Is A.A. Legally A Religion?

Scales_of_Justice

Is Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) legally defined as a religion? Below I have summarized the information presented by Linda R. in her excellent article entitled: The Courts, AA, and Religion.

The argument that: “AA is spiritual, not religious.” Has been tested in five higher-level US courts over the ten-year period between 1996 and 2007. This includes three federal circuit courts and two state supreme courts.

People who were being forced to participate in AA meetings, either as a condition of their parole or probation, or while actually incarcerated brought these cases. These cases reached the highest level of judicial scrutiny — only one level below the US Supreme Court. These cases are important because they involve the separation of Church and State, which is a fundamental aspect of US constitutional law, known as the Establishment Clause. It is made explicit in the first amendment to the US Constitution, which states “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.”

The parolees, probationers and inmates in each of these cases claimed that the State was using its power to force them to participate in a religious activity. They claimed that AA meetings were religious. Thus, their required attendance was a violation of the Establishment Clause, which requires governmental neutrality with respect to religion and a wall of separation between Church and State.

In Establishment Clause cases, courts use a three-part test to determine if the wall of separation has been violated.

1. Has the State acted? The answer to this was “Yes.” These cases clearly showed action by the State, involving the governmental branches of probation, parole and imprisonment.

2. Does the action amount to coercion? The second answer was also “Yes.” They were being coerced by the power of law into attending A.A. meetings.

3. Is the object of coercion religious rather than secular? This question required a great deal of thought and research. The final answer, tested five times in high level courts was “Yes.” Because multiple high-level courts have ruled uniformly on this matter, these rulings now constitute “clearly established law”

The court rigorous studied:

  1. The Big Book and its 200 references to God;
  2. The Twelve Steps and their unmistakable references to God;
  3. The prayers in A.A. meetings;

Here is the reasoning the court used:

1. A.A. literature reflects the traditional elements common to most theistic religions.

    • God is named or referred to in 5 of the 12 steps.

2. “Working” the 12 steps includes:

    • Confessing to God the “nature of our wrongs” (Step 5),
    • Appealing to God “to remove our shortcomings” (Step 7) and
    • Seeking “through prayer and meditation” to make “contact” with God and achieve “knowledge of His Will” (Step 11).

3. While A.A. literature declares an openness and tolerance for each participant’s personal vision of God “as we understood Him” (Steps 3 and 11)

    • the writings demonstrably express an aspiration that each member of the movement will ultimately commit to a belief in the existence of a Supreme Being of independent higher reality than humankind.
    • All of the meetings ended with the Lord’s Prayer, which is a specifically Christian prayer.
    • Those attending the meetings were strongly encouraged to pray.

4. In terms of doctrine and as actually practiced in the 12-step methodology, adherence to the A.A. fellowship entails:

    • Engagement in religious activity (attending meetings, reading literature) and religious proselytization (Twelfth Step Work).
    • Followers are urged to accept the existence of God as a Supreme Being, Creator, Father of Light and Spirit of the Universe.
    • In “working” the 12 steps, participants become actively involved in seeking such a God through prayer, confessing wrongs and asking for removal of shortcomings.

5. Even though the primary objective of A.A. is to enable its adherents to achieve sobriety, its doctrine unmistakably urges that the path to staying
sober and to becoming “happily and usefully whole,” is by wholeheartedly embracing traditional theistic belief.

6. These expressions and practices constitute, as a matter of law, religious exercise (i.e. A.A. is legally a religion).

What does this mean for AA groups?

1. AA groups are now legally designated as “religious” within the US. This is a fact of law.

2. This fact can be:

  • Denied. Denial makes an AA group look confused (at best) or dishonest (at worst) to the rest of the world. “Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.” – Aldous Huxley
  • Accepted. A much more honest approach which, however, could limit the mandatory attendance at meetings, require secular alternative be made available. This inability to mandate attendance at12-Step meetings may discourage still suffering alcoholics who avoid it because they choose not to be involved in a religious organization. This acceptance will also inflame many AA detractors who will loudly say “I told you so!” and “liar, liar pants on fire!”

The courts found that the 12 Traditions were not religious in nature because they do not require AA groups or members to embrace religious doctrines and practices. There are some groups within AA — agnostic, atheist, free-thinking — that are not religious in their thinking or practice. These groups:

  1. Don’t recite prayers in their meetings;
  2. Don’t suggest that a belief in God is required to maintain sobriety;
  3. Use a secular version that has no reference to “God.”

The groups that practice in accordance with the above three practices are the only AA groups that can legitimately, according to law — claim to be “spiritual, not religious.”

A.A. as an organization has no opinion on the court rulings because they have no opinions on outside issues.

Linda R., in the excellent article from which I summarized this information put it like this:

“AA is at a crossroads. There are already many non-religious groups in AA and there are more of these groups being formed every day. … AA already has Traditions designed to service this population. But the inherent discord between the 12 Traditions (non-religious) and the 12 Steps (religious) is a threat to AA. As a result, AA risks being further marginalized as a force of recovery for the still-suffering alcoholic, as an unexpected consequence of its own inner contradictions.”

What implications do these court decisions hold for addiction professionals and psychotherapists? It’s really simple.

Know the facts and tell the truth. Here is my best understanding, as of this writing, what those facts are:

  1. The Twelve Steps, as written, have been found TO BE religious in nature as a matter of law;
  2. The determination that The Twelve Steps are “religious in nature” says nothing about whether or not A.A. is effective as a way of finding sobriety.
  3. There are secular versions of the steps that are not religious in nature (these are already being used in some groups);
  4. The Twelve Traditions, as written, have been found NOT TO BE religious in nature as a matter of law;
  5. No one can be required to attend A.A. Meetings that use the current Twelve Steps. They can be strongly encouraged to attend. Secular recovery support groups need to be encouraged and made more readily available.
  6. A.A. as a program of recovery does have an established track record of success with many but not all addicted people. Professionals should review the pros and cons of investigating further with each patient.
  7. Traditional A.A., the legally defined religious recovery group, is still the single most effective, most readily available, and lowest cost alternative for learning to live a sober and responsible life.
  8. Treatment programs that accept government funding cannot prohibit patients from attending A.A. Meetings nor can they require patients to attend.
  9. All privileges accorded to other religious organizations need to be extended to A.A. (What these privileges would be and who would be legally bona-fide as a representative A.A. to receive them has not yet been tested in a Court of Law).

Terry Gorski added the following addendum on October 27, 2013:

Implications for the First Amendment: The First Amendment protects the right to freedom of thought and freedom of expression. I believe these rights may be effected by the extreme and inappropriate implementation of 12 Step and other therapeutic philosophies to treatment with religious implications.

There are three areas addiction professionals need to be aware of:

(1) Raising the awareness that there are secular ways to interpret the steps and run meetings. This should be the preferred focus if TSF programs offered by providers.

(2) Encouraging the use of alternative secular support groups to give greater choice.

(3) Challenging the mistaken notion that it is OK to force people into recovery through threat if consequences and violation it religious rights.

I believe that this problem goes beyond the separation of church and state (the establishment clause) and striking it the heart of First Amendment rights to freedom if thought and speech ) If expressing you thoughts about recovery violates the”party-line” of treatment will get you adversely discharged from treatment, and adverse discharge from treatment results in court ordered incarceration, is not the power of law being harnessed to inhibit free thought and expression?

Linda R. submitted the following comments after reading the above blog. She is the author of the original source article reference in the first paragraph of this blog:

1. A.A. In Prisons: In the situation of prison inmates, what these cases say is that the state (penitentiaries) cannot sponsor an AA meeting, while at the same time not offering inmates a non-religious alternative. What has basically happened is that prisons have invited recovery organizations like SMART into their facilities to hold meetings. Thus, prison inmates have a choice between attending an AA meeting or a SMART meeting. That way the state is not establishing religion by virtue of requiring inmates to attend an AA meeting that is clearly religious – i.e. teaching the religious 12 Steps, using the religious Big Book textbook and closing the meeting with prayer.

2. A.A. In The V.A. and Similar Government Organization: A similar situation applies to government institutions like the VA. A lot of them now offer veterans access to both religious meetings (AA) and non-religious meetings, such as SMART meetings.

3. A.A. and Probation/Parole: In the situation of parolees or people who have DUIs and other alcohol-related offenses, the state (courts or probation officers) cannot mandate that an offender attend an AA meeting in their local community, because these meetings are now designated as religious meetings – i.e. teaching the religious 12 Steps, using the religious Big Book textbook and closing the meeting with prayer. Probation officers can be personally sued for attempting to mandate attendance at an AA meeting, which was what the 2007 federal circuit court case was about.

I4. Treatment Centers Accepting Government Funds:Some treatment centers are now offering SMART meetings to their patients / clients on the treatment premises. I don’t have any details of what The motivation is for this is unclear. It may be because the treatment programs accept government funding.

5. A.A. Is Often Misunderstood: “AA” is an organization that is not well understood. Each AA group is a collection of peers who are recovering from alcoholism, and each group is autonomous and sponsors its own meeting. The AA group and its meeting are independent and autonomous from AA World Services (AAWS), which is the corporate headquarters.

6. Alcoholics Anonymous World Service (AAWS) Office: AAWS is the publisher of AA literature and provides a General Service Office. AAWS is not an AA group and doesn’t hold any AA meetings. People who say that “AA” is not a religion are correct if they are referring to AAWS.

7. What The Courts Evaluated: The court cases were not evaluating AAWS, but the AA meeting itself, with its 12 Steps, Big Book textbook and praying. The AA meeting was designated as religious, based on the religious nature of the 12 Steps, the Big Book textbook, and prayer in meetings.

8. What About A.A. As A Group of Meetings: There are 64,414 groups that hold AA meetings in the US / Canada and 48,726 groups that hold AA meetings outside the US / Canada. I guess the question would be, does this collection of meetings constitute a “religion.” For professionals, does it matter? In the case of the probation officer that was sued, it did not. Mandating attendance at any AA meeting was not allowed because of the religious nature of the individual meetings. It was irrelevant whether or not the courts had designated AAWS as a religion or the entire collection of 114,000+ meetings as a religion.

The Affordable Care Act Puts A.A. and Healthcare Policy on A Collision Course:

I am completing a comprehensive literature review to document the research that shows that Relapse Prevention (RP) and addiction treatment in general are recognized science-based modalities. Keep following this blog. I will publish it here when completed.

The bottom line:

1. Twelve Step Facilitation (TSF), a psychoeducational program which prepares patients to benefit from 12-Step Groups, has been found equally and in some areas more effective than both Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Motivational Interviewing (MI).

2. Twelve Step Programs programs have risen to the level of “a science-based intervention” for substance use disorders.

3. Science-based Standards: Twelve Step Programs are now recognized in the research literature as being equally effective, less expensive, and more readily available, not just when compared to other recovery support groups like SMART, but when compared to professional addiction treatment programs in general.

4. Managed Care Organizations (MCOs): Managed Care Organizations (MCOs) may be one of the big winners with Obama Care. Everything healthcare will probable come under some form of managed Care review. Although nothing is certain as of this writing, MCOs are already leaning toward Twelve Step Facilitation Programs followed by a referral to 12-Step Programs as the first level of intervention.

5. The Impending Collision: So what is being set into play are two powerful movements involving Twelve Step Programs. To reduce healthcare costs 12-Step Facilitation may be mandated as an initial level of treatment. Technically speaking, professional Twelve Step Facilitation (TSF) programs would prepare patients to accept and succeed with a referral to 12-Step Programs. At the same time court rulings have held Twelve Step Programs to be religious.

6. The Big Bang: The collision between the government’s obligation to control healthcare costs as mandate by the ACA will propel 12-Step Program referrals and may deny other services until patients have demonstrated failure at that level of care. At the same time, a big part of the (TSF) Process will be to motivate people to get involved in Twelve Step Meetings which are now legally defined as religious. Separation of Church and State may well collide with government health care cost containment.

7. Why Might It Happen? This collision could well occur because so many addiction treatment professionals, owners of addiction treatment programs, and government bureaucrats won’t see it coming. The government is a bloated lumbering beast gorging itself on money that it doesn’t have. The bureaucrats, as of this writing, cannot even get the computer hubs for insurance purchases to work and this is after over three-years of preparation and over $1.5 billion dollars spent. When this system is literally imploding on itself, who is really is going to notice a little thing like cost containment trumping the the separation of church and state. There is a good chance no one will notice until another series of law suits force the issue to be looked at.

There are only two things that drive change: leadership and crisis. In the absence of leadership the only option is going to be crisis. When the crisis hits the knee-jerk reactions force a careless patching together of solutions that solve nothing. This can be prevented if this issue comes to public attention now. I just don’t believe that it will.

So much money, so few intelligent decisions. The Peter Principle tells us that in large bureaucracies people will rise to their level of their incompetence and stay there until they retire. Organizations will continue to grow until the bloated beast suffocates under its own weight. I don’t believe this impending problem will be discussed in any significant way for at least three to five years. Then boom — management by crisis! Here we go again.

I might be wrong. Predicting the future is like driving a car on the expressway looking out the back window. It only works when the highway is straight.

LIVE SOBER – BE RESPONSIBLE – LIVE FREE
GORSKI BOOKS – www.relapse.org
Amazon.com: Understanding The Twelve Steps By Gorski

————————————————————————-

Source Article On The Internet: http://aaagnostica.org/2012/05/27/the-courts-aa-and-religion/

Below are links to the judicial decisions for the five US high-level court cases.

1. Griffin v. Coughlin (1996)

2. Kerr v. Farrey (1996)

3. Evans v. Tennessee Board of Paroles (1997)

4. Warner v. Orange County Dept. of Probation (1999)

5. Inouye v. Kemna (2007)

About these ads

40 Responses to Is A.A. Legally A Religion?

  1. Avenel Grace says:

    At least A.A doesn’t turn anyone away because he or she doesn’t have the right attitude or clothes. It is a wonderful caring and responsible organization, no one is turned away, pity some of the churches wouldn’t go and do likewise.

  2. Linda R says:

    Terry,

    Thank you for your excellent article. It is important for treatment professionals to be aware of the court rulings on the 12 Steps, the Big Book and prayer in meetings. Per the A.A. survey, many people who go to an AA meeting go there because they are referred by professionals.

    It is important for treatment professionals to think about the implications of these court decisions. You summarize the implications nicely in the “Know the facts and tell the truth” section of your article.

    There are a couple of additional things that a professional might consider doing when they refer patients / clients to AA meetings. They can explain to patients / clients the variety of AA meetings and give them some guidance on how to select meetings that would be most suitable for that person.

    AA has topic meetings, discussion meetings and speaker meetings. These types of meetings DO NOT focus on teaching the religious 12 Steps. There are also 12 Step meetings, Big Book Study meetings and 12 & 12 Study meetings. These types of meetings DO focus on teaching the religious 12 Steps.

    The Big Book is a textbook. AA itself refers to it as its basic textbook. The courts ruled that the Big Book itself was religious, as well as the 12 Steps. Another thing professionals should consider is whether they want to refer patients / clients to the Big Book for religious instruction during treatment. Perhaps professionals could refer patients / clients to their priest or minister for help in coming to believe. This might separate the treatment from religious instruction.

    AA meetings are not all the same. Each AA group’s meeting is independent and autonomous, and the group may choose their meeting format. In addition, the dedication of individuals in each group to the 12 Steps and the Big Book may vary. Some individuals in these groups are very proactive about teaching the 12 Steps and coming to believe, and some are not. Professionals should consider talking this over with their patients / clients during the referral discussion.

    Linda R

    • Terry Gorski says:

      These are excellent points. May i incorporate them in the next revision of this Blog. If so, his should U reference it. Your ideas are very clear, pertinent, and to the point.

      • Linda R says:

        Hi Terry,

        Of course you can incorporate my comments in your next revision. I am the author of the article The Courts, AA and Religion that you referred to in your article and you can reference me as Linda R. Thanks.

      • Terry Gorski says:

        Thank you. I appreciate this article. I have been hearing about these courts cases for many years. The you brought them together is really an important contribution. It is clear and readable.

        FYI: I received some emailed from many people trying to tell me that AA is not a religion and they care what the courts have to say about it. Does anyone take Civics in high school anymore?

        Thank you again.

      • Linda R says:

        In the situation of prison inmates, what these cases say is that the state (penitentiaries) cannot sponsor an AA meeting, while at the same time not offering inmates a non-religious alternative. What has basically happened is that prisons have invited recovery organizations like SMART into their facilities to hold meetings. Thus, prison inmates have a choice between attending an AA meeting or a SMART meeting. That way the state is not establishing religion by virtue of requiring inmates to attend an AA meeting that is clearly religious – i.e. teaching the religious 12 Steps, using the religious Big Book textbook and closing the meeting with prayer.

        A similar situation applies to government institutions like the VA. A lot of them now offer veterans access to both religious meetings (AA) and non-religious meetings, such as SMART meetings, in order for the state to avoid establishing religion.

        In the situation of parolees or people who have dui’s and other alcohol related offenses, the state (courts or probation officers) cannot mandate that an offender attend an AA meeting in their local community, because these meetings are now designated as religious meetings – i.e. teaching the religious 12 Steps, using the religious Big Book textbook and closing the meeting with prayer. Probation officers can be personally sued for attempting to mandate attendance at an AA meeting, which was what the 2007 federal circuit court case was about.

        I have noticed that some treatment centers are now offering SMART meetings to their patients / clients on the treatment premises. I don’t have any details of what the motivation is for this. It may be because the treatment programs accept government funding.

        I can understand why there might be some confusion and why you have received emails from people saying that “AA” is not a religion. Some of this might stem from “AA” being an organization that is not well understood. Each AA group is a collection of peers who are recovering from alcoholism, and the group sponsors its own meeting. The AA group and its meeting are independent and autonomous from AA World Services (AAWS), which is the corporate headquarters.

        AAWS is the publisher of AA literature and provides a General Service Office. AAWS is not an AA group and doesn’t hold any AA meetings. People who are emailing you may be referring to AAWS when they say “AA” is not a religion.

        The court cases were not evaluating AAWS, but the AA meeting itself, with its 12 Steps, Big Book textbook and praying. The AA meeting was designated as religious, based on the religious nature of the 12 Steps, the Big Book textbook and prayer in meetings.

        There are 64,414 groups that hold AA meetings in the US / Canada and 48,726 groups that hold AA meetings outside the US / Canada. I guess the question would be, does this collection of meetings constitute a “religion.” For professionals, does it matter? In the case of the probation officer that was sued, it did not. Mandating attendance at any AA meeting was not allowed because of the religious nature of the individual meetings. It was irrelevant whether or not the courts had designated AAWS as a religion or the entire collection of 114,000+ meetings as a religion.

      • Linda R says:

        I just wanted to add that other peer support groups, for example, Lifering or SOS, also hold meetings at treatment facilities.

  3. Rick Fulton says:

    This is good information. As an addiction professional I need this updated information. Just because the courts have ruled does not make AA a religion. I have treated several atheist that have done well in AA.

    • Terry Gorski says:

      The point is a very simple one: LEGALLY the case law establishes A.A. as a religious organization. This means that any cases coming before the courts will have to deal with this legal reality. THIS IS NOW A FACT OF LAW. Not liking the precedent or wishing it were different will not change it.

      The primary implication is that patients referred by courts or in treatment in programs accepting federal funding will not be able to force patients to attend A.A.

    • Terry Gorski says:

      LEGALLY IT IS NOW CLASSIFIED AS A RELIGIOUS ORGANIZATION. Future court cases can overturn this, but as the weight if legal precedent grows, overturning these decisions will get more difficult.

      You don’t have to like court decisions. It is good to be aware of them if they can impact how you practice.

      • Linda R says:

        Terry, I read with interest your addendum on the implications of the court decisions for The Affordable Care Act and Health Care Policy. One implication, to reduce healthcare costs, is that 12-Step Facilitation (TSF) may be mandated as an initial level of treatment.

        TSF professional practices appear to be based on the TSF Therapy Manual, published by the NIAAA, an agency funded by the U.S. government. The TSP Therapy Manual is intended to standardize the TSF Therapy in manual form. It is based on input from Project MATCH therapists. Relating this manual to the court decisions, a key issue that may arise concerning this therapeutic approach is the incorporation of AA literature into it. On page 9, the manual says: “This facilitation program incorporates reading materials to augment the material covered in sessions.” However, the only outside reading materials for patients / clients that are incorporated into the TSF therapeutic approach are three books published by AA World Services – the Big Book basic textbook, the 12 & 12 supplemental textbook and the book Living Sober. In addition, maternal and quotes from the Big Book and the 12 & 12 are incorporated throughout the manual, as therapeutic material to discuss with patients / clients during TSF sessions.

        Terry, you mentioned leadership or crisis as being the two things that drive change. As an agency funded by the government, NIAAA should exercise leadership in addressing this issue. Based on the content of the TSP Therapy Manual, the NIAAA’s current recommended therapeutic approach is to focus patients / clients exclusively on AA literature during TSF sessions facilitated by professionals. To avoid the issues of a governmental agency establishing religion, which the court cases clearly involved, the NIAAA may need to consider alternatives or supplements to the religious textbooks they are exclusively recommending as an integral part of the TSF therapeutic approach.

      • Terry Gorski says:

        Linda R,
        I really like the way you approach issues. You cut straight to the core of the issue, explain it, and suggest its implications for action.
        I will continue to be involved in the issue of TSF. I have a book, Understanding The Twelve Steps, which is a secular leaning interpretation of the core principles and practices of 12-step programs. I call it a “no-nonsense” approach to the 12-Steps.
        I see two directions that I may be able to influence:
        (1) raising the awareness that there are secular ways to interpret the steps and run meetings. This should be the preferred focus if TSF programs offered by providers.
        (2) encouraging the use of alternative secular support groups to give greater choice.
        (3) Challenging the mistaken notion that it is OK to force people into recovery through threat if consequences and violation it religious rights.
        LINDA R, I believe that this problem goes beyond the separation of church and state (the establishment clause) and striking it the heart of First Ammendment rights to freedom if thought and speech ) If expressing you thoughts about recovery violates the”party-line” of treatment will get you adversely discharged from treatment, and adverse discharge from treatment results in court ordered incarceration, is not the power of law being harnessed to inhibit free thought and expression?

      • Terry Gorski says:

        Perhaps we should draft an open letter expressing that point of view.

        If we are going it stir shit we might as well start at the top.

      • Linda R says:

        Terry, I agree, the First Amendment involves more than the establishment clause, which specifically prohibits the government from establishing religion. It also involves the rights of individuals to engage in religious practices and expressions, as well as decline to engage in those. And freedom of religious or non-religious speech and thought is also involved.

        What these court cases have done is designate the practices and expressions in the 12 Steps, as written, as religious. In addition, the courts thoroughly reviewed the Big Book as the basic textbook, and determined that the text advocates uniformly and consistently that in order to recover from alcoholism, an alcoholic must come to believe in a personal God (Supreme Being) who takes an interest in the affairs of the world and intervenes in it. According to the doctrine, if the alcoholic prays to God and practices the religious activities as defined in the 12 Steps, God will intervene and relieve the alcoholic of their alcoholism. This is a religious doctrine.

        I agree that if expressing doubt about this religious doctrine results in discharge from treatment and a subsequent court ordered incarceration due to the discharge, then religious freedom has been violated. The power of the law is in fact being harnessed to inhibit thought and expression on a religious matter.

      • Linda R says:

        Terry, I wanted to add-on that I really like the way you approach issues too. This is a big issue, and it is fairly complicated. It involves a wide gamut of organizations and individuals – private and governmental. And it involves a legal issue. And the legal issue involves religious freedom in the private sector, as well as governmental involvement in religion. That’s a lot of complexity.

      • Terry Gorski says:

        Linda R,
        And even more complicated, Twelve Step Facilitation (TSF) which is designed to more efficiently get addicts to work a 13-step program, which us legally a religion, is being pushed by government under the ACA as a major tool of cost containment.
        BTW, are you an attorney?

      • Terry Gorski says:

        This could never be a movie or a TV show because nobody would ever believe this could ever happen.

      • Terry Gorski says:

        We will keep working on it together. As new ideas come forward we will add them.

  4. Lydia says:

    “Secular recovery support groups need to be encouraged and made more readily available.” They are not readily available because they don’t work and people don’t attend. It’s an unfortunate (for some) fact that many alcoholics cannot recover without accepting a Higher Power.

    • Terry Gorski says:

      I agree. Secular support groups are important. I am not sure who is the implied “they” that needs to support them. There is a small but dedicated group of people. Search Guy Lamunyon on Facebook or linked in. This is one of his passions. He has seen the whole historical development with all its dram and warts. As a comb medic, Guy just digs in and keeps on going. He is my go-to guy for all things military, PTSD, and Secular Support Alternatives. You can contact him at his email: Guy Lamunyon

      • Linda R says:

        It might be important to define what a secular support group is, in order to figure out the implied “they” that needs to support them.

        Because of the court decisions, groups that teach the original 12 Steps (and use the Big Book and 12 & 12 textbooks to teach the 12 Steps) and end their meetings with group prayer are now legally defined as religious. Is a peer support group that does not include these religious factors a secular group? For example, there are AA groups that hold discussion or topic meetings and don’t end the meeting with a group prayer. Is it still a religious group? Perhaps it is considered a religious group simply by virtue of being registered and affiliated with AAWS and using the AA name.

        These types of AA groups are not likely to flourish in the future. The AA General Service Conference has “the intention of keeping the focus of the A.A. meeting on the A.A. message as expressed in our literature rather than outside material.” In addition, the primary purpose of the AA group is defined in a recent AAWS publication “The AA Group” as: “their primary purpose: to help alcoholics recover through A.A.s suggested Twelve Steps of recovery.” Furthermore, AA groups may not modify, alter or extend the original 12 Steps.

        TSF can provide a secular way of interpreting the 12 Steps during the time the patient / client is in treatment. However, it seems as if the TSF process should also be identifying AA groups that support this process and the secular interpretations. Thus, the process can be continued after treatment with peer-to-peer support from the recovery community. Patients / clients that prefer the secular interpretations, rather than the original 12 Steps, might be helped through the TSF process to be made aware of these groups and to find groups that are receptive to secular interpretations of the steps.

    • Linda R says:

      Hi Terry,

      Of course you can incorporate my comments in your next revision. I am the author of the article The Courts, AA and Religion that you referred to in your article and you can reference me as Linda R. Thanks.

  5. Linda R says:

    One thing to keep in mind about these court cases is that they evaluated the Twelve Step Program. The courts determined that the Twelve Step Program itself was religious. The courts reviewed counselling programs sponsored by governmental agencies which used the Twelve Steps, in addition to reviewing meetings held by private AA or NA groups.. Thus, mandatory attendance at and participation in a substance abuse counseling program with explicit religious content — i.e. the Twelve Step Program — or that adopted in major part the religious-oriented practices and precepts of the Twelve Steps was not allowed. The exclusive incorporation of Twelve Step Program doctrines and practices into these counseling programs violated Establishment Clause principles requiring governmental neutrality with respect to religion, even if the governing principles and practices of the Twelve Step Program, as incorporated in the counseling programs, did not necessarily require a participant to accept the existence of God in the religious sense or to engage in religious activity.

    The defendants for the counselling programs argued that the counselling programs encouraged `open mindedness,'” and that the counselling programs didn’t “demand’ adherence to any particular faith and allowed participants to select their own conception of God, It was argued that the counselling program “does not make specific references to God as an institutional religion would wherein the individual is required to worship, praise, give thanks or petition to a Creator,” The courts determined,nonetheless, that for purposes of Establishment Clause neutrality in respect to government involvement in religion, these counselling programs violated the veil by disregarding the compulsion used to induce petitioners to attend and participate in a Twelve Step counseling program heavily laced with religious content.

    The higher courts also determined that too narrow a concept of religious expression and activity had been applied by some lower courts.for Establishment Clause purposes. The higher courts rejected the notion that simply labeling the specific expressions and practices of the Twelve Step Program as “spiritual” provided any relevant differentiation between spiritual and religious.

    “Alcoholics Anonymous materials and the testimony of the witness established beyond a doubt that religious activities, as defined in constitutional law, were a part of the treatment program. The distinction between religion and spirituality is meaningless, and serves merely to confuse the issue.”
    — Wisconsin’s Federal 7th Circuit Court , Grandberg v. Ashland County, 1984.

    I do want to mention that the courts did look at the Twelve Traditions and recognized their more secular nature: “The Twelve Traditions essentially deal with the nondoctrinal, secular problems which can be expected to arise and challenge any popular movement — organizational structure, finances, membership eligibility, management authority and the like. It should come as no surprise, therefore, that the content of the Twelve Traditions is more secular and less religious in tone than its Twelve Steps companion piece in the same volume.”

    However, the courts rejected the defendant’s arguments that there was an historical evolution of doctrine and methodology from the initial, more religious Big Book to the later Twelve Traditions. The courts pointed out that this argument was refuted by the writings themselves: “Thus, the 1952 A.A. Twelve Steps/Twelve Tradition volume itself states unequivocally in its Foreword that the book `Alcoholics Anonymous’ [the 1939 A.A. Big Book] became the basic text of the Fellowship, and it still is.” The courts pointed out that the Traditions were: “designed not to supersede the reverent doctrines and practices of the A.A. literature which we have already quoted, but to address the essentially secular issues the A.A. movement confronted as it achieved public acceptance. Even then, the Twelve Traditions portion of A.A. Twelve Steps/Twelve Traditions reaffirms the essential religious convictions of the A.A. society.”

    I guess my purpose in adding this addendum to the original discussion about AA is to clarify that the court cases often involved counselling programs using the Twelve Step Program, as well as NA group meetings,

  6. Guy Lamunyon says:

    Lydia – secular groups work equally well when compared 12 STEP group.

  7. Guy Lamunyon says:

    ATTN: Addiction Professionals

    All addiction professionals have moral and ethical duty to be as familiar with secular alternatives as they are with AA/12 Steps.

    How many of you can explain the differences between AA/SMART/SOS/WFS/LIFERING/HARMS NETWORK and are able to make appropriate referrals to these various groups – be honest ! ! !

    (I left out Methods of Moderation as being too controversial for this discussion).

    • Terry Gorski says:

      Guy Lamunyon, I would appreciate a brief description and a link to each of those secular alternatives. Thanks.

    • Terry Gorski says:

      There is convincing evidence that methods of moderation of “controlled drinking only have some success with non addicted abusers. As people experience significant symptoms of dependence/addiction moderation therapies usually fail.

    • Terry Gorski says:

      A moral duty to be aware of secular alternatives to 12-Step Programs is really pushing the line. Legally required and helpful to many is a better war to say it. I don’t let the religious define my morality by the threat of hell-fire. I certainly won’t buy into moral pressure from any segment of the the secular community either. There are too many rules and regulations imposed by the force of law of law already. I just ask that people think about these things and make up their own mind. I thought you were a libertarian. Do you want a government department of secular ethics.

      Sorry, on this one I just can’t agree. Thank you, however for expressing your thoughts. I enjoy discussing important issues with you. IF TWO PEOPLE AGREE ABOUT EVERYTHING AT LEAST ONE OF THEM IS UNNECESSARY. I guess we are both still necessary.

      • Linda says:

        ” IF TWO PEOPLE AGREE ABOUT EVERYTHING AT LEAST ONE OF THEM IS UNNECESSARY. I guess we are both still necessary.”

        Nice perspective Terry. Ill throw in my two bits which seems slightly different than both of yours.

        I dont think theres an ethical, moral OR legal duty for a counselor to know and teach all of various treatments for addiction. If a counselor works at a 12-Step program facility, then theres no real reason for them to be teaching something different than the Twelve Steps. If they work at a facility that teaches the Four Point program, theres no reason for them to be teaching something different than the Four Points. If they work at a place that has developed a new program, lets say based on the Buddhist Eightfold path, they are not under any obligation to know or teach the 12-Steps or the Four Points. The 12 Steps and the Eightfold path would be categorized as religious treatments, whereas the Four Points would be secular. Theres nothing ethically wrong with teaching a religious program versus a secular program.

        The legal duty to know about the various programs comes into play for counselors who are in the role of agent for the government. For example, a counselor who works for a social service agency that regularly handles family court cases. Often times in child welfare cases the parent is ordered to addiction treatment. This counselor should not be routinely advising their clients to the 12-Step Program. They should be advising the clients on the full array of options.

        On Fri, Dec 13, 2013 at 1:43 AM, Terry Gorski’s Blog wrote:

        > Terry Gorski commented: “A moral duty to be aware of secular > alternatives to 12-Step Programs is really pushing the line. Legally > required and helpful to many is a better war to say it. I don’t let the > religious define my morality by the threat of hell-fire. I certainly won’t > buy”

  8. Linda R says:

    The NA Twelve Step groups hold 61,800 weekly meetings in 129 countries and the AA Twelve Step groups hold 114,642 weekly meetings in 170 countries. Approximately half of these meetings are held in the U.S.

    The professional counsellor may educate themselves on non-professional peer groups that teach alternatives to the Twelve Steps. However, what should the counselor do if they are practicing in a community that has 200+ Twelve Step Program groups teaching the Twelve Steps, but no other type of non-professional groups are available? They can’t very well refer clients to non-professional groups that don’t exist.

    In the case where the counsellor is acting in the role of “agent” for the government for court ordered patients, it is a legal duty not to have bias. Because multiple high-level courts have ruled uniformly on this matter, these rulings now constitute clearly established law in the U.S. In fact, in the 2007 case of Inouye v. Kemna, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco said probation officers are required to pay damages for violating constitutional rights when those rights are already clearly established. The appeals court said the probation officer should have known in 2001 that coerced participation in a religion-based program was unconstitutional because eight state and federal courts had ruled on the issue by then and all had agreed that a parolee has a right to be assigned to a secular treatment program.

    Qualified immunity is only available to shield government officials from liability for civil damages insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known. Public officials should now know what is clearly established law relative to the Twelve Step Program. They are personally liable if they violate it. They can’t plead “I didn’t know” if someone sues them. If a counsellor is acting in the role of ”agent” of the government they are subject to these same constraints on immunity.

    In the situation of people who have DUIs or other alcohol-related offenses, the State (courts, probation officers, etc.) can require that an offender attend an addiction treatment program. However, the offender must be given a choice between religious and non-religious treatment. Not only must the offender be given a choice, but non-religious treatment options must be available from which to choose. As long as the offender is given an array of treatment options, the State avoids endorsing or establishing religion.

    Although the Twelve Step Program has finally obtained a legal status as religious, the government still views it as treatment and attendance at Twelve Step meetings facilitated by non-professionals in the local community is stilled counted as addiction treatment. Because they are free, offenders may end up attending Twelve Step meetings instead of professionally facilitated treatment. Normally, there is likely to be little concern for people in these meetings rubbing shoulders with the average dui offender. However, more serious offenders may also be required to attend addiction treatment, and may choose non-professional Twelve Step meetings as their treatment of choice.. The results can be tragic for attendees of Twelve Step meetings.

    There doesn’t appear to be any accountability placed on the court system and associated government agencies for the consequences of their parole and probation practices. Maybe it’s time for the government to step up to the plate and take accountability for its addiction treatment policies. It does not seem appropriate for government to be using private, non-professional groups as a place to send serious offenders for addiction treatment. Especially without the knowledge and consent of the group providing the treatment. At a minimum, governmental agencies (and government counsellors) should be required to obtain the consent of the group and provide disclosure about the offender before sending them to a non-professional group for addiction treatment.

    • Guy Lamunyon says:

      RE: What should a professional do if there are no secular group available?

      Speaking for myself, I started a RATIONAL RECOVERY group in my community so my patients would have a choice (beginning in1990).

      Online support is also available – just as AA has online meetings, SMART has online meetings and so does Women for Sobriety.

      If addiction counselors can teach the 12 Steps why can’t they teach the SMART Four Points or other similar alternative.

      Prescott VA gives AA and SMART equal billing – they present both 12 STEP FACILITATION and SMART education (which I have called SMART FACILITATION).

      NOTE: VA Denver was sued in 1985 by a veteran who was refused treatment because he did not want to go to AA. Result = out of court settlement. The veteran correctly took the position he had fought for freedom and now expected the same from his government (the VA hospital).

      • Linda R says:

        Hi Guy, I’m not sure I complete understand your idea, but I like the sound of it. What I get a little confused about is the line between professionally facilitated group sessions and non-professional peer-to-peer support groups. Are you suggesting counsellors could get involved in setting up non-professional groups that do not teach the Twelve Steps?

        I like the idea, because involvement in a peer-to-peer support group has been found to be one of the factors in long term successful recovery. But the percentage of people in today’s modern population who are receptive to following the Twelve Steps is far lower than it was in the 1930’s. In fact, 40% of the U.S. population has a conception of God that is different than the Twelve Steps, where it is taught that there is a personal God, the Father, who responds to prayer and actively intervenes in the modern world. For this segment of the population, attending Twelve Step meetings is no different than attending any other religious group where a particular conception of God is taught. Yes, individuals can reject the Twelve Step conception of God, but that’s not any different than people who attend mass, synagogue or mosque, but reject the conception of the Holy Trinity, YHWH or Allah, respectively.

        I think Twelve Step groups are fine for people who are there voluntarily. It is shocking and appalling, however, to think that the government, (judges) can court order offenders for alcohol or drug related offenses to a religious addiction treatment, under the threat of that treatment or jail.

        Evidently, the key issue for judges is that they say they do not have any other options. The offender can either choose jail or free Twelve Step addiction treatment by non-professional Twelve Step groups in the local community. Who wouldn’t choose attending a religious group’s Twelve Step meetings over going to jail? It’s an awful example of government using its power to promote and establish religion under coercion.

        On the other hand, there are very few non-professional groups providing addiction treatment which doesn’t involve the Twelve Steps. The offender who’s just trying to stay out of jail and avoid spending a lot of money they likely don’t have on professional addiction treatment will likely not protest too vigorously to being sentenced to free religious treatment. And there’s the natural propensity to not want to rock the boat with the judge.

        There are some basic logistical questions Guy, if you’re suggesting that counsellors sponsor non-professional groups that provide free addiction treatment that will be accepted by judges as a substitute for Twelve Step treatment. One question would be how much training is involved in learning the Four Point program? There is a very low barrier to entry for Twelve Step groups. They just need two people who were formerly addicted to drugs or alcohol, and a Big Book (AA) or a Basic Text (NA) and they are in the business of providing addiction treatment. And most judges will recognize these groups as providing legitimate addiction treatment.

      • Terry Gorski says:

        Great comments and discussion. Thank you

      • Linda says:

        Hi Terry,

        You had mentioned in one of your comments it would be nice to have a brief description and link to each of the alternatives. I wanted to share with you a “cheat sheet” I wrote up on Sunday. I shared it with Guy yesterday and have since made a few revisions. I’m not sure how something like this would be used, but one main benefit is that all the information is on one page. It’s sort of a peer support networks “at a glance.” The other benefit is that the reader is provided with direct links to the recovery organizations to find meeting information and information about each recovery program. One problem with wiki write-ups is that they can be very lengthy, as well as inaccurate or out of date. This write-up focuses on what all the groups have in common and information that won’t easily change. It doesn’t go into detail about each alternative, nor does it compare them to each other.

  9. Guy Lamunyon says:

    Terry – I agree I am pushing the line. I have been pushing this paradigm shift since 1990 much as you have pushed for the use of relapse prevention. You may recall I did a NAADAC presentation on using Rational Recovery over 20 years ago.

    SMART President Tom Horvath (PhD) and I participated in a panel discussion on 12 Step Alternatives in the NCAD/NAADAC 2011 Conference closing session; the enrollment was 10,000 participants, about half attended the closing session.

    When I arrived at VA Prescott there was no relapse prevention counseling or SMART Recovery. By the time I left, VA Prescott staff were trained in relapse prevention BY YOU and six weekly SMART groups and classes are in place. When I retired I left a 38 bed specialty relapse prevention program and have just found SMART RECOVERY FACILITATOR training is now a job requirement for all peer support personnel. My posting about morals and ethics was to stimulate thought.

    The NAADAC Ethics Code requires counselors to stay up on development in the field and avoid coercion. Readers may say, I am not a NAADAC member, so I don’t have to follow that code, however if there is ever a legal challenge to a counselors practice, this will be the industry wide code that will be presented in court.

    http://www.naadac.org/code-of-ethics

    These ethics are not program specific. All counselors have a responsibility to know about recovery options regardless of the type of program they work in. See below for the NAADAC position which also brings up the legal issue, which I left out of my posting.

    Now about the morals – Websters says morals are concerned with right and wrong. If you are working in a 12 step program and the clients is resisting, the moral thing to do is refer him to another program which will meet his/her needs.

    Can we agree on this ? ? ? ? ?

    ====================================================
    ETHICS SUPPORTS INDIVIDUALIZED TREATMENT

    It’s not just managed care that’s pushing for individualized treatment. The concept is finding support in the courts.

    “If the patient says, ‘I don’t want to be involved in a 12-step program.’ and your 12-step based program is the only one available to that patient – as is often the case in rural areas – you are obligated to provide a treatment alternative for that patient,” Olcott reports. This formerly ethical obligation has become a legal one, he says, with court decision declaring that it is discriminatory to deny entry (or to refuse to let someone stay) in your program because of that individual’s unwillingness to cooperate with the 12-step treatment component.

    If there’s another facility reasonably available to the patient with basically the same level of service as yours, one that does not use a 12-step approach, you are obligated to refer that patient to the other program, Olcott says.

    “The rationale for these requirements is that 12-step programs are not legally defensible. We can defend group and individual therapy and most of the educational services we provide, but we cannot defend a phenomenal program that is in no way controlled by the clinical community,” says Olcott

    Found in Addiction Program Management, January 1991

    Note: This article cites William R. Olcott, co-chair of the National Ethics Standards Committee for the National Association of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselors (NAADAC).

  10. Guy Lamunyon says:

    If programs begin to lose customers due to a bad program fit they will quickly learn about recovery alternatives – it’s all about the money ! ! ! ! !

  11. […] are religious in nature according to the law. This controversy is explored in an in-depth blog: Is A.A. A Religion by Terence T. […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 4,348 other followers

%d bloggers like this: