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Alcoholics Anonymous and the First Amendment

Are you involved with the criminal justice system?  Do you expect defendants to attend Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA)?  Then this podcast is for you.

Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous as Conditions

It is not uncommon for judges, probation officers or treatment providers to order criminal defendants to attend AA or NA.  While these programs can be a very effective adjunct to treatment, there are Constitutional implications that must be considered.

It is clear from every court that has ruled on the matter than requiring AA or NA as a condition of probation or parole or in order to obtain privileges while in custody, is a violation of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause.[i]

Monetary Damages are Mandatory

Alcoholics Anonymous
Numerous cases have held that providing an alternative to a “religious program” like AA is permissible.

Those who violate the Constitution “under color of state law” can also lose their immunity from Civil Rights lawsuits under 42 U.S.C. 1983.  Not only can there be injunctions issued and attorneys’ fees assessed but monetary damages have been found to be mandatory.[ii]  In the Hazle case from Northern California the plaintiff spent 100 days in custody for refusing to go to a faith-based rehab program as a condition of parole.  After the ruling that monetary damages are mandatory, the case settled for $1,925,000.

Avoid the Problem

Numerous cases have held that providing an alternative to a “religious program” like AA is permissible and avoids any problems.[iii]  Peer support meetings that are non-religious are LifeRing Recovery, Secular Organizations for Sobriety and SmartRecovery®.  The first atheist and agnostic AA convention took place in 2014 and there are almost 250 Agnostic AA meetings around the world.[iv]

The message is clear:  Do not specifically order AA or NA but instead offer them among a number of alternatives that are non-religious.  This protects the rights of the offender and the immunity of the judge, probation and treatment programs.



[i] Kerr v. Ferry 95 F.3d 472 (7th Cir. 1996); Griffin v. Coughlin 88 N.Y. 2d 674 (1966); Inouye v. Kemna 504 F.3d 705 (9th Cir. 2007); Hanas v. Inter City Christian Outreach 542 F.Supp.2d 683 (E.D. Mich. 2008); Peel v. Smith (N.D. Okla. 2008); Busch v. Forbes (Fed.Dist. N.M 2007); In Re Hon. Assad (124 Nev.Adv.Op.No. 38)

[ii] Hazle v. Crofoot (9th Cir. 2013).

[iii] O’Conner v. California 855 F.Supp. 303 (C.D.Calif.1994); In Re Restraint of Garcia 24 P.3d 1091 (Wash. App. 2001); Americans United v. Prison Fellowship 509 F.3d 406 (8th Cir. 2007);

[iv]Alcoholics Anonymous without the Religion

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