Appeals court says requirement to attend AA unconstitutional
Saturday, September 8, 2007
Alcoholics Anonymous, the renowned 12-step program that directs problem drinkers to seek help from a higher power, says it's not a religion and is open to nonbelievers. But it has enough religious overtones that a parolee can't be ordered to attend its meetings as a condition of staying out of prison, a federal appeals court ruled Friday.
In fact, said the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, the constitutional dividing line between church and state in such cases is so clear that a parole officer can be sued for damages for ordering a parolee to go through rehabilitation at Alcoholics Anonymous or an affiliated program for drug addicts.
Rulings from across the nation since 1996 have established that "requiring a parolee to attend religion-based treatment programs violates the First Amendment," the court said. "While we in no way denigrate the fine work of (Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous), attendance in their programs may not be coerced by the state."
The 12 steps required for participants in both programs include an acknowledgment that "a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity" and a promise to "turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him." They also call for prayer and meditation.