Court Rules AA Not “Religious”

A Pennsylvania appellate court ruled this week that the purpose of Alcoholics Anonymous — which many have described as more … Continued

A Pennsylvania appellate court ruled this week that the purpose of Alcoholics Anonymous — which many have described as more of a church than the church — is not religious. The ruling allows the zoning board in Abington Township (Pa.) to prohibit a nonprofit from hosting AA meetings in a leased building there.

The ruling is good news for the zoning board and “neighbors” of the Glenside Center, who complained that the meetings were causing parking problems, noise and loitering. Love your neighbor, except when they’re noisy or take your parking space, I guess.

The court focused most of its attention on Glenside, a nonprofit that clearly is not a house of worship and, therefore, not protected by Religious Land Use laws. Still, the ruling’s easy dismissal of AA as a religious organization raises troubling questions about the court’s (and our) understanding of religion and faith.

The court said: “Glenside failed to prove that any of the meetings are administered by a religious leader, i.e., a minister, priest, rabbi or other spiritual leader.”

Objection 1: Any person of faith can be a spiritual leader.

The court: “Glenside does not hold any religious services or have any religious affiliations. Its Articles of Incorporation state nothing about being incorporated for a religious purpose, but only to assist people in recovering from addiction.”

Objection 2: Assisting people in recovering from any addiction is a religious (and spiritual) purpose.

The court: “While Glenside argues that members have found a connection with God at its meetings, clearly, the primary purpose of the group meetings, whether they be for AA, NA (Narcotics Anonymous) or DA (Debtors Anonymous), is to support individuals who are recovering from alcohol, drug, gambling and debtor addictions, not to advance religion.”

Objection 3: Any group that advances the healing of bodies and souls (and the forgiveness of debts and debtors) also advances religion.

The court: “AA did encourage its members to seek a connection with a higher power that some people called God or Jesus, but a member did not have to have faith to recover and work the steps of AA.”

Objection 4: Clearly the court is unaware of the history and purpose of AA.

Alcoholics Anonymous was founded as a spiritual program, direct outgrowth of the Oxford Group at Calvary Episcopal Church in New York. AA meetings include recitations of The Lord’s Prayer and the Serenity Prayer. “AA indirectly derived much of its inspiration from the Church,” Rev. Samuel M. Shoemaker, Rector of Calvary Church, said in 1955.

AA’s Twelve Traditions includes No. 2: “For our group purpose there is but one ultimate authority — a loving God as He may express Himself in our group conscience.” Seven of AA’s famous Twelve Steps reference God, including:

“Would that the Church were like this,” Shoemaker said in 1955, “ordinary men and women with great need who have found a great Answer, and do not hesitate to make it known wherever they can – a trained army of enthusiastic, humble, human workers whose efforts make life a different thing for other people!”

If a group that meets under spiritual precepts, performs rituals, and seeks to heal its members isn’t religious, what else is it?

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  • elife1975

    Allowing those with addictive personalities to swap one vice (substance abuse) for another (religion) is not a cure.

  • ashleybone

    As an American, you should be upset about the RLUIPA instead of whining about a court imposing limitations on it. Religious organizations should not have special abilities to make nuisances of themselves. Maybe if the attendees kept the noise down this never would have gone to trial.There are six churches within five blocks of my house, and I’ve never had a single reason to complain. The people attending are quiet, don’t litter, and the churches provide adequate parking. But if they didn’t, I just can’t fathom why you think they should be able to do so with impunity. What’s wrong with playing by the same rules everyone else plays by?

  • AKafir

    And of course once you are a religious outfit, you get exempt from taxes … local, state and federal.

  • pvilso24

    I’m confused by this courts ruling against AA. Its inability to see the group as a religious gathering.If the court has mostly Christian, than they are behaving in a rather orthodox and non-ecumenical manner.If the court is composed of mostly liberals or progressives, than they are behaving in a decidedly un-progressive manner. Since when has a liberal Judge ever been unable to recognize a faith community ? Liberals normally over-react to any hint of religion. Witness our “holiday” greetings.. our “holiday” trees.. our “holiday” season school celebrations.Very curious indeed.

  • Seneca32

    elife1975 writes:”Allowing those with addictive personalities to swap one vice (substance abuse) for another (religion) is not a cure.”And in that writing thus demonstrates whole and unthreatened ignorance of 1) the nature of substance abuse and recovery from it, 2) the difference of between spirituality and religion, 3) the tenets of AA, 4) insight, knowledge, and the process of analytic thought, and 5) the meaning, or perhaps just proper use, of the word ‘allow.’On the other hand, he or she does spell well.

  • Paganplace

    Well, AA is definitely religious, in practice, at least, (The precepts of it are in fact all about inexorable eternal ‘sin’ and devoted ‘repentance,’ ..it’s just in that framework, though it doesn’t *have* to be.Frankly, it’s usually the claims that it’s *not* religious that can create some problems, in that it’s fairly often a front for proselytization efforts: churches’ll run AA meetings, often with court mandates, that’ll end up leaving people of other religions feeling badgered, humiliated, and otherwise kind of forced to be there in a hostile environment when they’re wanting to deal with the bottle or whatnot. Certainly, as cited by the columnist, the fact that in AA, anyone can be a ‘worship leader,’ so to speak, has been used against Pagan religions plenty of times: the simple fact that while we may have clergy, we don’t believe we *depend* on them, has been used countless times to claim our religion isn’t ‘real.’ AA is certainly quasi-religious, at least, usually when it’s claiming not to be. There’s kind of a lot about it that maybe a 1910′s preacher would consider ‘nonsectarian,’ just cause it doesn’t officially ‘name names,’ but there’s a lot about it that really is about a specific religion and religious view. Legally, this is a real grey area that I think has been let slide on the notion that AA groups are doing some good.

  • Paganplace

    The *real* issue, in fact, is that the courts end up using AA as a ‘privatized’ substitute for *detox.* I don’t think that really flies.

  • Paganplace

    Oh, just on this:”And of course once you are a religious outfit, you get exempt from taxes … local, state and federal.” AKafir There is generally nothing to tax at an AA meeting, Akafir. Be fair.

  • jdbassjr1

    AA is not a Religious organization. It is a spiritual organization which is different. You should not confuse the two. There are subtle differences though the two can intersect and often do for an individual but not the organization.Higher power can have many meanings but to a spiritual organization such as AA it means what it says “Higher Power”. To the individual it can mean God in the traditional sense or it can mean any power higher than the individual. Example, the group is an higher power.

  • jprfrog

    I have been a member of AA for 20 sober years, and I was and remain an atheist. One of my groups in NYC is atheist-agnostic and I helped to found a similar group in Cambridge MA. We called it “as we understood” after the qualifying phrase in the 12 steps. We left out the pronoun to emphasize the open nature of the understanding. These and other groups are listed in the AA meeting books and are fully recognized as legitimate, at least by most. Like any group, we have our “AA Nazis” but they certainly don’t dominate. Anyone is free to start a new meeting if they don’t feel right where they are (the saying is “All you need to start a new meeting is 3 people with a coffee pot and a resentment”.) The term “higher power” is an unfortunate bit of language left over from a much earlier time (as is a good deal of the “Big Book”) but anyone is free to interpret that as they wish…for my part, if it keeps them sober, it doesn’t matter if it’s the Tooth Fairy, Gandalf, or Tom Brady. AS for “spiritual” as opposed to “religious” I don’t know what that means, since everyone uses those words in different ways. My own understanding tends toward the Buddhist (which is Godless, if not godless); I suppose that is spiritual. For me it is the fellowship and support of the group that kept me sober during the many trying times since my last drink. As for substituting addictions…Yeah, I’m addicted to being sober. Also breathing and playing the piano. Some people call that dedication, but you can call it addiction if that makes you feel righteous. And finally, AA’s origins in the somewhat cultish Oxford Group Movement is really ancient history. Harvard was founded as a theological school…does that make it a religious institution today?

  • mmm1110

    I agree with the Court’s ruling. I cannot even fathom how AA can be considered religious. AA must have been looking for tax-exempt staus.

  • chowlett1

    It seems to me perfectly possible to be “religious” without being a religion, and the usual AA’s (and DA’s etc) pretty well define that. A religion says something specific about its deity – it describes it, tells stories about it, has authorities that say what is orthodox and what is heretical. AA very carefully steps away from the whole idea of defining a deity – it’s whatever deity you believe in. So it’s tapping into people’s religiosity without becoming a religion. Though I do think the neighbors are slime buckets. I can think of few more valuable organizations than AA for getting people back on their feet.

  • alltheroadrunnin

    There is a phrase in The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous that suggests, if one has no other, “…a (God)of your own conception.”I loved that. Yes, like every god thought up by humans, that meant I got to “conceive” my own.Under most definitions, that makes AA a religion, like it or not.Religion or not, AA is really neat, for me, during my 25 years of involvement.The Far Left would embrace AA, if there were not so many of our military, and former military, in it.Interesting too, our military sends its troubled personel to AA, before bringing a judicial action, other than “Office Hours.”

  • katavo

    Since when does our government decide which organization is and is not a religious organization?The usual practice among the modern fundamentalist christians is a desire for more christian control of the government. Well, you fools, this is what you will really get, the government deciding which group is christian and which is not.

  • canto1951

    David, according to your analysis, any organization that focuses on the improvement or enlightenment of members by fostering a spiritual environment must be considered a religion. But wouldn’t a definition this broad and amorphous permit almost any organization to call itself a religion, as long as its orientation were not explicitly secular. In this event, we would run the risk of being an even more religion-saturated society than we already are; and those of us who look on all religion with skepticism would find ourselves even more demonized and marginalized in America. Besides, when virtually every association is a religion, none of them are religions, the definition of a “religion” having been stretched into transparency. I can’t believe that is what religious people would prefer!

  • jprfrog

    People referring to the Orange Papers should be aware that these anti-AA rants have been around for a while and are the work of a single person who obviously had a bad AA experience. He seems to be addicted to his hatred (and he is not alone by any means — outrage and resentment are very popular stances these days). Of course AA doesn’t work for everyone, of course AA is interpreted in very different ways —since there is no central dogma or creed (except a desire to stop drinking) and with millions of members, of course there will be huge differences in approach. Someone like Orange who can’t walk away but must pen endless diatribes seems to be still There have been times when the excessive religiosity of some members has been irritating or even oppressive. But I don’t argue and it has passed; nor did it drive me away from meetings as I learned to take what I needed and pass on the rest. Learning to do that better (never perfect or even close) applies to a lot of other areas in my life too. That alone would be worth the price of admission.

  • psknight

    From Wikipedia: “An ad hominem argument, also known as argumentum ad hominem (Latin: “argument to the man”, “argument against the man”) consists of replying to an argument or factual claim by attacking or appealing to a characteristic or belief of the source making the argument or claim, rather than by addressing the substance of the argument or producing evidence against the claim…””Ad hominem argument is most commonly used to refer specifically to the ad hominem abusive, or argumentum ad personam, which consists of criticizing or attacking the person who proposed the argument (personal attack) in an attempt to discredit the argument. It is also used when an opponent is unable to find fault with an argument, yet for various reasons, the opponent disagrees with it.”

  • Freestinker

    “AA is not allied with any sect, denomination, organization or institution; does not wish to engage in any controversy; neither endorses nor opposes any causes.”————————————I was curious about this so I checked out the official AA website. Here is what I found:Tradition #2: 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.Step #3: Made a decision to turn our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him. Step #5: Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs. Step #6: Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character. Step #7: Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings. Step #11: Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out. Step #12: Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these Steps, we tried to carry this message to others, and to practice these principles in all our affairs. ————————————–Grandblvd03,If AA is not a religious organization and does not wish to engage in controversy nor endorse particular causes, then why do their 12 traditions and 12 steps include so many appeals to a supernatural deity? If promoting these controversial religious opinions does not constitute an endorsement of religion by AA, then why are they included in the program at all?Please explain?

  • kdjsgreen

    The real story here is that for some reason the neighbors have a problem with AA meetings happening next door. Why? Parking??? That’s absurd.

  • Jahswim

    Not in our backyard huh? Sounds like a great place to live. “Shame on all you addicts for seeking treatment in our town!”

  • artistkvip1

    let me see.. AA is not allied with any outside orginization and takes no stand on outside issues…. if i were doing these dry…. not spiritually sober may peoples inventory for thier 4th step onthe problem (the book actually sais these steps will work on any problem in your life lol , i guess thes people don’t read the big book) i suspect were they are wrong is wanting to be loud in a quiet neighborhodod, not making volenteer teams actually pick up thier own litter after meetings, not caring about other peoples parkings spaces in front of thier homes and businesses, and not wanting to relocate to a more suitable location if they did not want to change thier behavior.. the alcholic want what they want, the way they want it and when they want it will little rgaud for other peopel whenthey are drinking or just DRY . i would guess thier fears are they think the building is more spiritual than them and the meeting will lose its magic if they moved..(this could be a real feal if they are playing god in other peoples lives instead of seeking a personal conection with god for thier own sake and teaching people how to find a god to rely on instead of people. when you reliance is on humans they will always let you down..) i suspect these are some people who when they meditate they make thier minds blank… this would be inthe real world relaxation thearapy a very very fine thing but not meditation. meditation is deep reflective thought….if they have been counting on becomeing enlightened by making thier mind blank please note… what you get is a very relaxed idiot…who thinks they are spiritual enlightened.. if thes people would just read thier own book and quit playing sponsor (an acronym for playing God in thier reality) both themselves and the people they most likely genuinely want to help would be better off. the book may just say somewhere in it that you cannot transmit something you do not have and it is talking maybe about spirituality and a spiritual experience. you get this from god not some sill fat chain smoking idot who outside the rooms is far from divinely insired in actions and thought ..if all else fail i would advise them to read thier own directions

  • JudgeAlan

    “came to believe that a power greater than our selves could restore us to sanity” what is ironic is that ONLY yourself can do this IE STOP DRINKING …no one else can do it for you.

  • JeffRandom

    Whether AA is a religious organization or not is totally irrelevant to the issue at hand, which was whether those attending the meeting were causing public disturbance. Sounds like the court understood this and ruled in such a way that the existing authority wasn’t bound by restrictions on religious organizations, thereby sidestepping the issue.

  • kandinsky

    Though inconvenient for some AA groups, the court’s ruling seems rather fully in accord with the letter and spirit of the AA Traditions. The writer and some commenters appear to be unaware of these. AA will be better off in the long term to remain in cooperation with, but not affiliated with nor identified with organized religion.

  • pdxdennisj

    I have been an AA member for 25 years. AA is not a religious organization. It does use the word God at various points in its literature but also advises in the same literature to substitute the term “Good” in place of God if that fits your belief system better. A common bit of advise to those having problems with “the God thing” is to use an inanimate object such as a door knob as your “higher power”. I knew one person who used his cat as his H.P. The primary objective (I think) is to avoid an inflated ego and to foster modesty. I came into AA as an atheist and was really bothered by the terminology but have since just stood aside and let people do what works for them “Live and Let Live”. I have not really changed my beliefs, I’ve simply let myself allow others to have theirs. I am much happier. AA did grow out of a religious movement (the Oxford Movement) but very early on stripped anything out of it that would cause it to be identified with any particular religion. AA does not contest things in court (an “outside” issue) and even let the copyright on its Big Book lapse rather than go to court to protect its rights. The independent unit that publishes AA literature does pay taxes on its sales to AA groups – all of which are independent of one another.

  • cintronlourdes

    So, you can make noise and litter if you are in a religious group.That’s what the court decided. If the group had been found to be religious, the zoning board couldn’t have them blocked from meeting in the building.I have to pass by these Muslims or Islamics praying on the street, blocking the sidewalk and the street(Third Ave. 116th ST in NYC). Because they are religious, they can block my way, make me risk an accident by having to walk on the street, harass me(I’m a woman),etc, etc, etc.On top of being the ‘opium of the people’, religion can be the ‘nuisance’ of the rest of the people.

  • yellow52paneltruck

    This one cat wrote: ‘The term “higher power” is an unfortunate bit of language left over from a much earlier time…’It ain’t unfortunate in my world, pal. It’s the single reason I am able to write this comment tonight from Arizona. The pathway to my higher power took 40 years to build, but it’s been flowing pretty good for the past 18 years. Ol’ HP is watching out for my careless a–. and I try to thank him every day.

  • jbarelli

    My church hosts several AA groups, and we see our support of these groups as part of our mission in the world, but we don’t consider the groups to be part of the church. From that perspective, the court’s ruling makes some sense.It seems like someone is asking the wrong question here.A nonprofit organization cannot allow AA to meet in its building because AA is not a religious organization?If the building in question is suitable for use by a church as a meeting place, then it should also be suitable for other groups, and would seem that the zoning board’s ruling is a back-door way of violating the First Amendment’s guarantee of the “right peaceably to assemble”.We’re Americans. We’re allowed to get together for any legal purpose. If there are problems in the neighborhood with litter or parking or noise, then there are laws that deal with those problems.But arbitrarily telling a private, non-profit, volunteer group that they cannot meet on private property with the permission of the property owner?Sounds like they got the right amendment, but the wrong section of it.First Amendment – “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press;

  • jprfrog

    Yellow52: I’m afraid you missed my point, or I was not clear enough. That is: if it works for you, great. But what works for you may not work for me (and vice versa) and the looseness of AA not only allows but encourages that. When I wrote “unfortunate” I meant only the choice of words, not the realization that we are not the masters of our own lives . There are many ways to express this idea but that particular choice — made by men who were born in the 19th century — is loaded for many and has driven away some who really need to stop drinking but are afraid that they will never be able to “get it”, i. e. believe in the personal God of our main traditions. Even Bill W., in one of his “As Bill Sees It” essays expressed concern over this very point. That was the reason we started our “Godless” meeting…to introduce such people to the fellowship without the added hassle of trying to define their religious beliefs. They have more than enough to deal with in early sobriety. Once they’ve got some days under their belt they can, if they feel the need, wrestle with that particular angel. Fortunately (and now we mean the same thing) I am well past that point. And I’m very happy to say that I know about a half dozen folks who have gotten more than a year or two by starting at the Cambridge meeting and then branching out to more conventional ones (one them turned out to be the son of my first sponsor). Still, as one of Jewish origin (yes there are Jewish alcoholics!) and heritage, I can’t bring myself to say the Lord’s Prayer, which some meetings still end with. It has too much historical baggage for me; so I just remain silent. Personally, my higher power lives in my grand piano, and every time I sit down to practice it’s something like praying. Best of all, no words.

  • hrobinson

    Mr. Waters may want to learn more about the history and purpose of Alcoholics Anonymous by attending several open AA meetings and discussing this topic with recovering alcoholics.

  • psknight

    AA (and all other twelve-step programs) are religions. This matter has been settled law for some time, and I’m surprised at how many people aren’t aware of it. Many courts all over the nation have ruled that AA is a religion — including the Supreme Court, which is why the Pennsylvania ruling is likely to be overturned on appeal.There is not nearly enough space here to give this matter the treatment that it deserves. Instead, I refer the reader to this page:It’s a long read, but worth it, whichever side of the fence you’re on.In fact, AA is not merely a religion, it’s actually a cult, like Scientology and the Moonies:AA itself has even argued in court that it is a religious organization:From that page: “Gil Shaw [attorney for the AA group] emphasized the spiritual nature of AA’s 12-step program and maintained that federal statute bars governments from interfering in religious matters without a compelling interest.”And the judge agreed: “[Judge] Rayes’ ruling stated, “the city’s effort to ‘zone’ the AA members of Safe Harbor out of the property is a land-use regulation which imposes a substantial burden on the religious exercise of the AA members of Safe Harbor and of AA.”Those who don’t believe that AA is a religion are certainly free to believe that, but the courts, and even AA itself, have said otherwise.

  • Grandblvd03

    AA is not allied with any sect, denomination, organization or institution; does not wish to engage in any controversy; neither endorses nor opposes any causes. Our primary purpose is to stay sober and help other alcoholics to achieve sobriety.The court is correct.

  • bigbrother1

    Blueball and Grandblvd3: Glad you got help from AA and that you were lucky enough to find meetings that didn’t force a god down your throat. But to say that AA is not a religious organization, especially these days, is simply dishonest.I can’t count how many stories I’ve read and accounts I’ve heard of people saying the exact opposite of what you claim, especially the farther one moves away from the cities. Furthermore I’ve read a good deal of AA literature and the religious or spiritual (the distinction isn’t terribly meaningful) language runs through every sentence. It all requires that one accept the existence of spiritual BEING without which one cannot overcome addiction to alcohol.If that doesn’t bother you and works for you, great. But the fact that people are forced by the state to go into AA programs is a very disturbing sign of how far fundamentalists and other religionists have wormed their way into the lives of those who want no part of them.To me religion is a vice just as horrible as alcohol, if not more so. I HAVE seen children destroyed by it, personalities erased, and decent people replaced by monstrous things that had at their core the certainty that they had a god which was always RIGHT and which passed that perverse “rightness” onto believers. I have also seen people recover from religion, but not as much as I’ve seen them recover from alcohol.

  • bigbrother1

    Blueball and Grandblvd3: Glad you got help from AA and that you were lucky enough to find meetings that didn’t force a god down your throat. But to say that AA is not a religious organization, especially these days, is simply dishonest.I can’t count how many stories I’ve read and accounts I’ve heard of people saying the exact opposite of what you claim, especially the farther one moves away from the cities. Furthermore I’ve read a good deal of AA literature and the religious or spiritual (the distinction isn’t terribly meaningful) language runs through every sentence. It all requires that one accept the existence of spiritual BEING without which one cannot overcome addiction to alcohol.If that doesn’t bother you and works for you, great. But the fact that people are forced by the state to go into AA programs is a very disturbing sign of how far fundamentalists and other religionists have wormed their way into the lives of those who want no part of them.To me religion is a vice just as horrible as alcohol, if not more so. I HAVE seen children destroyed by it, personalities erased, and decent people replaced by monstrous things that had at their core the certainty that they had a god which was always RIGHT and which passed that perverse “rightness” onto believers. I have also seen people recover from religion, but not as much as I’ve seen them recover from alcohol.

  • MontereyDean

    The problem with the AA-as-religion argument is that most of my AA friends, along with myself, are not religious. Additionally, there’s an entire group of athiests and agnostics just up the road. Yet, AA worked just fine for all of us. As for “The Lord’s Prayer,” there’s no requirement that a group use it, or that anyone say it. Around here, it’s disappearing. I think fewer than half the groups use it today. Outside of the United States, its use is rare in many countries. PSKNIGHT’s comments are absurd; they’re just a rant, not backed by any evidence or experience — or even logic.

  • MontereyDean

    BIGBROTHER1 wrote: ” … lucky enough to find meetings that didn’t force a god down your throat. … “If someone’s going to a meeting that’s forcing god down his or her throat, it’s not an AA meeting.

  • MontereyDean

    Someone else wrote: ” … churches’ll run AA meetings. … “If a church, or any other organization or institution, is running a meeting, it’s not an AA meeting. Only AA members can “run” (host, lead, whatever) AA meetings.

  • psknight

    “PSKNIGHT’s comments are absurd”How is quoting court rulings and Steppist literature absurd?”they’re just a rant not backed by any evidence”You don’t consider court rulings to be evidence? The courts themselves do… in fact, when the 9th Circuit ruled that a parolee could not be ordered to join the Steppist church, part of their reasoning was that so many other courts had already ruled that Steppism was a religion.”or experience”You have not the faintest clue what I have or have not experienced.”or even logic.”The most illogical statement I have seen in this thread — that it is not a form of coercion to order someone to attend AA under threat of imprisonment — has, in fact, come from you.

  • dogdiva

    Interesting. Mr. Waters successfully makes a case for AA being a religious organization. So that would mean when the courts demand an offender go to AA they are endorsing religious indoctrination as part of the justice system. Isn’t it about time we had a real alternative for people other than AA.

  • bigbrother1

    MontereyDean: You’re engaging in the old naturalistic fallacy, confusing what is what what ought to be. According to you (and I agree) nobody should have a god shoved down their throats at AA. But to say that such a situation would make something not an AA meeting is absurd. Because a church doesn’t have to formally take over a meeting, just people who decide that their religion will be the order of the day.While I’m not doubting your experiences, I question how well they characterize the AA experience as a whole. Especially since so much of the AA literature gives great deference to the role of religion in recovery. And especially when there are so many descriptions of religious tyranny in AA meetings and so many court decisions acknowledging the religious nature of AA. The evidence just isn’t on your side here.

  • psknight

    @dogdiva: Yes, that’s exactly right, and a number of courts have so ruled. Probably the most recent “biggie” was “Inouye vs. Kemna” in 2007, in which the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled not only that compulsory attendance in twelve-step was a violation of a parolee’s First Amendment rights, the parolee was also entitled to sue his parole officer for attempting to force religion on him. (It’s interesting to note, by the way, that even the defense in that case made no attempt to claim that the parole officer’s conduct was constitutional.)There have been other similar rulings in other areas around the country, all of which have either been upheld or allowed to stand. (Conversely, in each case where a court has ruled that twelve-step is not religious, the ruling has been reversed on appeal.)There actually are alternatives to twelve-step, such as SMART and SOS. It’s just that, like you, most people have never heard of them because the twelve-step propaganda machine is so good at what it does.

  • psknight

    The Big Book and Bill Wilson themselves both said that AA was religious.Bill Wilson said of AA that “there is a definite religious element here.” And Ebby Thatcher is quoted in the Big Book as saying, “I’ve got religion”.The definition of “religion” has been addressed in courts many times before (not just regarding AA, but other religions as well). Here is a sampling of courts that have ruled either that AA is a religion or that it is religious:the Federal 7th Circuit Court in Wisconsin, 1984All of these rulings have either been upheld on appeal or allowed to stand without review.There have, of course, also been court rulings that said that AA is neither religious nor a religion (this case being but one of them). Here is a list of all such rulings that have not been reversed on appeal:…(Ah, the sound of crickets chirping in the morning is so relaxing, isn’t it…?)

  • bigbrother1

    As far as I understand, you can’t participate in AA unless you admit that you believe in some “higher power.” While back in the day, some meetings may have played that loosely (the power could be “nature” or a tree or “the universe”), more and more meetings have been taken over by fundies and these require you to believe in an imaginary sky-god, usually of a Judeo-Xtian flavor.The AA isn’t just a religious organization, it’s a dangerous cult disguised as an alcohol recovery program. It withholds treatment until the patient conforms to their twisted theology.

  • blueball

    Bigbrother1,You understanding is wrong. The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking. A “higher power” does not have to be a God, it can be the group as a whole or your own personal HP– you dont have to define your HP for anyone. If you wish to stop drinking, try AA. If not, leave AA alone and don’t speak from ignorance. You just might stop someone who relies on your judgment from getting sober.

  • MontereyDean

    You are correct, of course, that what I have is my experience, and the shared experiences of those I regularly associate with here and, virtually, in over 50 countries around the world. Had my experience been what you describe, I wouldn’t have lasted 21 days in AA much less 21 years.

  • Grandblvd03

    To Freestinker and Bigbrother1:I am an alcoholic, sober for almost 15 years, and I am involved in AA. If you’re not alcoholic, that’s great for you. If you want to understand AA, listen to those on this comment board who are alcoholics and members of AA — we’re not making this up. We go to AA meetings to keep us sober. The organization is not religious — it is spiritual. The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking. Spirituality is defined differently by every person. My God, or Higher Power, or my lack of belief in one, is acceptable in AA. The court ruled correctly in this case. That AA group should be more considerate to its neighbors.Consideration for others is one of the many things we learn in AA as we get sober.

  • MontereyDean

    souperbad, you weren’t “forced” to attend AA meetings. You chose to attend them. You could have chosen to go to jail instead. Why didn’t you choose the latter if AA is so offensive and evil?

  • psknight

    Montereydean, saying “do this or I’ll put you in jail” *is* being forced. As the 9th Circuit said when ruling that a parolee could not be ordered to attend AA as a condition of his parole, “The Hobson’s choice Nanamori offered Inouye — to be imprisoned or to renounce his own religious beliefs — offends the core of Establishment Clause jurisprudence.”

  • souperbad

    AA is a religion. Anyone who thinks otherwise is a first rate fool. I was FORCED BY LAW to attend this CHURCH by the STATE. I got caught drinking and driving and was forced by Fairfax County to attend their cult meetings. Everything about them is a religion or cult like. They had their idols (“chips”). They recited spiritual chants all the time “It works if you work it”. Heck, they even recited the friggin Lord’s Prayer!Nothing makes me madder then being forced into a religion…especially when it was the government trying to force me into a religion.

  • kjohnson3

    “Bill Wilson said of AA that ‘there is a definite religious element here.’”Bill Wilson said that there is clearly “a religious component to alcoholism.” But Wilson was, in fact, extremely wary of religion because he had a horror of absolutes — and, undeniably, religion is generally about absolutes. He felt that absolutes simply set one up to fail because no one can achieve perfection.I recommend to all of you debaters — pro-AA and anti-AA, alike — the definitive resource on the philosophical and sociological development of AA: Ernest Kurtz’s “Not-God: A History of Alcoholics Anonymous.”The title refers to Wilson’s notion of what “higher power” actually means, which is not that the alcoholic has to believe in God but that the alcoholic has to learn that he/she is NOT God, that there are forces stronger than that of mere humans.Whether an AA member embraces a traditional notion of God or simply the idea of “something greater and stronger than myself” (e.g., the ocean, the wind, etc.), what’s important is that the alcoholic lets go of the idea that he/she is in charge of everything.This book provides a deeper and more comprehensive understanding of AA than any other source before or since — except, maybe, Bill W’s own writings. :>)

  • norriehoyt

    By Mr. Waters’s reasoning, our local animal shelter also qualifies as a religious institution and its location and activities cannot be regulated by the zoning board.

  • jprfrog

    I am amazed by the disparity of opinions here…but as a long-standing member of AA I have to point out that statements beginning with “AA is…” or “AA isn’t…” entirely miss the point, and bespeak a lack of any sort of direct knowledge of the entity. I call it an entity because it is an “organization” only in a very broad and almost meaningless sense. I would guess that there are millions of people all over the world (AA was attended at the 2005 Toronto conference by representatives of 95 nations, including some like the Federation of the North Mariana Islands that I didn’t even know existed) who attend meetings, and there is no set of things that one must profess (including a “higher power” in the Western sense — I know practicing Hindus, Moslems, and Buddhists who are AA members). Thus to speak of AA as if it were some monolithic thing that lays down rules shows only that the speaker conceives of organizations in such terms and says more about them than it does about AA, which has — I believe uniquely — grown and thrived in the absence of any central or hierarchical structure of authority. When you look at the 12 steps, take a look also at the 12 traditions and its statements on group autonomy. Also, I suggest two books: “AA, Cult or Cure” whose author I can’t remember, and Susan Cheever’s biography of Bill Wilson, which is definitely not a hagiography. For what it is worth, I don’t like the idea of judges mandating AA attendance in lieu of prison. This has been controversial within AA since the beginning. Unless someone really wants to be there, there is little that he can gain from a meeting, and the practice gets into Church-State ambiguities that neither help the forced attendee or AA. The primary purpose of AA is to help people get and stay sober. It is not to aid convicted felons to avoid their sentences, or at least it should not be. The idea came from the judges, not from AA.

  • MontereyDean

    ” … But to say that such a situation would make something not an AA meeting is absurd. Because a church doesn’t have to formally take over a meeting, just people who decide that their religion will be the order of the day.”You’re making my point for me. As soon as anyone “decides their religion will be the order of the day,” the meeting is no longer an AA meeting. By definition AA, and AA meetings or groups, have no affiliation, nor do they endorse, any religion.

  • MontereyDean

    ” … You have not the faintest clue what I have or have not experienced. … “But I do. If you had actually attended AA meetings and paid attention, then you would know that AA doesn’t compel anyone to attend AA meetings. So why you are ranting about AA, which had no part in “sentencing” anyone to anything, is the mystery.Nor is any AA group required to sign any type of meeting attendence verification document, from the courts or elsewhere. (Some groups will not sign court cards, in fact.)But the biggest problem with this faulty proposition is that, if you knew anything about the subject, then you would know that people “sentenced” to AA could sign the cards themselves, have their friends sign them, and so on. No AA Group reports back to any court as to who was at an AA meeting. If some group is doing that, it is not an AA group. (Personally, when I lead meetings, I initial cards at the beginning of the meeting, and the person is then free to stay — or leave.)But we’re back to where we began. The convicted person always has a choice. He or she can choose jail. But that’s between the individual and the courts — it has nothing to do with AA.

  • AnnaZed

    Actually AA is not only a religion but very specifically an occult religion with a God that few main-stream religious organizations would even recognize; yet they rent them their basements. It’s amazing really. AA is basically “faith healing,” and the “God of our own understanding” is taken as seriously as life and death in AA. Make no mistake, AA doctrine is absolutely inflexible on this point; for the AA member there is no recovery without intervention of a “Higher Power” (who must be grovelled to) and all new recruits (included court mandated attendees regardless of their faith or lack of it) are also told that without AA they will face only a future of “jails, institutions and death.”The AA “Higher Power” who relieves the alcoholic from the desire to drink, takes away his character defects, micro-manages (and is minutely interested in) every aspect of the AA member’s life from sobriety, to jobs, to whom to 13th step (have a sexual relationship with) in the fellowship and delivers “God shots” in the form of everything from saving drunk drivers from death to finding members’ keys IS the AA program (it has no therapeutic components, no professionals, no therapists and no oversight).The problem is that alcohol dependence IS a life and death matter and our government funnels vulnerable and suffering people into this goofy cult (by court mandated AA attendance) instead of offering actual medical care for this dangerous and intractable condition.

  • MontereyDean

    “In the pioneer A.A. Akron Fellowship, every member was required to accept Jesus Christ as his personal lord and saviour.” And that’s relevant to today’s AA … how?