Imagine that you are invited to friend's house for dinner. You arrive and are greeted politely. You are offered a beverage and choose a glass of wine. During dinner you accept another glass of wine. There is conversation before and during dinner and the evening is overall very pleasant.
You depart thinking that you have just enjoyed a wonderful evening of friendship, food, and wine. The poor decision that you have made is to drive home after two to three glasses of wine. The impairment from the wine contributes to an horrific accident in which there are severe injuries and a fatality.
You now face criminal prosecution for vehicular manslaughter. Rightfully so.
What you may not realize is that you will now be ordered or coerced into inherently religious sobriety support attendance. In order to lessen your sentence or as a term of probation you will be mandated to attend religious sobriety support meetings without any specific mention of secular options. Local governments throughout California and indeed, throughout the U.S. have become completely entangled with Twelve-Step organizations. Twelve-Step organizations have been ruled by every Federal Court to ever issue a ruling on this issue to be “inherently religious.” 12-Step organizations include Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA). (It should be said, Twelve-Step organizations do deserve credit for the many people they have helped.)
Government in some cases refuses to even acknowledge secular options. You are not given a clear or equal choice of a secular option. You do not feel free to object because you are under the duress of criminal prosecution and sentencing. Some jurisdictions will allow a secular option, but only if a defendant objects. Some jurisdictions allow no option.
Substance abuse problems are epidemic throughout the country. If a person comes into contact with local government as a result of alcohol or drug use, you can be sure that they will be referred to a religious sobriety support program. In most cases, the referral will not mention any specific secular option. Local government's Behavioral Health Departments are entangled with religious support programs to the extent of declaring the religious program to be “the only way” to address sobriety issues.
Government should certainly have the right to order or coerce persons with substance use issues to attend support. Government does not have the right to exclusively order or coerce citizens into religious support without a clear and equal choice of a secular option. A person's choice of support should have no affect on their freedom. Secular sobriety support organizations exist throughout the U.S. but experience resistance and even refusal to be recognized by local governments and courts. Secular support organizations have difficulty growing because they are not recognized. They are not recognized partly because they have been unable to grow.
One specific challenge to this practice is occurring in Sonoma County, CA. Over the course of the last year the County has repeatedly refused requests to change county policy and language as it relates to this issue. The County has refused to offer clear and equal choice of support for county clients.
Secular sobriety support organizations in the U.S. include Women For Sobriety (WFS) www.womenforsobriety.org, LifeRing Secular Recovery lifering.org, SMART Recovery www.smartrecovery.org, Secular Organizations for Sobriety (SOS), and Rational Recovery. Most of these programs offer both face to face support meetings as well as extensive online support. Please help advocate for choice of sobriety support.
For more information, please contact Byron Kerr at firstname.lastname@example.org or 707-596-8860. For the record, I live a substance use abstinent life style after finding a secular option for support. I do not have a criminal record for substance use issues. I discovered this issue during my own journey through sobriety. See http://www.bohemian.com/northbay/step-by-step/Content?oid=2305383 for news coverage.