits, and decide
Before it reached this step, however, the district court seemingly applied an additional threshold requirement: that a claimant's belief must be of religious origin in order to fall within the ambit of the First Amendment. The court found that "although plaintiff may now claim [his] beliefs to be `religious' in origin, they predate any involvement on his part with religion — organized or otherwise," 479 F.Supp. at 625. But the correct standard is not whether Callahan's beliefs have always been religious; they need only be religious in the context of his life as he now lives it. Cf. Seeger, supra, 380 U.S. at 184, 85 S.Ct. at 863 (test for religious exemption under draft statute is whether objector's beliefs play a role in his life similar to that of more traditional theological beliefs). See generally Note, Toward a Constitutional Definition of Religion, 91 Harv.L.Rev. 1056 (1978).
If judicial inquiry into the truth of one's religious beliefs would violate the free exercise clause, see United States v. Ballard, supra, 322 U.S. at 87, 64 S.Ct. at 886, an inquiry into one's reasons for adopting those beliefs is similarly intrusive. So long as one's faith is religiously based at the time it is asserted, it should not matter, for constitutional purposes, whether that faith derived from revelation, study, upbringing, gradual evolution, or some source that appears entirely incomprehensible. Nor can the courts easily distinguish between beliefs springing from religious and secular origin.
Inasmuch as Callahan's objections to acquiring a social security number for his daughter are sincerely held and religious in nature, we reverse the holding of the district court and remand for a determination, in light of Thomas, of the extent to which Callahan's protected belief is burdened by the government's requirement, and whether the government here is following the "least restrictive means of achieving some compelling ... interest," Thomas, supra, 450 U.S. at 718, 101 S.Ct. at 1432.