For Immediate Release
Merrill Miller, 202-238-9088 ext. 105, firstname.lastname@example.org
Monica Miller, 202-238-9088 ext. 120, email@example.com
(Seattle, WA, Sept. 9, 2015)—The American Humanist Association’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center sent a letter to state officials in the King County District Court and the Municipal Court of Seattle on behalf of an atheist who is unconstitutionally being forced to attend a faith-based substance abuse program.
The letter states that after a DUI hearing in February, Michael Baker was sentenced to attend Alcoholics Anonymous (“AA”) meetings as a condition of his parole. Baker repeatedly asked for information on secular substance abuse programs and informed his parole officer and his treatment manager that, as an atheist, the faith-based aspects of AA made him extremely uncomfortable. At several AA meetings, Baker was verbally harassed for his atheism by attendees. At the most recent hearing in August, Baker informed the judge that he objected to AA because of its religious nature. Despite acknowledging that AA has a “spiritual basis,” the judge ordered Baker to attend two AA meetings a week without providing a secular alternative.
“The state cannot require an atheist to undergo faith-based treatment, as doing so clearly violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. In fact, the Ninth Circuit has twice held that a parolee’s right to be free from coerced participation in AA is a matter of ‘uncommonly well-settled case law,’” said Monica Miller, senior counsel with the Appignani Humanist Legal Center.
“There are secular programs, such as SMART Recovery, that use science, instead of faith, to treat substance abuse,” said Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association. “Forcing an atheist to attend a program that requires a belief in a higher power violates their rights.”
The letter demands that the court declare that Baker has satisfied his parole obligations and provide written assurances that he will not be required to attend any faith-based programs if he requires further treatment. The letter also demands that the state provide written assurances that secular treatment options will be made available to anyone who is required to complete a substance abuse program in the future.
Founded in 1941 and headquartered in Washington, D.C., the American Humanist Association (AHA) works to protect the rights of humanists, atheists, and other nontheistic Americans. The AHA advances the ethical and life-affirming philosophy of humanism, which—without beliefs in any gods or other supernatural forces—encourages individuals to live informed and meaningful lives that aspire to the greater good of humanity.
Special thanks to the Louis J. Appignani Foundation for their support of the Appignani Humanist Legal Center.