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A.A. and Religion: The courts get the point ^ | September 14, 2007 | Richard G. Burns, J.D.

Posted on 09/14/2007 7:23:49 PM PDT by aahistory

A.A. is a religion; and the attempt to attract members, avoid controversy; and revise A.A. along secular and universal lines doesn't make it spiritual. Treatment people and those hostile to religion as well as the present A.A. heirarchy have foisted on suffering alcoholics, patients, courts, and treatment programs the palliative that A.A. is "spiritual, but not religious." Yet every significant court decision that has looked at the program has ruled it religious. The real issue is hostility or receptivity to the idea that Almighty God can help cure alcoholism. When government agencies compel acceptance of the program, the courts rule they are violating the First Amendment. But that fact doesn't detract one whit from the Divine Aid that made A.A. a resounding success at the time of its founding.

TOPICS: General Discusssion; History; Religion & Culture; Religion & Politics
KEYWORDS: aa; constitution; religion; spirituality
A.A. and Religion Today

Dick B. Copyright 2007 by Anonymous. All rights reserved

A.A. is a religion

I think it fair to say that those who claim A.A. is not a religion are probably those who do not want A.A. to be a religion. Also those who don’t realize that it doesn’t matter a whit whether A.A. is or isn’t a religion. Days, months, and many recent years have been fruitlessly devoted to arguing that A.A. is not a religion.

What A.A. literature says: Take a look first at the Third Edition of A.A.’s basic text and personal stories, which contain these statements:

“They had told of a simple religious idea and a practical program of action” (3rd ed., p. 9)

“It began to look as though religious people were right after all” (3rd ed., p. 11)

“Of necessity there will have to be discussion of matters medical, psychiatric, social, and religious” (3rd ed., p. 19)

“Not all of us join religious bodies, but most of us favor such memberships” (3rd ed., p. 28)

“Is it possible that all the religious people I have known are wrong?” (3rd ed., p. 56)

“If we belong to a religious denomination which requires a definite morning devotion, we attend to that also” (3rd ed., p. 87)

“If not members of religious bodies, we sometimes select and memorize a few set prayers which emphasize the principles we have been discussing (3rd ed., p. 87)

“Be quick to see where religious people are right” (3rd ed., p. 87)

“The big A.A. book had not been written and there was no literature except various religious pamphlets” (3rd ed., p. 291)

“Dr. Bob always emphasized the religious angle very strongly, and I think it helped” (3rd ed., p. 292).

“Our more religious members call it ‘God-consciousness’.” (3rd ed., p. 570)

Read my titles Dr. Bob and His Library, 3rd ed.; Anne Smith’s Journal, 3rd ed.; The Akron Genesis of Alcoholics Anonymous, 2d ed.; The Good Book and The Big Book: A.A.’s Roots in the Bible; 2d ed,; The James Club and The Original A.A. Program’s Absolute Essentials; Real Twelve Step Fellowship History, God and Alcoholism, and The Conversion of Bill W. ( There you will find hundreds of documented statements about early A.A. and the Bible, its old fashioned prayer meetings, required conversions to Jesus Christ, its Biblical references, and even the very name (“James Club”—from the Book of James in the Bible) that AAs favored as the name for their Society.

Co-founder Dr. Bob’s own personal story set the frame and religious challenge:

“If you think you are an atheist, an agnostic, a skeptic, or have any other form of intellectual pride which keeps you from accepting what is in this book, I feel sorry for you. . . . Your Heavenly Father will never let you down!” (3rd ed., p. 181)

Co-founder Bill Wilson explained in the following words his own cure by the power of God:

“Henrietta, the Lord has been so wonderful, curing me of this terrible disease, that I just want to keep talking about it and telling people” (3rd ed., p. 191)

The point is not whether A.A. is a religion. It is. Nor is the point that A.A. is allied with some particular sect or denomination. It isn’t. The point is that its own Bible roots, its own religious practices, its own history of religious conversions, and the words of its own founders show that this “unique” religion was and is in fact a religion—whatever importance that fact may have in helping the still suffering alcoholic to be cured. In fact, early members called themselves a “Christian Fellowship.” Likened to the meetings described in the Book of Acts, the organization could hardly escape the religious label.

The “religion” findings and rulings in six court decisions: The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has now joined four other courts in ruling that Alcoholics Anonymous is a religion.and therefore that government compulsion of A.A. attendance violates the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.

Recently, Stanton Peele, Ph.D., J.D., and Charles Bufe with Archie Brodsky published their title Resisting 12-Step Coercion: How to Fight Forced Participation in AA, NA, or 12-Step Treatment (Tucson, AZ: See Sharp Press, 2000). Summarizing the court decisions to that date, the authors wrote:

Griffin v. Coughlin (1996). New York’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, prohibited (in and 5-2 decision) the Corrections Department from making a prisoner’s participation in the Family Reunion Program conditional on his attendance in the prison’s Alcohol and Substance Abuse (ASAT) Program. The court ruled that such participation violated the Establishment Clause (pp. 110-11)

Kerr v. Farrey (1996). The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit (Wisconsin, Illinois, and Indiana), reversing a district court decision, unanimously held “that the sate . . .impermissibly coerced inmates to participate in a religious program, thus violating the Establishment Clause.” An inmate was threatened with being sent to a higher security prison and with rejection of his parole applications for refusing to attend Narcotics Anonymous meetings (p. 114)

Warner v. Orange County Department of Probation (1999). The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed 2-1 a district court ruling that recommending an inmate plaintiffs participation in Alcoholics Anonymous as a condition of probation violated the Establishment Clause (p. 118)

Evans v. Tennessee Board of Paroles (1997). The Supreme Court of Tennessee, responding to petitions from two inmates, regarding their failed parole hearings, found unanimously that the trial court erred in dismissing one of the inmates’—Anthony Evans’—claim for injunctive relief as to the Board’s requirement that he participate in Alcoholics Anonymous. The court remanded the case to the trial court to determine whether AA was religious in nature, while citing case evidence that this was indeed the case (p. 124)

The four decisions do not stand alone of this matter of A.A.’s religious character.

De Stefano v. Emergency Housing Corp (2002). The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit determined that A.A. is a religious activity and accordingly OASAS funding of providers who mandate patient participation in A.A. and, by extension, other government funding of providers who mandate participation in A.A. is a violation of the principle of separation of Church and State (This is a summary taken from Volume 8 of Visions, July, 2002, published by NAATP).

“Appeals court says requirement to attend AA unconstitutional” Bob Egelko, Chronicle Staff Writer [San Francisco Chronicle, September 8, 2007] “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 authoritative status of these six decisions has yet to be decided by the United States Supreme Court as far as the First Amendment aspect is concerned. But the factual determinations are persuasive on the question of A.A. as a religion. Tribunal after tribunal has taken a look at the Big Book and its 400 references to God; a look at the Twelve Steps and their unmistakable references to God and the Biblical phrase “Father of light,” the prayers in A.A. meetings; and the language which puts the steps on a path to a relationship with God. While there has been much sympathy for the A.A. cause by various courts in various jurisdictions, the majority see A.A. as a religion; and so do I. In fact, when I was practicing law, a distinguished California court ruled that a humanist organization was a religion. The dictionary places A.A. in the religion category by very definition. But newer A.A. literature keeps pumping out irrelevant and illogical statements that A.A. is “spiritual but not religious,” that you may need a “higher power” as part of the program, and that this “higher power” can be Something or Somebody or nothing at all.

A.A.’s basic text provides a conclusive answer to the reasoning mind: Compared to the ruling that a humanist organization is religious, even these obfuscations do not remove A.A. from the religion category. In fact, I have found no significant writing between 1935 and 1939 that alters the Big Book declarations which explicitly speaks of “that Power, which is God” (3rd ed., p. 46), saying, “Each individual, in the personal stories, describes in his own language and from his own point of view the way he established his relationship with God” (3rd ed., p. 29), and “many hundreds of people are able to say that the consciousness of the Presence of God is today the most important fact of their lives” (3rd ed., p. 51), and “Our real purpose is to fit ourselves to be of maximum service to God and the people about us” (3rd ed., p. 77), and “How can I best serve Thee—Thy will (not mine) be done” (3rd ed., p. 85). In fact, many an AA goes into a church and kneels to say his “Third Step Prayer.” Bill adds: “We never apologize to anyone for depending upon our Creator. We can laugh at those who think spirituality the way of weakness. . . The verdict of the ages is that faith means courage. All men of faith have courage. They trust their God. We never apologize for God’ (3rd ed., p. 68).

And how much more time will be spent by good-hearted people denying the obvious. The real question is not what A.A. is or what it isn’t. The real point posed by Hebrews 11:6 and by Rev. Sam Shoemaker and by Bill Wilson in the Big Book is that God either is, or He isn’t. Bill added, “We had to have God’s help” (p. 62). The alcoholic has a choice. According to A.A.’s basic text, he can choose to believe that God is, and rewards those who diligently seek Him; or he can go on to the disaster, destruction, and even death yielding to temptation and resuming self-destruction.

A Probable Suffering Newcomer Viewpoint

My own experience: I didn’t come into A.A. looking for a religion. I already had one—the Christian religion. I didn’t come into A.A. thinking I was joining a church. I already belonged to one—a community church in Marin County, California. I didn’t come into A.A. to get born-again of the spirit of God. I had already accepted Jesus as my Lord and believed that God raised him from the dead (Romans 10:9). I didn’t come into A.A. to “find God.” God was not lost, but I sure thought I was. I came into A.A. because I was thoroughly licked—just as many do, whether suffering from alcohol or other drug addictions. I think that an understanding of alcoholism was the farthest thing from my mind or my mission. I had had a week’s blackout. I had undergone nine months of incredible depression and excessive drinking. I was inundated with all kinds of legal problems—professional, domestic, business, and criminal. Confusion, fear, anxiety, bewilderment, and loneliness dominated my every thought. I simply came into A.A. at the suggestion of my former wife and figured it was the last house on the block. The words “God,” “religious,” “higher power,” “spirituality,” and church were not part of the picture whatever. I did see the word “God” in the Twelve Steps hanging on the wall and decided I was on the right track. I was surrounded at every meeting by people who greeted me, welcomed me, gave me their phone numbers, and offered help. What were my objectives? To learn what an alcoholic is? No! To learn who God is? No. To adopt a new religion? No. To achieve a new social status? No. I simply had one objective at the beginning—to feel better than I did. Quickly I got the point that alcohol and sleeping pills might possibly be at the heart of my troubles, and that quitting these was part of the game. My understanding of the miseries of alcoholism was hastened when I had three grand mal seizures in the first week, was taken to ICU in an ambulance, and wound up in a 28 day treatment program—but only after I had met and grabbed a sponsor who insisted that I was to attend an A.A. meeting every day. That’s something I did before I had the seizures. And that’s something I did for many years after I left the treatment center. Turning to God later became a necessity to whip the fear, the depression, the anxiety, and the seemingly insuperable problems. I did so with my sponsor and his sponsor battling my religious inclinations at every opportunity. That was 21 years ago. I am fully enthusiastic about A.A. I am fully recovered, and I have been healed of alcoholism—this despite the fact that modern A.A. literature says you can’t be cured. And to make a long story short, I wasn’t cured by quitting drinking. I wasn’t cured by going to meetings. I wasn’t cured by studying the Big Book and taking the Twelve Steps. I wasn’t cured by finding some absurd “higher power,” or by attaining “spirituality,” or by relying on a light bulb or a tree or a group or “something” or “somebody.” No. I was cured by Almighty God; and so were the early A.A. pioneers between 1935 and 1938.

The earliest message in pioneer A.A. and the optional message today: Early AAs had to be told about and renounce alcohol as their nemesis, their temptation, their poison. Most had to be hospitalized to avoid the seizures that I had naively walked through. Most had to be introduced to God at the earliest possible moment. Dr. Bob’s most significant question at the close of brief early hospitalization was: “Do you believe in God?” And there was only one satisfactory answer. When Ebby Thacher witnessed to Bill Wilson and said “I’ve got religion,” Bill noticed what had happened. Ebby declared to Bill that God had done for him what he hadn’t been able to do for himself. Bill went to Calvary Rescue Mission, knelt at the altar, accepted Christ, wrote “I’ve got religion” and also that he was “born again.” At Towns Hospital, Bill reached out to Jesus Christ as the Great Physician, had a conversion experience, and never drank again. But he couldn’t get anybody sober. At Akron, he met Bob who believed in God, was a Christian, was a Bible student, was a man of prayer, and who recognized the importance of Bill’s concept of “service.” Taking the Bible of his youthful activities in Christian Endeavor, Bob worked with Bill in the summer of 1935 and developed a simple program—abstinence, reliance on God, obedience to God’s will, growing in fellowship with God through Bible study, prayer, guidance, and helping others get straightened out. “Love and service”—the slogan of Christian Endeavor—was the essence of the program described by Bob. Bob wrote: “Your Heavenly Father will never let you down.” And to all who believed it, their Heavenly Father healed them. Fifty years later, I grasped the same message. I quit! I turned to God. I used the Twelve Steps to turn me to a life of obedience to God’s will. I returned to Bible study, prayer, and asking God for guidance. And I plunged into A.A. That meant doing everything AAs did—meetings, sponsoring, Big Book study, taking the Twelve Steps, participating in every kind of A.A. activity, serving as a leader and helper in groups, and trying to apply the Steps. To the more than 100 men I have sponsored, I tried to carry that message. Those who did these things—many only 21 years of age when I started sponsoring them—are enjoying the abundant life today that God provides to those who believe in Him, love Him and others, and serve. It worked in 1935. It works today. And the Bible is filled with the promises and instructions that establish exactly how it works. Moreover, it can work in A.A. You don’t have to leave A.A. or consider it a religion or look at it as a church or get swallowed up in secularism and universalism to make our Creator the number one item in your life. Your Heavenly Father will never let you down!

END Gloria Deo

1 posted on 09/14/2007 7:23:52 PM PDT by aahistory
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To: aahistory

Welcome to FR.

2 posted on 09/14/2007 7:24:47 PM PDT by humblegunner (©)
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To: aahistory
Before we can decide whether AA is a religion, it would help to have a definition of religion, especially as used in the term "establishment of religion." Do the courts bother to provide such a definition?
3 posted on 09/14/2007 7:41:39 PM PDT by Logophile
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To: humblegunner
Interesting set of quotes ~ guess they prove that the founders of AA had some religious guidance.

That doesn't create a religion though. Lots of secular types, even unbelievers, do receive and accept religious guidance of all sorts all the time.

MOre likely we have a drunk here who wants to use the old "But AA is a religion" copout as an excuse to not clean up his act.

4 posted on 09/14/2007 8:05:17 PM PDT by muawiyah
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To: aahistory
This is all very well and good, however....

One—Our common welfare should come first; personal recovery depends upon A.A. unity.

Two—For our group purpose there is but one ultimate authority—a loving God as He may express Himself in our group conscience. Our leaders are but trusted servants; they do not govern.

Three—The only requirement for A.A. membership is a desire to stop drinking.

Four—Each group should be autonomous except in matters affecting other groups or A.A. as a whole.

Five—Each group has but one primary purpose—to carry its message to the alcoholic who still suffers.

Six—An A.A. group ought never endorse, finance or lend the A.A. name to any related facility or outside enterprise, lest problems of money, property and prestige divert us from our primary purpose.

Seven—Every A.A. group ought to be fully self-supporting, declining outside contributions.

Eight—Alcoholics Anonymous should remain forever nonprofessional, but our service centers may employ special workers.

Nine—A.A., as such, ought never be organized; but we may create service boards or committees directly responsible to those they serve.

Ten—Alcoholics Anonymous has no opinion on outside issues; hence the A.A. name ought never be drawn into public controversy.

Eleven—Our public relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion; we need always maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio and films.

Twelve—Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our Traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities.

5 posted on 09/14/2007 8:16:51 PM PDT by angkor ("Everyone is super stoked on me, even if they don't know it." - Al Gore, South Park 10.6)
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To: aahistory

And the purpose of all this information is?

6 posted on 09/14/2007 9:30:09 PM PDT by ImpBill ("America ... Where are you now?" --Greg Adams--Brownsville, TX --On the other Front Line)
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To: muawiyah
Perhaps not a drunk, but some soul who has run afoul of the law concerning booze and was ordered to attend AA meetings. A practice that has caused quite a bit of discontent in and amongst the good folks in AA, for quite some time now.

I still would like the poster to explain why he/she found it compelling to post this particular topic on FR! Any bets that explanation will be forth coming?

7 posted on 09/14/2007 9:35:45 PM PDT by ImpBill ("America ... Where are you now?" --Greg Adams--Brownsville, TX --On the other Front Line)
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To: ImpBill; aahistory
And the purpose of all this information is?

Newbie's first post, it's a thread, and it's a diatribe at that.


8 posted on 09/15/2007 8:09:14 AM PDT by Alex Murphy (John 3:30 "He must increase, but I must decrease.")
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To: aahistory

Did you get a DUI and get sent to AA?

9 posted on 09/15/2007 8:34:01 AM PDT by tiki
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To: ImpBill

Not after what I said ~

10 posted on 09/15/2007 9:14:35 AM PDT by muawiyah
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To: ImpBill
And the purpose of all this information? Perhaps to make it clear that the statement A.A. is spiritual, but not religious relies on a straw man argument employed intolerantly to criticize and intimidate those who share as their own experience, strength, and hope; and precisely how they found God and established their relationship with God. Since these enjoinders in the Big Book (May you find Him now; and how they established their relationship with God)are the stated objectives of the Steps and of the Big Book, it is important to let AAs speak their piece when they are sharing their own stories and victories. However, there is a strong tendency to stifle such statements by citing some irrelevant or supposedly regulatory Tradition; or by stating erroneously that A.A. is not a religion; and thereby seemingly justifying the suppression of one's heartfelt and truthful experience.
11 posted on 09/24/2007 9:32:16 PM PDT by aahistory (One purpose of understanding the irrelevance of the common "spiritual but not religious" dogma)
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To: aahistory
Like I said in a previous post, I don't think this is really the forum for this discussion. But I will add that, whatever you believe you are entitled to.

I tend to keep it all real simple.

Works for me.

Have a great day. Keep at it, you will find someone to argue with.

12 posted on 09/24/2007 9:44:40 PM PDT by ImpBill ("America ... Where are you now?" --Greg Adams--Brownsville, TX --On the other Front Line)
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