Thank the Higher Power for the First Amendment


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the First Amendment implications of coerced A.A. participation in reason back in 2001 (the same year Inouye's parole was revoked), notes that "compulsory 12-step participation is still standard practice around the country."