Dallas, TX asked in Civil Rights for Texas

Q: Is it legal for Sober Living houses to mandate, under threat of expulsion, attendance of AA or NA meetings?

I feel that my first amendment rights have been violated, as I am non-religious, and have been made homeless by program administrators due to my refusal to attend faith-based events

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1 Lawyer Answer
John Michael Frick
John Michael Frick
  • Frisco, TX
  • Licensed in Texas

A: The First Amendment protects an individual from government action, not from private parties.

If the program is operated by the government, compelling you to attend faith-based events as a condition of receiving government services is probably a violation of the First Amendment.

AA and NA are not faith-based events. Both provide a structure for peer support of individuals struggling with addiction. On the other hand, many faith-based organizations including religious organizations offer AA and NA meetings.

Occasionally, the sponsoring organization’s particular beliefs become a part of the discussion at such meetings, largely because most attendees share common beliefs with the sponsoring organization. Consequently, a government program cannot compel you to attend AA and NA meetings specifically sponsored by faith-based organizations. It can only compel you to attend AA and NA meetings, but then must leave it up to you to choose whether to attend meetings sponsored by a faith-based or purely secular organization.

Even if you attend meetings sponsored by a purely secular organization, you will quickly find that attendees span the full range of religious perspectives reflected in the area. Both Christians and atheists as well as people of other faiths struggle with these addictions. Many attendees lean on their faith to help them in this struggle. In providing peer support, attendees will share what they find helpful whether it is a belief based on faith or a conclusion based on science or a anecdote based on experience or purely secular suggestions like exercise, distraction, avoidance, etc. That is not a violation of the First Amendment.

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