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The Boston Atheists Meetup Group Message Board › Faith-based rehab requirement ruled illegal

Faith-based rehab requirement ruled illegal

Zachary B.
Boston, MA
Post #: 134

An Atheist public policy group praised a U.S. District Court Judge in California for defending the constitutional rights of a prison inmate who was compelled to attend religion-based drug and alcohol rehab sessions in order to qualify for parole.

Judge Garland E. Burrell Jr. ruled that California officials erred when they forced 41-year-old Barry A. Hazel Jr. to enroll in Alcoholics Anonymous after serving a one-year sentence for drug possession. Hazel, a computer programmer, demanded that he be given access to an alternative secular program instead, and was mistakenly informed that one was not available. After refusing to participate in the faith-based 12-step regimen, Mr. Hazel was re-arrested and had to serve another three months in jail.

Dr. Ed Buckner, President of American Atheists, praised the court for its finding in this case. "It is outrageous that any citizen be coerced into attending religious services or programs that 'push' religion in any form."

Buckner noted that just weeks after Mr. Hazel protested the violation of his rights, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation issued an order to all parole agents pointing out that they "cannot compel" a parolee to participate in any religion-themed program.

Dave Silverman, Vice President and Communications Director for American Atheists said that while Atheists and other non-believers make up a very small percentage of prison populations -- by some studies far less than one percent -- "violating someone's religious liberty and freedom from religion is not some kind of a numbers game.

"There are secular programs for drug and alcohol rehabilitation that are available, and the government has an obligation to respect the rights of any incarcerated individual to refuse religious 'treatment'."

AMERICAN ATHEISTS is a nationwide movement that defends civil rights for Atheists, Freethinkers and other nonbelievers; works for the total separation of church and state; and addresses issues of First Amendment public policy.

American Atheists, Inc. PO BOX 158, Cranford, NJ 07016
Tel.: (908) 276-7300 Fax: (908) 276-7402
A former member
Post #: 14
My reply is actually more to Dan's email, in which he details his experience with AA and their emphasis on relying on a higher power:


This is fascinating - thanks for sharing. I wonder if there is a way to redefine "higher power" in a non-theistic way. I am fascinated right now with human decision making and its evolutionary roots, which is summarized well here:


Essentially, we did not evolve the impulse to think long-term, which is why we engage in activities that we KNOW will harm us down the line (overeating, lack of exercise, drug/alcohol abuse...etc.). Our lizard brains simply are not programmed to give a shit about long term repercussions.

But we can choose to silence the lizard brain and rely on the higher cognitive processes that CAN think long term. It is hard - that lizard brain has a very loud voice -- but it clearly can be done. This I type after I just had a Snickers ice cream bar. confused

So what if we thought of the AA concept of turning to a "higher power" as simply turning to the more evolved brain and ignoring the lizard brain?
A former member
Post #: 1
I also found Dan's e-mail very interesting. It makes me realize more than ever how important it is to support friends, family, and ourselves with rationality in the moments when irrationality seems most comforting. It is so tempting to just give oneself up to a "higher power"; but it is an abdication of responsibility and accountability that is ultimately damaging. I think that if one finds a way to conquer one's problems without religion or a similar crutch, one ends up being much stronger and better able to face these problems in the long term.
A former member
Post #: 2
My thoughts on Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and religion: After
hitting a low bottom physically, I achieved sobriety in 1968 and
have maintained it ever since, partly from attendance at AA
meetings. I was openly anti-religious from the beginning, and was
by no means the only infidel in the Greenwich Village groups I
attended. When others got up at the end of meetings to recite the
"Lord's Prayer", we defiantly remained seated. Greenwich Village
groups may not be typical, but there was great variety, in
outlooks and types of people. Although religiosity and cultism
are undeniably present in AA, there is a great deal of freedom,
both for groups and for the individual. One person put it like
this: "AA is a fellowship of people ... working their individual
My website has a section, "Alcoholism: Recovery Without


Until fairly recently someone who wanted to quit drinking
and maintain sobriety had only two viable choices: do it alone, or
join AA to gain the support of other recovering alcoholics. The
situation is somewhat like having a serious accident and being
brought in an ambulance to a Catholic hospital. What you need is
a good hospital emergency room, and you can overlook a few nuns.
Now in major cities (though not Boston) there are
agnostics/humanists AA groups, as well as meetings of SOS (Secular
Organizations for Sobriety) and Smart Recovery. I would very much
like for Boston to have either an
atheists/agnostics/infidels/humanists/­secularists/freethinkers AA
meeting or an SOS meeting -- or several of each.

John Lauritsen

A former member
Post #: 9
The higher power dilemma is often discussed and debated. I've been around people who attend AA for over 20 years, and the conversation often ends up with this. I do believe that AA started as a Christian program, but in order to not be so exclusionary the term "higher power" evolved. I don't believe in a higher power or Jesus, or whoever; so, it doesn't make a difference how it's termed. I just can't buy into some program that tells me that I need to give myself up to something etc...especially when I don't believe in it...that would be rather silly and pointless.

I do realize that AA helps many people get sober and saves many lives...I recognize this, and I didn't want to seem to attack anyone personally. I just had some personal insight into this program and actually have thought about writing a book about this from an atheist perspective; so it hits's personal and I rejoice at this ruling. But, that being said, this is an atheist group and this, to me, means critical thinking, rational thought, and not just limiting this process, or lack there of, to religion. I've addressed this with alternative medicine, and now faith based rehab etc...To me critical thinking is critical thinking...I can't discriminate. Besides, If I were to do this with AA I would be accepting the number one reason most follow religion, as moderates, the "it works for me" reason. I can't accept this, and that's why I never could stomach AA, I knew I had to stop drinking, and I felt I just couldn't compromise my disbelief's in the process (AA)...couldn't bring myself to do what many do there, and turn a blind eye to the obvious.

Again, the higher power thing is "god" in disguise, I don't see it any other way. It's imaginary, it's saying it's "higher" than me as a Human. Many say to just make something up that is higher than myself to reconcile the entire foundation of this program, which is giving yourself up to something larger than yourself. I just think this is NOT the way to get people to stop an addiction/habit. The discussion is great...talking with like-minded people fighting a similar battle is certainly helpful, but I just couldn't do it.

This isn't about me...I don't define myself as sober, just like I don't define myself as an atheist...I don't define myself as a non-tea drinker, or a non follow of Islam; we've all heard this thought process. I just feel our government shouldn't have anything to do with AA in any way, shape or form, it's clearly religious based and I'm a secularist to the core. I was outraged to see this process in was our government sentencing citizens to a cult program (not just the AA, but the actual group facility...state was all AA people)....extremely dangerous; so I felt I had to share this.

I need to figure out the reptilian brain thing from the girl with the big red me out please.

A former member
Post #: 15
Girl with the big red lips here - although, I have a confession to make: they're not real. ;)

I guess I became intrigued by the reptilian brain hypothesis when it hit me how profoundly stupid it was that I couldn't lose the 20 lbs I wanted to lose. Weight loss is not rocket science: consumer fewer calories than you burn, exercise regularly...poof, you lose weight. Yet we as a society seem stymied by it. Peruse the self-help section of any bookstore and you will find a plethora of "new" weight loss concepts.

It's almost a form of insanity.

Yet we are not insane creatures, for the most part, so something must be going on...something that perhaps is so deeply rooted in our brain stem as to usurp the rational-thinking capabilities of our frontal lobe.

I have to say that, since reading up on it and familiarizing myself with it more, I find it much easier to resist the pizza or the cookie or what have you. I share your distaste for the concept of a higher power as something outside of being human. But I don't feel the same distaste for recognizing the fact that we carry with us remnants of earlier creatures...remnants that can be powerful enough to overcome the reason that has evolved afterward.

It's bizarrely emancipating without in any way being untrue to my atheist stance or my sincere regard for the accomplishments of humans (I get so sick of god getting credit for the hard work of man).

I'm not sure if that helps or not. I would welcome discussing this further...maybe we could get a small group together to go out and talk about this. I had hoped when I joined Boston Atheists that it would involve more social gatherings where we talk about things, so maybe this could be a good topic to start with...
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