psalaman at POP.UKY.EDU
Mon Dec 22 15:52:05 PST 1997
In response to a short message posted last week by Stanley Morris:
I read your posting to the internet about sentencing people to AA.
I wish I had been in the day you wrote. You refer to another posting by
Joel Sogol, which I did not receive for some reason. I'm not sure what you
were disputing--it's hard to tell without the other posting--but I am
interested. I've just written an article about the Establishment Clause and AA.
You seem to take the position in your message that AA is religious,
and I certainly agree with that. I don't know if you've attended any
meetings, but I have--in many places there are so-called "open"
meetings--and most if not all of the meetings that I have seen had an
unmistakably religious component to them. Ironically, that was even true
when the person talking was a self-proclaimed atheist. Even then his or her
remarks focused on how the program could work without a clear conception of
a deity. I also can't help seeing the comparison between the steps and the
deflation of the ego so easily associated with Christian theology, but
perhaps I see that because of my own background.
But I don't conclude from that that the government violates the
Establishment Clause simply by sending people to AA. At a certain level,
the government is always--one hopes, anyway--trying to promote "peace on
earth," if not for everyone than for one person at a time. (I know some
would argue that that is precisely not the government's job, but I think
that's an entirely different subject.) I therefore do not find it helpful
to tell the government that it can only promote such goals through means
antiseptically devoid of principles based on faith instead of reason,
particularly against so tenacious a foe as mental illness. The issue for me
becomes one of how parochial or chauvinistic the government is about it:
believe this, worship this, fall down before this, spout this. AA by its
nature is religious, but without frills. Therefore, I would suppose that
anyone who is sent to AA for a short time and not forced to accept the
program has no legitimate complaint under the Establishment Clause. Having
said that, I would like to see the government provide alternatives, assuming
they were not prohibitively expensive and demonstrated the same
effectiveness as AA.
Paul E. Salamanca
Assistant Professor of Law
University of Kentucky
College of Law
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