Saturday, July 4, 2009

U.S. Supreme Court


All of these courts have ruled that Alcoholics Anonymous is a religion or engages in religious activities:
· the Federal 7th Circuit Court in Wisconsin, 1984.
· the Federal District Court for Southern New York, 1994.
· the New York Court of Appeals, 1996.
· the New York State Supreme Court, 1996.
· the U.S. Supreme Court, 1997.
· the Tennessee State Supreme Court.
· the Federal 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals in New York, 1996.
· the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.
· the U.S. Court of Appeals, Seventh District, 1996.
· the Federal Appeals Court in Chicago, 1996.
· The Federal Appeals Court in Hawaii, September 7, 2007, in the Inouye v. Kemna case.
The United States Supreme Court has refused to hear challenges to those rulings, or to change or over-turn those lower court decisions. By letting them stand, the Supreme Court has made them the law of the land.
But there is one very important exception to that statement — the Griffin v. Coughlin decision, from the New York State Court of Appeals, 1996, was heard by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1997. In Griffin v. Coughlin, the prison inmate David Griffin complained that state prison officials in 1991 told David Griffin, a self-described atheist with a history of drug abuse, that in order to be eligible for expanded family visitation privileges, including conjugal visits, he would have to attend a prison rehabilitation program patterned after AA's 12-Step model.2 Griffin, then a prisoner at the Shawangunk Correctional Facility in Ulster County, refused to attend the program, contending that the 12-Step approach requires participants to express a belief in a "power greater than ourselves" and to "turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him." These requirements, his lawsuit against the state contended, violate the First Amendment's mandated separation of church and state. Griffin lost in two lower courts, but won in New York State's highest court, the New York Court of Appeals. In Griffin v. Coughlin, Judge Levine, writing for the court's majority, concluded that the AA program is devoted to proselytizing for a religious belief. The court's conclusion was based on its reading of several profiles of early AA members as they are set forth in the AA Big Book and the AA Twelve and Twelve. Judge Levine said "While it is of course true that the primary objective of A.A. is to enable its adherents to achieve sobriety, its doctrine unmistakably urges that the path to staying sober and to becoming happily and usefully whole is by wholeheartedly embracing traditional theistic beliefs." From its review of AA literature, the majority concluded that the AA Twelve Steps amount to a worship service and that the AA fellowship is dedicated to converting alcoholics to a belief in a traditional deity. Accordingly, the court found that, "The foregoing demonstrates beyond peradventure that doctrinally and as actually practiced in the 12-Step methodology, adherence to the A.A. fellowship entails engagement in religious activity and religious proselytization. Followers are urged to accept the existence of God as a Supreme Being, Creator, Father of Light and Spirit of the Universe." When the U.S. Supreme Court heard the appeal, it sided with the atheist convict who said the New York Department of Corrections' attempt to link extra privileges for inmates with attendance at meetings modeled after Alcoholics Anonymous violated the constitutionally mandated separation of church and state.3
On November 14, 1999 the U.S. Supreme Court refused to overturn, thus allowed to stand, a ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ordering that forced attendance at Narcotics Anonymous meetings end immediately, because it was a violation of Freedom of Religion. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit and the high courts of the states of Tennessee and New York have also made the same ruling.
Legally, Alcoholics Anonymous is established as a religious organization. And so is Narcotics Anonymous. Lawyers and judges now consider the issue "a moot point", one that is so thoroughly established that they will not argue the point again. They just accept it as a given.
Then, for a recent legal kicker, on July 31, 2001, United States District Court Judge Charles Brieant overturned the manslaughter conviction of Paul Cox because Cox had "shared" his memories of two murders with other Alcoholics Anonymous members at an A.A. meeting, and then one of those members turned him in. And at the trial, other A.A. members were subpoenaed and forced to testify against Cox.
The District Court Judge ruled that Cox's confession at the A.A. meeting was protected and inadmissible evidence, just like Catholics' confessions to their priests are protected and inadmissible in court. Judge Brieant cited a 1999 federal appeals court declaration that Alcoholics Anonymous is a religion. And then the judge threw out the conviction because it was based on inadmissible evidence.
As far as the courts of the USA are concerned, Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous are, beyond a doubt, organizations that engage in religious activities. And their meetings qualify as religious services. It's a done deal. Nobody denies it but Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, and the other 12-Step groups.

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