Addiction

Thank the Higher Power for the First Amendment

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Last week the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit joined several other federal and state courts in ruling that compulsory A.A. attendance runs afoul of the Establishment Clause. The case involved Ricky Inouye, a meth addict on parole in Hawaii who was ordered to attend Alcoholics Anonymous/Narcotics Anonymous meetings and was sent back to prison because he refused, saying the program clashed with his Buddhist beliefs. "For the government to coerce someone to participate in religious activities strikes at the core of the Establishment Clause," the unanimous three-judge panel said, noting that "reverence for 'a higher power' is a substantial component of the AA/NA program." (A.A., which insists "we're not religious but spiritual," took no position on the ruling.) Not only were Inouye's rights violated, the 9th Circuit said, but his parole officer, Mark Nanamori, did not deserve qualified immunity for his role in returning Inouye to prison, since "the vastly overwhelming weight of authority on the precise question in this case held at the time of Nanamori's actions that coercing participation in programs of this kind is unconstitutional."

A PDF of the 9th Circuit decision is available here. The addiction expert (and lawyer) Stanton Peele, who discussed the First Amendment implications of coerced A.A. participation in reason back in 2001 (the same year Inouye's parole was revoked), notes that "compulsory 12-step participation is still standard practice around the country."

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  1. I second that yeah!

  2. Sweet!

    (Regardless of her song, Amy Winehouse should probably go to rehab, though.)

  3. Yay for the constitution!!

  4. Agreed. I don’t think a whole lot of people are aware of AA’s religious nature.

  5. Well, yeah, Dan, that, and the fact that a lot of people seem to have no problem at all compelling religious practice.

  6. Yeah for letting drunks and meth addicts to wonder around without serious outpatient treamtnet!
    Seriously, if this results in people being locked up longer in institutions to “ensure” they are clean and sober in order to placate a public that demands addicts to be “clean and sober,” how much of a victory is this?

  7. Anonymouse:

    Straw man!

  8. Anonymouse,

    How much help do you think would come from the coercion anyway?

    If the guy did his time in jail, he shouldn’t have extra punishment layered on top.

  9. Not only were Inouye’s rights violated, the 9th Circuit said, but his parole officer, Mark Nanamori, did not deserve qualified immunity for his role in returning Inouye to prison, since “the vastly overwhelming weight of authority on the precise question in this case held at the time of Nanamori’s actions that coercing participation in programs of this kind is unconstitutional.”

    Can someone translate this into non-legalese for me? I find the loss of immunity angle the most interesting part of the ruling.

  10. Anonymouse,

    People are saying “Yay” because of the nature of AA / NA and the insistence that people submit to a “higher power.” Outpatient treatment does not need to have this component and compelling attendence where this is a requirement is a Bad Thing (see Establishment Clause).

  11. Compelling anything after serving your time is bullshit, like that judge forbidding the guy who got convicted for his BSDM antics from “viewing Internet porn”.

    On top of that, AA is EXPLICITLY religious. I have known alcoholics who loved AA, claimed it was what saved them, and completely gushed about its religious nature.

    Good fucking ruling.

  12. God grant me the serenity
    to accept the things I cannot change;
    courage to change the things I can;
    and wisdom to know the difference.

    Living one day at a time;
    Enjoying one moment at a time;
    Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
    Taking, as He did, this sinful world
    as it is, not as I would have it;
    Trusting that He will make all things right
    if I surrender to His Will;
    That I may be reasonably happy in this life
    and supremely happy with Him
    Forever in the next.
    Amen.

    Religion? What religion?

  13. My ex got addicted to country line dancing. Finally I had to coerce her into joining a two-step program.

  14. Gimme three steps

  15. I’d rather have three fingers.

  16. Today’s “Freethought of the Day” seems to have a better “prayer” for me:

    I believe that religion, generally speaking, has been a curse to mankind–that its modest and greatly overestimated services on the ethical side have been more than overcome by the damage it has done to clear and honest thinking.

    I believe that no discovery of fact, however trivial, can be wholly useless to the race, and that no trumpeting of falsehood, however virtuous in intent, can be anything but vicious. . .

    I believe that the evidence for immortality is no better than the evidence of witches, and deserves no more respect.

    I believe in the complete freedom of thought and speech . . .

    I believe in the capacity of man to conquer his world, and to find out what it is made of, and how it is run.

    I believe in the reality of progress.

    But the whole thing, after all, may be put very simply. I believe that it is better to tell the truth than to lie. I believe that it is better to be free than to be a slave. And I believe that it is better to know than be ignorant.

    — Mencken’s Creed, cited by George Seldes in Great Thoughts

    http://www.ffrf.org/day/

  17. Can someone translate this into non-legalese for me? I find the loss of immunity angle the most interesting part of the ruling.

    It is interesting. Let me see if I can explain without resort to legalese.

    As you probably know, federal and state governments have sovereign immunity from being sued by citizens (with certain exceptions). That immunity extends to government employees when they act within the scope of their jobs. However, this type of immunity is not as universal–it is “qualified”, in other words.

    The doctrine of qualified immunity is kinda complicated, but basically it boils down to this: a government official loses his immunity if he knowingly violates your constitutional rights, but not if he reasonably thought he was acting in a constitutional manner. These cases turn on whether the constitutional right at issue is “clearly established.” There’s a whole body of case law on the subject that I won’t get into.

    Here, the Ninth Circuit is saying that compulsory AA attendance was such a clear violation of the First Amendment, that any reasonable parole officer would have known about it and not required such attendance. While I obviously agree with the underlying interpretation of the First Amendment, I didn’t know that there was such a body of case law on AA that it would be a “clearly established right.” But there you go.

  18. KenK

    Cool website, Danke Schoen.

  19. I second ChrisO’s analysis.

    But I don’t think the case law necessarily has to be on point, i.e., specifically dealing with AA. It’s been clear for a very long time that the state cannot force or coerce people into religiously-affiliated programs.

    The 9th Circuit gets one right … for a change.

  20. ChrisO and x,y — thanks. That cleared it up quite a bit for me.

  21. Here’s a website you may find useful. http://www.addicted.com is a site for friends, families, and those who suffer from various addictions.

  22. Put the religion aside for a moment and consider the effectiveness of AA programs.

    The facts (as I recall them) are that folks who enter AA programs or no more (or less) likely to stop drinking than an someone who receives no assistance whatsoever.

    I couldn’t find any recent stats to back this up but if anyone can post some…

  23. I had to go to AA as part of an underage drinking ticket (long story, but basically got railroaded by Hanover County courts for what should have been a $75 ticket).

    I told them strait up that I was coerced to attend (nudge from the judge, as they called it), and I said to leave me alone, which they did for the most part.

    Every once of the thing was Christian… and very boring. I had almost considered speaking and just making up some really fucked up alcoholic story.

    Point of interest: one meeting did seem like the Exorcist, because some guy started foaming at the mouth right in the middle of step 6 or something. That was pretty sweet.

  24. ed | September 12, 2007, 12:53pm | #

    God grant me the serenity
    to accept the things I cannot change;
    courage to change the things I can;
    and wisdom to know the difference.

    Ayn Rand once said that, stripped of the invocation of god, the Boethius [sp?] prayer was a good way of looking at life.

  25. I wonder how much of the fact that he was protesting because he was Buddhist and not atheist had to do with this ruling. I wouldn’t be surprise to see that it’s because AA’s doctrine favors Monotheism over Buddhism that this was struck down, and not because of its inherent spiritual/religious content. It’s still a long way from having the 10 commandments posted in the courthouse, but it’s still not an abdication of religion altogether.

  26. Correction: Every ounce of the thing …

    Also, I clicked on the addiction.com link above, and saw a picture of a guy who claimed to be a sex addict.

    I would just like to ask… WHAT THE FUCK defines one as a sex addict?

    I am a 25-year-old male, and if I could find some way to get by not working, I would like to have sex 24 hours a day.

    Does that make me a sex addict or a rational human following my evolutionary instinct?

  27. I disagree. It was a condition of his parole. When you are on parole you are still under the control of the state. If he had said at his parole hearing that he would not attend the meetings the parole board could have said “Fine, enjoy the rest of your stay in jail”.

  28. BTW, he shouldn’t have been in jail for drugs anyway.

  29. bill,

    The problem then is that the state is saying “If you’ll go and do our God thing, we’ll let you out of jail early.”.

  30. “””The facts (as I recall them) are that folks who enter AA programs or no more (or less) likely to stop drinking than an someone who receives no assistance whatsoever. “”

    I do know people who went (NA in this case) and are now sober. I give NA, limited credit. The guy was really ready to quit, NA got him started but it was his will that carried him the rest of the way.

    The purpose of the religious element is to get people to accept that they are too weak to do it alone and that they need a higher power to help them. I imagine a prison guard could provide that function, or a sober friend, if they have any. Having said that, I believe AA is fine for people who wish to join, but I fully agree with the 9th court’s ruling. No one should ever have the power to force you to acknowledge any God. What’s the difference if it’s our government or OBL trying force religion on you with a gun? Both want to destroy your life if you do not comply.

  31. As for the partial immunity thing, the parole officer is told by the court that if this guy doesn’t do AA, he has to go back to jail. The parole officer, knowing that the ruling goes against the constitution, but also knowing that he has a family to support, fulfills his job description (which in this case happens to be illegal).

    Is the officer at fault, the person who wrote the job description, the judge who could have the officer put in jail for obstruction of justice (or whatever), all of the above, or none of the above? Or something else altogether?

  32. I had a friend tell her PO that she would not attend the AA meetings due to their religious nature, and the PO was fine with that.

  33. Yogi’s right. I can’t believe no atheists have been compelled by the court system to go to AA/NA without putting up a constitutional fight.

    This is why I am agnostic but if hardpressed will admit to monotheism – the hardpressers never go any further to find that I am only admitting to the possibility of satan as the one true god.

  34. bill,

    His parole condition was that he was required to attend a drug treatment program.

    He made clear his objection to religious based programs prior to his parole in a letter submitted to the parole board that included citations from previous cases where it was determined that compelled attendence to religious based programs was unconstitutional.

    His parole officer was aware of his objection and should have clearly understood that his parole condition was for drug treatment not a certain “brand” of treatment.

    It helps to read the ruling.

  35. But I don’t think the case law necessarily has to be on point, i.e., specifically dealing with AA. It’s been clear for a very long time that the state cannot force or coerce people into religiously-affiliated programs.

    The case law doesn’t have to be an exact match, but courts are less likely to find a “clearly established right” from previous case law based on widely differing facts. It’s all about determining whether a government official could figure out from case law if his intended action would be unconstitutional. And that can obviously differ from case to case. I mostly deal with this issue in the context of government whistleblowers attempting to sue the supervisors who fired them or treated them like shit based on the content of their speech. It gets complicated.

    The parole officer, knowing that the ruling goes against the constitution, but also knowing that he has a family to support, fulfills his job description (which in this case happens to be illegal).

    If the parole officer was fired for refusing to engage in a clearly illegal or unconstitutional act, he could bring a big ‘ol slam-dunk lawsuit against his agency and supervisors, with no immunity problems whatsoever.

  36. de stijl,

    Aahh, I should have RTFA. The parole officer WAS solely responisble for putting the guy back in vs. AA. Sue his ass into next week.

  37. Well then the AA attendance wasn’t “compulsory”. In other words the “State” wasn’t forcing him to go to AA. The PO stepped beyond the bounds of the terms of the parole. Some higher authority in the prison system should have stepped in and fixed the situation.

  38. bill,

    The state was compelling him to attend an outpatient drug program as a condition of his parole. The parole officer insisted that the program be of the AA / NA variety.

  39. Agreed. I don’t think a whole lot of people are aware of AA’s religious nature.

    Well, the fact that courts and agents of the courts feel that they need to micromanage people’s lives leads to situations where they are going to inevitably infringe on people’s rights.

    There is no way for a judge or parole officer to know the religious implication of every random action that they force someone into doing, as there is just too many people who need their lives controlled by government in too many ways. Sometime, somewhere, somehow, a judge is going to order someone to do something religious. That is just collateral damage of the police state.

  40. I had to attend 3 months of “abstinence based group sessions” (code for AA) and “prove it”. The only secular meeting was a 40 minute drive away. And it was doubtful the court would approve of it. So I turned it into a research project and attended AA meetings in 12 different locations. Some observations:

    -Its a Christian religious ceremony complete with the lords prayer
    -Its a cult like atmosphere
    -Due to the lowering of the DUI limits to .8 AA meetings are being flooded with new people and long time “participants” are non to happy about it
    -you never graduate – I met people who have attended weekly meetings over 30 years
    -most have other issues that they are not getting help for (the comment “dude – you are drinking all the time because you are gay and won’t acknowledge it – so here is the address to three gays bars” got me in a little bit of trouble)
    -the meetings don’t work
    -there are no statistics kept on whether or not it works because -ya know- their “anonymous”
    -they are not really “anonymous”

  41. de stijl,

    UH, can you read what I wrote? I said the “AA” program wasn’t compulsory and that it was the PO who said it was.

    My point being why was this matter not handled administratively ( the parole board telling the PO he’s wrong and to let the man go) instead of it having to go to the appeals court.

    Additionally the parole board wasn’t “compelling” him to do anything. He would have AGREED to go to treatment to get the hell out of jail. He could have refused the condition and finished out his sentence. Again, the caveat being he shouldn’t have been in jail anyway.

  42. My girlfriend is attending a self-help group for compulsive talkers. It’s called on-and-on-anon.

  43. bill,

    Sorry. The way I read what you wrote was that you were conflating AA with all treatment program. My apoloies.

  44. Behold, a libertarian alternative to AA:

    We do not believe that members of AA are helped because their program does not explain how to actually quit drinking or using. Instead, they promote a passive, dependent approach in which sobriety is an indirect result of self-improvements and divine intervention. We believe that there is too much at stake to depend on others, including God, for that which we can do ourselves. To seek God while in the grip of addiction is absurd; addicted people cannot conceive of a power higher than their own addiction.

    [snip]

    In AA doctrine, free will is just an illusion of a mysterious disease….

    Rational Recovery’s founder, Jack Trimpey, runs a campaign in opposition to court-mandated AA “treatment” on the grounds of its violation of the Establishment clause, apart from his belief that 12-Step programs are counterproductive. I have no first-hand experience of drug-addiction, but I’ve heard him speak and find his method more credible than faith-based, let alone compulsory faith-based approaches (I write as a Christian).

  45. One important aspect is to remember the quote from AA “We’re spiritual, not religious.” The great patriarch of the scientific study of religion JZ Smith told me that to him there is absolutely no difference between those two terms, for the academic they are all still “religion” people are just fooling themselves.

  46. In Florida all the treatment programs recognized by the state are 12-step or AA type programs.

    I wonder if it’s the same in HI.

  47. I am a 25-year-old male, and if I could find some way to get by not working, I would like to have sex 24 hours a day.

    Enjoy it while you can, Tactix. Another couple of decades and that 24 hours a day thing ain’t happening.

  48. That might have been clearer if i had written:

    the only treatment programs recognized by the state…

    I have never heard of anyone contesting them on First Amendment grounds.

    I suspect most people just keep low and coast thru ’til the “course of treatment” is finished.

  49. “-Its a Christian religious ceremony complete with the lords prayer”

    The lords prayer doesn’t specifically mention Jesus or any specific deity which is why AA approves of it’s use.

    “-Its a cult like atmosphere”

    I’m not really sure how you define that. I don’t think it’s any more of a cult atmosphere than a comic book convention or a political meetup.

    “-Due to the lowering of the DUI limits to .8 AA meetings are being flooded with new people and long time “participants” are non to happy about it”

    This is true although AA’s official position is to have no position. I generally don’t like people in our meetings who don’t want to be there. When I would lead meetings I always signed the court cards at the beginning of the meetings instead of the end. I also told those guys that they didn’t have to stay if they didn’t want to. Some left and most stuck around to listen.

    “-you never graduate – I met people who have attended weekly meetings over 30 years”

    People who go to AA for an extended period of time go because they want to, not because they have to. It is not school. Meetings are a social network where people help each other stay away from alcohol.

    “-most have other issues that they are not getting help for (the comment “dude – you are drinking all the time because you are gay and won’t acknowledge it – so here is the address to three gays bars” got me in a little bit of trouble)”

    As opposed to all the perfectly healthy and sane people walking around with no “issues” in their life.

    “-the meetings don’t work”

    My 13 years of sobriety disagrees with you.

    “-there are no statistics kept on whether or not it works because -ya know- their “anonymous””

    Would you prefer a state sponsored program funded by tax dollars that audits results and then decides it needs more tax dollars every year?

    “-they are not really “anonymous””

    Explain what this means.

    AA is a private organization that is completely not for profit and has absolutely no opinion on anything. It doesn’t take any government money and certainly doesn’t make an kind of “deals” with the court system. AA puts up with court cards because that’s what the courts want. That’s all there is to it. It’s not like AA is making any sort of effort to recruit members by using the court system.

    The reason AA puts up with court card attendees is because it can’t object to them. That is it’s policy on everything. I would think libertarians would appreciate an organization like this as opposed to state sponsored rehab facilities or “drug court” boondoggles.

  50. The lords prayer doesn’t specifically mention Jesus or any specific deity which is why AA approves of it’s use.

    GFGIAT

    It is called the Lord’s Prayer [note caps and apostrophe] because it is spoken by Christ. See Matthew 6:9-13 and Luke 11:2-4.

    I don’t think you can get more explicitly Christian than that.

  51. “It is called the Lord’s Prayer [note caps and apostrophe] because it is spoken by Christ. See Matthew 6:9-13 and Luke 11:2-4.

    I don’t think you can get more explicitly Christian than that.”

    I’m not arguing that it isn’t a Christian prayer. I’m just saying that nowhere in the prayer does it mention Christ specifically. It’s ambiguous. People who don’t know better wouldn’t know that it was Christian simply by hearing it, you’d have to know the context, which isn’t discussed in the meetings.

    It’s distinctly different than say for example the Nicene Creed. Which would not be appropriate to use in an AA meeting according to AA rules.

  52. “I’m not arguing that it isn’t a Christian prayer. I’m just saying that nowhere in the prayer does it mention Christ specifically. It’s ambiguous.”

    Oh, well, as long as the intent is to deceive people who don’t know any better into reciting a Christian prayer, it’s okay to force it on those who do know better. Yeah, you’re right, how could there possibly be any libertarian objection?

  53. What does GFGIAT mean?

  54. “Oh, well, as long as the intent is to deceive people who don’t know any better into reciting a Christian prayer, it’s okay to force it on those who do know better. Yeah, you’re right, how could there possibly be any libertarian objection?”

    I agree with the court ruling. I don’t like the idea of court cards and don’t think anyone should be forced to go to AA meetings.

    However, as I explained before AA can’t have an opinion either way on the issue. It’s not AA’s fault that courts send DUI offenders to meetings.

    AA is not “forcing” anything on anyone. It’s saying a prayer at their private meetings which aside from court cards are completely 100% voluntary.

    So why the hate?

  55. I’m just saying that nowhere in the prayer does it mention Christ specifically. It’s ambiguous.

    Right. So why not:

    “in the name of God, the compassionate, the merciful”?*

    Answer: Because they invoke a deity. In other words, they are explicitly religious. I don’t care whether it is invoking Zeus, you may not force people to participate in a religious observances, assuming the Constitution means anything.

    *Note: Rhetorical question, JIC it needs explaining.

  56. M

    Good F***ing God In A Teapot

  57. Why is this Mr. Good fucking Mr. God? More important, are they wearing costumes, and what kind of lube do they prefer?

  58. “Because they invoke a deity. In other words, they are explicitly religious. I don’t care whether it is invoking Zeus, you may not force people to participate in a religious observances, assuming the Constitution means anything.”

    Explicitly “religious” but not explicitly Christian. We’ve moved the goalposts now. I’d argue that “God” not tied to a particular deity name (Allah, Yahweh, Jehovah, Christ) is actually “Spiritual” as opposed to “Religious”.

    Regardless I agree with your point that no one should be forced by a court to attend AA meetings to participate in “spiritual” observances.

    My bit on the Lord’s Prayer was to explain how AA isn’t specifically “Christian” even though it essentially ripped off a Christian prayer for their own use. Why they did this I don’t know, maybe the guy who thought of it had an agenda, but either way it doesn’t break AA rules that basically state that sharing about Jesus in an AA meeting is not allowed. You won’t find any mention of Jesus in any official AA literature either.

  59. I think anonymous defended AA quite well. Give the AA guys and gals the freedom of association thing and get on the governments ass.

  60. well said Anonymous.

  61. VM

    Mr Good was wearing a Royal Doulton pattern teapot, while Mr. God was wearing a Tiffany pattern.

    The lube was Procto-gel.

  62. God In A Teapot

    Ah, so that would be Typhon-Seth. Many mansions, I guess. Thank you.

  63. @anonymous

    I let my original comments stand but I would state congrats and good luck. AA worked for you. But the limited stats that are available say that AA works no more or no less than other methods including ‘cold-turkey’ (like in my case). Between 5 and 15% depending on who you ask. Think about that for a moment – we are mandating religious programs for people that have at least an 85% failure rate.

  64. Think about that for a moment – we are mandating religious programs for people that have at least an 85% failure rate.

    Yoshi, what’s the failure rate for incarceration. Just asking.

  65. I don’t think AA is a religious group (the “higher power” can be anything), but I’d be happy if they stopped ordering people to AA. AA is a great example of a “voluntary association” that works spectacularly well — for some people. Throwing a lot of resentful DUI offenders into the mix doesn’t help.

  66. Also don’t forget that one AA group may differ dramatically from another AA group in the same area (or even change itself over time.) I remember reading an article (I think Washington Post) which was talking about a “take-over” by one of the local AA groups by a group of individuals who were very different–I seem to remember it ended up with accusations of turning the AA group into something with a much harsher, “cult-like” atmosphere.

    Oh, and spirituality may or may not have anything to do with one or plural deities. Just sayin’.

  67. Okay, puleeeeze, people….It’s .08, not .8! You’d be dead with a BAC of .8…

  68. I’m not sure who said it, but the effectiveness of the program is not the issue; and I don’t think arguing about it one way or the other is productive. Taxes are great (at the right point on the Laffer curve) at raising revenue. Doesn’t make them moral, though.

  69. I am a 25-year-old male, and if I could find some way to get by not working, I would like to have sex 24 hours a day.

    Does that make me a sex addict or a rational human following my evolutionary instinct?

    You’re probably fine. The guy who skips work, masturbates until chafed, and despairs about it has a problem.

  70. I’d argue that “God” not tied to a particular deity name (Allah, Yahweh, Jehovah, Christ) is actually “Spiritual” as opposed to “Religious”.

    “God” refers to a deity. Capitalized, it means a supreme deity, usually a sole deity. Even out of context, the Lord’s Prayer addresses a Lord/Father/King deity in heaven who has plans for earth and forgives sin.

  71. You’re probably fine. The guy who skips work, masturbates until chafed, and despairs about it has a problem.

    But probably less of a problem than the guy who does that AT work.

  72. As a nurse on probation for substance abuse, The california board of nursing forces all probationary nurses to attend this 12 step crap! I am clean today but its not due to a “higher power”..its due to random drug testing! I hope all licensing boards stop this abuse of power now!

  73. keep in mind the definition is “A power greater than yourself.” Meaning, something more powerful than you. That power can be anything, so as long as it makes sense to you. It is a spiritual program. Not religious. Religion is a form of worship, not the act itself. I know atheists in AA.
    With that being said, NO JUDGE should ever be allowed to force someone to go to a program which states they not allied with any sect, denomination, politics, organization or institution; does not wish to engage in any controversy; neither endorses nor opposes any causes.(including the court system)

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