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Atheist who was jailed for denying a "higher power" in a treatment facility awarded $2 million

Discussion in 'Share Your Rehab Experience' started by ariana_, Oct 23, 2014.

  1. ariana_

    ariana_ Member

    A California man who was sentenced to rehab was jailed when the treatment center was focused on a higher power, and he refused to participate. The entire program was centered around some sort of god or belief, and he sued as the court ordered program was trying to force him to pick up or fake religious beliefs.

    Here is a link to the article: http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2014/10/15/atheist-drug-treatmentsettlement.html

    Has anyone else had similar experiences? What are your thoughts on rehab centers associated with religion?
    Joseph likes this.
  2. mimsee

    mimsee Active Contributor

    That is absolutely atrocious. If someone chooses to not associate themselves with religion or a specific religion, that is THEIR CHOICE! This is America. There is a separation of Church and State..or so there is supposed to be. How was he ever jailed for not FAKING A RELIGION? Ugh. I'm absolutely ecstatic that he got compensation.
  3. Jen S.

    Jen S. Guest

    Hmmm....
    I'm basically agnostic (not a fan of organized religion for several reasons - still a spiritual person), so the higher power talk definitely turned me away from AA/NA in the beginning. Until my first sponsor broke it down for me.
    I've also been to court ordered rehab several times. We were always encouraged to follow the 12 steps (which include this list of God-ish ones I eventually understood in my own way), but no one was ever threatened to be terminated from the program for refusing to pray. That was optional. For obvious reasons.

    1. We admitted we were powerless over drugs/alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.
    2. Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
    3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
    4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
    5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
    6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
    7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
    8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
    9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
    10. Continued to take personal inventory, and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.
    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.
    12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to addicts/alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.
    Daniel Lucky and Joseph like this.
  4. Askani

    Askani Active Contributor

    I saw this on Reddit a few days ago in the atheist section. I agree that he shouldn't be forced into a program that only offers help through religion. You can't force a religion down someones throat like that. He deserved all the money he got. You do know this will get appealed like crazy and likely reduced or thrown out completely though. I hope he gets something for his trouble though.
  5. Jen S.

    Jen S. Guest

    I'm sure I won't make a whole lot of friends by saying this, but I'm going to say it anyway LOL
    Sometimes we (addicts/alcoholics) just look for reasons to rebel, whine, sit on our own pity pot and complain. For real. If this person was seriously offended by the word "God" being used in the program, one of two things were going on. Either it provided a reason not to listen to anything helpful or he was truly offended because he couldn't understand what "as we understood him" meant.

    If you're offended by "God", please send all of your God-marked American money to me. :)
    xTinx and Nick W. like this.
  6. ariana_

    ariana_ Member

    I mean, I doubt he was truly offended. I am sure tons of people "sucked it up" and pretended to believe so they could get out of rehab, as he likely wasn't the first atheist to be sent there by a court. Either way, what they were doing was constitutionally wrong, and he deserved the money in my opinion, even if he was looking for an easy case to get money. No program that the government orders you to do should ever force a religion, in my opinion.
  7. notodrugs

    notodrugs Community Listener Community Listener

    In our country, since majority highly hold on to God in whatever religion we have, we believe in His power to change people's ways. Our rehab centers acknowledge this belief. Even our correctional institutions (Prison Centers) have God-centered services and prayer groups which inmates are encouraged to attend and be a part of. But I have never ever heard of people being turned away in rehab centers for not believing in God. It is always a personal choice.
  8. mimsee

    mimsee Active Contributor


    Lol! I agree in the fact that people shouldn't be offended by the idea of God. If other people believe in their religion and are happy with their God, I don't really mind that at all. I think it only becomes an issue when beliefs and religions are being forced on people who would rather not have a part in it.
  9. Askani

    Askani Active Contributor

    I think if he was a diehard atheist an wanted a regular non-religious program and the judge wouldn't accept it and demanded he go to the program they wanted, it wouldn't be really fair. Some people are steadfast in their non belief system just as other are in there belief in God or Allah. I see both sides mind you, I just think the is a bit unfair by ordering him into a program he would fight tooth and nail and not get any help because of it.
  10. Jen S.

    Jen S. Guest

    I am strongly opposed to any situation where religious beliefs are forced, but I think this article fails to explain the bigger picture. When you're court ordered to substance abuse treatment it is technically a jail or prison sentence alternative. That means the department of corrections gave this guy a chance to be rehabilitated before enforcing punishment. Also something I strongly believe in. Also something not everyone gets a shot at because it costs taxpayers more money to offer these programs. When you're sitting in a jail cell and a judge gives you an opportunity to do something more productive than rot away, I don't really care what type of recovery program it is. Suck it up, be appreciative and take what applies - let the rest fly.
  11. mimsee

    mimsee Active Contributor


    I can definitely see where you're coming from. Even as a non-believer, a second chance is a second chance. I guess you COULD try to ignore the religious aspects of the recovery program but for a lot of steadfast non-believers it is almost as offensive as trying to tell a religious person that God doesn't exist. I think it's just a touchy subject overall.
  12. Jen S.

    Jen S. Guest

    Completely agree with you on the touchiness. I am capable of viewing this situation from several different perspectives. Like I mentioned earlier, I'm really not a fan in any way shape or form of organized religion. I struggled with the AA/NA concept of a higher power and God as I understood him for a very long time, and allowed it to completely override the benefits a 12 step program has to offer. I consider myself pretty fortunate to have been given chance after chance (4 times to be exact) by the Michigan Department of Corrections, though. One of those chances actually worked. I consider this type of situation a threat to rehabilitation programs in our legal system that really do help people regardless of their beliefs - because I am a living breathing example of it. :) You cannot commit a crime and get upset about a prison alternative that doesn't cater to your beliefs. That is absolutely ridiculous. Especially when I think about all of the other ways people are "violated" when the punishment for their crime is straight up jail/prison time. I have spent enough of my own time behind bars to read this story and say "Awww - poor baby" with a smirk on my face LOL
  13. Jen S.

    Jen S. Guest

    "Shame on you, America!" This is basically what happened.

    1. An addict/alcoholic committed a crime worthy of a jail sentence (for those of you who've never been, you are expected to give up a lot of your "rights" upon arrival)
    2. Even though this person committed a crime worthy of a jail sentence, a judge decided to offer them an alternative ---> rehab (you're going to give up a whole lot less here)
    3. The court ordered rehab is like the overwhelming majority of rehabs in America - it sticks to the most well-known 12 step recovery program in existence.
    4. The 12 step program uses terms like "higher power", "power greater than yourself", "prayer and meditation", and "God as we understood him"
    5. The Athiest feels extremely violated by this - and somehow believes the state of California owes them an Athiest-friendly jail alternative

    Are you kidding me right now.
  14. Jen S.

    Jen S. Guest

    Bottom line - no one is ever forced to go to court ordered rehab because it is offered as a sentencing alternative. That means at any given time you have the option to tell your judge "thanks but no thanks - I'll just do my time". The idea that this person had no choice but to participate in a 12 step recovery program is absurd. If that were the case, absolutely this person's rights were violated. But that's just not how our legal system works.

    In the event the state of California has to pay this person, which do you think is more likely to happen?

    A. CDC decides to offer a prison alternative rehab program that suits every criminal's beliefs (or non beliefs)

    B. CDC decides it is no longer worth it to offer prison alternative rehab programs period.

    These programs cost more money and they don't have very high success rates. They're offered to addicts and alcoholics like us because the legal system acknowledges we have a disease that can be managed with treatment. Not a moral problem or desire to be a risk to the general public.
  15. Nick W.

    Nick W. Community Listener Community Listener

    I have a few conflicting trains of thought on this one. Does he really "deserve" the money he could get for this? Now, certainly some sort of compensation for time served, or the nature of what happened, but we're talking about giving a large sum of money to someone that was being forced into a rehab due to a problem and an inability to get help for himself. At the end of the day, the judge was looking out for his overall best interest. What lesson did hear learn by this? Has the real issue been sidelined by this violation? If you knew how many times I saw kids try to get out of NA because they "were not religious" and it turned out that prior to abuse they were regular church goers, would that be a factor?

    Try not to get too caught up in the "forced religion" aspect here, because nobody was shoving Communion wafers down anyone's throat here. I understand that it is an issue, and that he does have the right to his beliefs, or lack there of, but that's not the be all end all of this.

    Jen, if they decide to no longer offer prison rehab altogether, I can't help but think about how many other people could be potentially hurt by that decision. It's a complex issue that often gets clouded by religious hatred or rebellion. That's all I'm saying.
  16. Jen S.

    Jen S. Guest

    I don't view it as that complex of an issue.
    "Court ordered" rehab does NOT mean you're forced to go. It's a sentencing alternative. For the jail time you've earned. This guy chose rehab over jail time. That means if you get kicked out of the rehab program (for example, when you're deeply offended by things like "higher power" and "God as we understood him") you're just going to do your jail time.

    Keep in mind the DOC does not owe anyone a sentencing alternative.
    notodrugs and Nick W. like this.
  17. xTinx

    xTinx Community Champion

    Why did he enter the program to begin with? Didn't he do his research or was he sent there against his will? The thing is, if you're going to enter a rehab center, make sure to do your research first lest you regret your decision later on. I mean, I'm sure the brochure you picked up will already give you a bird's eye view of the program's content. If he had the option to go to a different rehab facility with the court's permission, he could just remove himself and go elsewhere - maybe in a facility that caters to his atheistic beliefs. I'm sure the court will understand. But you see, there's something about having faith in a higher power that facilitates recovery. In fact, when you don't have faith in anything, recovery may be a slow and agonizing path.
  18. Nick W.

    Nick W. Community Listener Community Listener

    There are so many questions and not smart choices that were made during this ordeal that it really makes you wonder. I would be really surprised if most of this was not just a way to get out of treatment that wasn't realy wanted in the first place.
  19. sillylucy

    sillylucy Community Champion

    I can see how they were pushing it when he was in rehab. They are a private institution. Just the same with a private school. They can teach what they want, but they can't throw someone in jail. He deserves that money. I just hope he doesn't blow it all on his vices.
  20. Jen S.

    Jen S. Guest

    I think I've said this a couple of times already, but I'll say it again. Court ordered rehab is a sentencing alternative.
    So while the writer of this article really wants to make it sound like this:
    Man is forced to go to rehab and later sent to jail because he didn't want to participate in a 12 step program.
    It actually happens like this in our legal system:
    A man commits a crime worthy of a jail sentence. The judge shows leniency by offering him court ordered rehab. As an alternative. The judge does not owe the man an alternative. The man has committed a crime and earned some jail time. Period. The only thing the judge is required to do is sentence within the written guidelines of the crime. That does not include rehab. The man didn't complete the rehab program and was sent to jail to serve the original time he earned. Not additional time for denying belief in a higher power.
    Nick W. likes this.