Atheist Parolee Finally Sees Justice After Being Sent Back to Prison for Refusing a Religious Drug Treatment Program

In February of 2007, after spending time in prison for drug possession, Barry A. Hazle Jr. was finally released on parole.

Barry A. Hazle Jr.

Parole came with a few strings attached, though. Hazle had to attend a 90-day drug treatment program which, in his case, involved the Twelve-Step program most commonly associated with Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous. As we’ve discussed on this site before, several of those steps include references to God and submitting to a “higher power.”

Hazle — an atheist — wanted no part of that, so he asked to be reassigned to a secular treatment program. Even as he began attending the Twelve-Step classes, he objected to them. Three days after his parole officer received the appeal, Hazle “was called out of a program class and arrested for violating parole… He was sent back to prison for four months.”

It made absolutely no sense. That same year, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals specifically ruled “that a parolee [couldn't] be ordered to attend [Alcoholics Anonymous] meetings as a condition of staying out of prison.”

It has taken a long time to resolve this issue, but there’s finally some justice for Hazle today and it comes from the same Court of Appeals:

A three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals said a jury should award Barry A. Hazle Jr., a drug offender, compensatory damages for his loss of freedom and could consider possible punitive and emotional distress damages as well.

“Given the indisputable fact of actual injury resulting from Hazle’s unconstitutional imprisonment, and the district judge’s finding that the state defendants were liable for that injury, an award of compensatory damages was mandatory,” Judge Stephen Reinhardt, a Jimmy Carter appointee, wrote for the panel.

The court also demanded that a district judge in Sacramento reconsider whether state officials could “[require] parolees to attend treatment programs that emphasize God or a ‘higher power.’”

It’ll take another jury to decide how much money Hazle should receive from the state.

It’s hard to overstate how important this victory is. It should’ve been obvious to state officials (and Hazle’s parole officer) that they couldn’t mandate anyone to go to a religious drug treatment program. It should’ve been obvious that they couldn’t punish someone for not wanting to attend that particular kind of program. Yet, they tried to coerce Hazle into going there, anyway.

He fought back, he was right, and he deserves fair compensation after everything the state put him through.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Michael

    Hard to overstate you mean.

    Sorry, just my turn I guess.

  • Hemant Mehta

    Yes. Fixed. Thanks!

  • JMM

    I am an Atheist who was just sentenced to go to A.A. twice a week. I had been going for years and have been sober for almost five. A.A. is like going to church, they’re main literature mentions God over 90 times. It’s pure bullshit to sit through listening to these idiots all speak of how God keeps them sober.

  • Izzy

    You don’t understand the mentality of the average parole officer. To him you are nothing more than a piece of shit that he wants to throw back into prison so he doesn’t have to deal with you. If that asshole wants you to do something he expects you to do it regardless if it’s “proper” because he knows you don’t want to get locked back up.

  • Anna Marin

    “fair compensation” – no one really wants “faith compensation”. :)

  • Houndentenor

    One of my friends who was doing a 12 Step Program told me that anything could be your higher power. It didn’t have to be god. When I thought about that I was even more confused. If you can just make up something to be your higher power, how do you “turn things” over to something you just made up? It’s absurd. I know people who swear by these programs, but I can’t help but think that you couldn’t get as good or better results without any of this mumbo-jumbo. (And thanks to atheist bloggers and podcasters I know that such groups exist. I had never heard of them before!)

  • A3Kr0n

    You’re supposed to “fake it until you make it”, which usually means come to believe in God as your higher power.

  • Lori

    I went to Overeaters Anon as a early teen. Admit we are powerless over food? Say what? Those Oreo’s didn’t jump out of the package, into my mouth and force me to eat them.
    I think persons would be better off affirming that they are more powerful than their addiction of choice, from food to drugs to liquor to cigarettes.

  • Loic

    I want “faith compensation.” Or reparations, at least. :)

  • Mitch

    Money may be a substitute, but nothing will get those months of his life back.

  • tyler_d

    I attend SAA and am an atheist. You can’t complete the stepwork, but finding a forum to which you can share and find support through any problem is what is important. I think this is two-fold, no they shouldn’t have made it mandatory, however you should grow up and gain what you can from such programs, they are honestly making an effort to help, not to brainwash you into religion.

  • C.L. Honeycutt

    If you consider refusing to be coerced into complying with Unconstitutional demands “needing to grow up”, that’s not a problem with anyone else.

  • Pete Heslin

    the only (implied) guarantee of 12 Step practice is a “spiritual awakening” (see Step 12). nowhere in the 12 Steps does it mention the cessation of alcoholic or addictive behavior. more to the point, there is simply no way to ‘do’ the 12 Steps without countenancing the notion of God – even if that means substituting something material for your personal ‘higher power’.

    Hazle’s ordeal is illustrative of how little people outside of AA, NA or other 12 Step ‘support’ groups know of (or care about) the inherently religious demands in the 12 Steps. every day people are forced (like Hazle), cajoled, or referred (by psychiatrists, psychotherapists, general practitioners, etc.) into 12 Step without the slightest idea that they’re being handed a prescription for faith healing.

    i’m glad Hazle came out of this victorious. it concerns me greatly, though, that this point had to be made yet again in the courts.

  • Redorblack Nigelbottom

    I’m confused a bit… You were just sentenced to go to AA twice a week, but you’ve already been going for years and have been sober for almost five? Is this from a case that has taken that long to work through the court system or am I reading this wrong? If you were just sentenced… why were you already going?

  • James

    Start every meeting acknowledging that there is a higher power which controls you, with a prayer, and with continuous thanks to god.

    End each meeting with a prayer o god.

    Unable to complete the program without professing a belief in god.

    Yup, no brainwashing there.

  • James

    My satisfaction.

    Aperture science….

    We do what we must, because we can.

  • DougI

    All those years in prison merely for drug possession? No wonder America, despite having 4% of the world’s population has 25% of the world’s inmates. Just another reason to legalize.

  • bmorejoe

    Look, I am not a theist but there is a very clear psychological process in “turning over to a higher power” – it produces relief, reduces stress, allows an opening to resist compulsive behavior etc. So regardless of the empirical existence of the HP, the decision to turn things over can be useful. I agree it is hard to do that when you are also questioning all higher power – sometimes I look at nature and evolution as an HP of sorts.

  • bmorejoe

    no you should not be coerced, otoh dude has a point – if you have an addiction why close off possible help?

  • Feminerd

    Because that help just irritates you and requires you to lie about your beliefs? Because it’s not helping?

  • allein

    Even as he began attending the Twelve-Step classes, he objected to them. [...], Hazle “was called out of a program class and arrested for violating parole… He was sent back to prison for four months.”

    Am I reading this right? He requested to be assigned to a secular program but in the meantime was attending the AA meetings, and was pulled out of a meeting to be arrested for violating parole requirements that he was in fact complying with despite his objections? Huh? So simply requesting a different program that might actually be more useful to you, while going to the assigned program while waiting for an answer, is a parole violation?

  • Mick

    I don’t know Mr Barry A. Hazle Jr but every drug addict I do know is a thief – every one of them, no exceptions. They’ll pinch anything to get drug money.

  • storm

    Gotta love the legal system right?

  • storm

    I wonder what they would think if I turn over to the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

  • bmorejoe

    That would be a good reason not to do the program. OTOH, I went to OA for six months, was somewhat turned off by the G stuff, but lost 30 pounds pretty painlessly and inexpensively. I was in another weight loss program some years later that was secular but shared the support group aspect and lost 50 pounds there. Point is that there may be curative elements other than the G stuff and if you can use the pieces that work for you, why not? If none of it works bc the G stuff just sticks in your craw then you have to go a diff way. I wish there were more secular resources for sure. But I’m not into converting people to rationalism.

  • allein

    My only issue is that the legal system should not be requiring a religious program. If they were to have a list of programs including religious and secular and let the person decide which one to go to, that would be fine, because some would find the religious aspect helpful and if that’s they case it should be an option for them. And if the goal is actually to rehabilitate people so they can be productive members of society, giving them that little bit of control over their options might be useful in and of itself. Just saying ‘you can get out of jail but you have to go to this particular program whether you actually find it helpful or not’ isn’t likely to motivate people to work on their issues. At least if they can choose an option that they feel will work better for them they might be more willing to do more than just go through the motions.

  • mdoc


  • Nate Frein

    [citation needed]

  • mdoc

    I have known plenty of drug abusers who have money so there was no need to be a thief.

  • mdoc

    No one has mentioned yet that there is no good evidence that AA actually works.

  • smrnda

    Ever check the statistics on the success rates of 12 step programs? They are not very impressive.

  • smrnda

    Thanks for that pointer. AA and 12 step programs stick around because of anecdotal evidence which gets around which makes everybody *think* they work, but the evidence is that they don’t.

  • Ella Warnock

    What a lot of successful, longtime AA/12-Steppers don’t seem to realize is that they ARE the higher power. If you’ve been substance free for any length of time it’s because that’s what you’ve chosen, every day, to do.

  • pirate_froglet

    That you sneezed and lost your meatball?

  • pirate_froglet

    He didn’t. He was attending the meetings, he was pulled out of one when the parole officer got the request for a secular program. Which should be his right.

  • pirate_froglet

    He denounced gawd, isn’t that reason enough to be thrown in prison in the US?

  • stevenkickingbird

    Good point!

  • Rich Wilson

    I’ve known plenty of people who use alcohol, caffeine and marijuana who aren’t thieves. I’m not sure what drug Mr. Hazle possessed, but I don’t think it means he was a thief. The state seemed to think he was eligible for parole.

  • UWIR

    Also, “he deserves faith compensation after everything the state put him through” is a bit of a Freudian slip.

  • UWIR

    It bugs me the courts often refer people to AA, and sure, case law says they can request a secular alternative, but most people don’t know that, and a right that no one knows about is pretty much the same as a right that no one has. A person that knows about this right probably wouldn’t have standing, as long the request were granted, because they aren’t harmed by not being informed of the right (because they knew about it anyway), while someone who doesn’t know about is harmed, but won’t sue, since they don’t know to sue to begin with.

  • bloomingdedalus

    Because AA is a mind-control cult. They fit nearly every single point in Robert Lifton’s explanation of the characteristics of brainwashing organizations.

  • Nick

    I’m sure you’re a well educated statistician that has a study to back up his sources. /s

  • Michael W Busch

    The LA Times story on the case reports:

    “Staff at the state-required treatment center reported that Hazle was disruptive “in a congenial way.”

    Not sure what that means.

    But either way, the terms of his parole were unconstitutional in the first place. His being held to have violated them compounded the problem.

  • Mario Strada

    Over 30 years ago, I used heroin for a 4 to 5 years stretch. I was addicted to it and I would have been an addict by any definition of the word. I never stole even a candy bar. In fact, through that very dark stretch of my life, I had a job, often more than one, I paid rent, attended my local symphony and opera and generally lived like a regular young, middle class “normal”. Many of my addict friends also had similar lifestyles.

    To be sure, I met a lot of thieves, but your “no exception” bullshit is falsified by my own experience and that of several of my very good friends.
    Of those that stole, mostly they stole from their own families, but I have never met anyone that jacked car stereos or held up convenience stores. Not to say they don’t exist, but if I were as full of myself and as intransigent as you are I could easily proclaim that “no addict is a common thief”.

    But the fundamental thing is that I never stole. I never even cheated one of my addict friends out of their share of the dope.

    That said, I totally understand why addicts steal. Kicking opiates is probably the worse thing one can ever do. The pain and discomfort is worse than just about anything I have ever experienced.

    I am much more prone to justify someone that steals because they need their next fix, than someone that does it because they want someone else’s bling. Or worse, because they are millionaires and not quite multimillionaires.

  • Rich Wilson

    Maybe that’s code for “asking questions in church”.


    Crofoot’s own understanding, court papers show, was that Hazle “was not being loud; he wasn’t throwing things around; he wasn’t stomping around; he wasn’t being boisterous and that sort of thing. He was sort of passive aggressive.”

    Hm, this is interesting:

    Hazle had asked for a secular drug treatment program just before he was released from the California Rehabilitation Center in Norco in February 2007. He had spent a year at the center on drug possession charges that had earlier been overturned by an appeals court, according to court documents.

    (emphasis mine)

    Makes it sound like his original charges were overturned. But then why would he be sent back to prison if he supposedly violated parole?

  • Michael W Busch

    For some people, it can be useful. For others, it is not useful and can be harmful. There has not been any unequivocal evidence that having such a component in an addiction-recovery program has any consistent effect on efficacy. And, regardless of all of that, it is unconstitutional to require someone to participate in a religious program as a condition of their parole.

    And, incidentally: Evolution is not a higher power. It is an emergent property of a physical system following certain well-understood rules, and acts on the scale of populations rather than individuals. If calling it one helps you, good enough, but please do not confuse the label for the real thing.

  • Michael W Busch

    Your stereotyping, biases, othering, and probable bigotry are noted.

    They are also entirely irrelevant to this case. Hazle’s history does not matter to it. He was released on parole, subject to attending a recovery program. The specific conditions of his parole were unconstitutional, and he was wrongly imprisoned because of them. He is the victim in this case, although he was the perpetrator in another. And he is owed damages.

  • georgina

    Hard to believe there is anyone still living who remembers that song … or is it on the internet now?

  • georgina
  • indolering

    He might have gotten clean while locked up and went to them to make himself look better to the parole board.

  • indolering

    The prosecutors might have made a plea deal. They will screw you in the end to escape having “let someone off the hook” It probably would have cost him more time and/or money than parole and some sobriety classes so he said, “Fuck it, I want out of prison right now.” and took the “plea-deal.”

  • indolering

    It works ocassionally because any type of therapy will work. They all have about the same levels of efficacy, what people really need is stability.

  • Randay

    The U.S. also has 80% of homicides. I don’t know if that includes Muslim terrorist suicide and other bombings, or just your “ordinary” homicides. It begs the question of why the U.S., which is not in a civil war, has so many domestic murders.

  • Carolyn Pigford

    It has definitely worked for me. I have atheist friends in the room, and for them, its just about being altruistic in the works they do. No one forces you to go to church. I find it funny that neither AA or the people that criticize it want to be affiliated with any particular religion. AA is very clear that they cannot be affiliated with any religious sect, denomination or institution. Doing so would be exclusive and the whole point of AA is to be inclusive. I think this man and AA want the same thing. AA is free though and the courts know it.

  • Carolyn Pigford

    Define God. Helping another person? That is my definition. Oh, and the praying…it’s not all about you jackass-maybe it helps someone else.

  • Carolyn Pigford

    THAT is the only issue that matters (at least in my little brain) I have sat in on conference with fellow AA’ers that are concerned that courts are coercing people into AA-part of the AA tradition is pretty clear that is not how we operate. Is it a cult? Eh, maybe. Did it save my life? YES. Am I free to leave at will at any time? Yep.

  • Quintin van Zuijlen

    Helping another person is helping another person, not God.

  • 3lemenope

    Because resisting the system is a crime entirely independent of the alleged wrongdoing for which one is inducted into the system in the first place. For example, it is a separate crime to resist arrest, and even if the arrest was illegal or otherwise defective and even if you are found innocent of the crime for which you are arrested, if you resist, you are guilty of that separate charge of resisting.

    So, violating the parole on a sentence that turns out to be vacated is still a violation of parole, and punished accordingly.

  • Tom

    I can’t tell from your post – do you approve of this arrangement?

  • 3lemenope


  • Tom

    If it works just as well even if you use something completely made up, what does that imply about the deities that theists choose as their higher power? It seems you could scarcely ask for a better controlled experiment.

  • Tom

    Bear in mind we’re talking about a country that imprisons *substantially* more per capita than any other, including such bastions of personal rights as China and Russia. You probably don’t get like that with fair rules enforced by even-handed people.

  • Nate Frein

    Sorry, but you’re not getting it.

    I’m glad the program worked for you, I really am, but you’re a rare data point in a system that simply does not have the reliability to warrant forcing people to use the program as part of sentencing

  • Bill

    Is that a typo in the last sentence, “he deserves faith compensation,” or just a little word play?

  • Stev84

    See this site for some real horror stories:

    Decades long and life sentences for possession or for minor involvement in drug deals, thanks to mandatory minimum sentences. People punished severely for first time offenses, or under laws meant for drug kingpins, or because they owned a weapon (even if it wasn’t used during dealing), or because the career criminals they dealt with pleaded out, or because their current boyfriend was a drug dealer. Or because somehow crack cocaine multiplies sentences by about 10 compared to powder cocaine (and guess which drug is more popular with blacks).

    The American “justice” system is a joke.

  • Jeff Mo


    In your closing paragraph, you say he deserves “faith compensation.” Do you mean “fair compensation,” or am I missing a joke of some sort?

  • Hemant Mehta

    Typo. Fixed. Thanks!

  • Hemant Mehta

    Typo. Fixed. Thanks!

  • Jorge Isaac

    Es un tema muy interesante, Heman. ¿Cómo consigo tu libro en Colombia? It´s very interesting…Heman. How to have your book from #Colombia?

  • Jorge Isaac
  • Tak

    Haven’t read the comments yet but the first thing I noticed was that he was arrested while attending the program class. Sounds like he was compliant with the program but he was protesting his forced participation…so they arrested him for complying with ‘treatment’ he was ordered to undergo against his will?

  • Taneli Huuskonen

    The best legal system that money can buy.

  • Without Malice

    The only reason these programs work is because you get a bunch of folks together who are willing to help each other overcome the same problem. God’s got nothing to do with it, unless you want to make the case that they’re following the biblical principle of doing for others as you would have them do for you, which predates both Christianity and Judaism.

  • Hat Stealer

    So, theoretically, you could choose alcohol as your higher power, and you would be good, right?

    Part of me feels like developing a drinking problem just so I can point this out to them.

  • b33bl3br0x

    but it looks as though the sentence was vacated while incarcerated, albeit in a rehab center, prior to being released on parole. If the sentence was vacated while serving the sentence then there is no basis to establish parole. He should have just be released.

  • Freak

    >> and a right that no one knows about is pretty much the same as a right that no one has.

    Wasn’t that essentially the point behind Miranda v. Arizona?

  • Pattrsn

    God is just a simple human activity entirely lacking in consciousness will or intelligence? Amazing, thanks for clearing that up.

  • C.L. Honeycutt

    I don’t disagree in theory. The problem for me there is more that the program can’t help someone(insofar as it can help anyone…) who at base does not believe in it. If he has to fake part of each meeting and all of a couple of steps, it will affect his commitment and feelings of support and community. They’d be sabotaging him.

    Others said this, but it reads like he was attending… which means they decided to ‘teach him a lesson”.

  • Michael W Busch

    No, the US doesn’t have “80% of homicides”. The global homicide rate is estimated at 7.6/year/(100,000 people). The US-wide rate is 4.8/year/(100,000 people). 300/7000 * 4.8/7.6 = 2.7%. Ref. and its sources.

    Perhaps you meant to say that 80% of homicides in the US are readily avoidable? That’s a fairly reasonable argument, when you compare the homicide rate here with the homicide rate in the UK and Australia.

  • Amy Lestat

    Unfortunately there aren’t a lot of non-religious treatment programs or support groups out there that are accessible and affordable. There should be more treatment programs and less court involvement for people who need help with substance abuse.

    P.S. Alanon is just as bad as AA. I tried to go. They have a 12 step program that is exactly like the AA/NA 12 step program. You must surrender yourself to god. You have to believe in a higher power for the program to work. Everybody talks about how god helped them overcome a bad situation. The all hold hands and it seems like they are waiting for the Hale Bop comment!!! It’s a cult!

  • smrnda

    This reminds me of something a German friend told me. In the US, escaping from prison is itself a crime. In Germany, it is not, because they consider it a human right to want to be free, and if you escape, that’s kind of the negligence on the part of the prison.

  • smrnda

    Are they any better than the natural remission rate though? Some people will eventually quit drinking or doing drugs without any formal program. I’m having a hard time finding stats on that.

  • Rich Wilson

    Interesting. I understand that’s the law in Mexico too- however with a twist. If you do escape, then the warden is responsible for serving your time.

    I have a co-worker who’s husband escaped from a Mexican jail in the 70, and was to be featured on some National Geographic reality show about people who escaped from foreign jails. Not sure if the episode aired yet or not.

  • John the Drunkard

    There is no such thing as a ’12 step treatment center.’ The courts, parole, Oprah, and above all, the treatment industry notwithstanding.

    This statement is read at almost all meetings since 1947:
    “Alcoholics Anonymous is a fellowship of men and women
    who share their experience, strength and hope with each other that they may
    solve their common problem and help others to recover from alcoholism. The only
    requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking. There are no dues or
    fees for AA membership; we are self-supporting through our own contributions.
    AA is not allied with any sect, denomination, politics, organization or
    institution; does not wish to engage in any controversy, neither endorses nor
    opposes any causes. Our primary purpose is to stay sober and help other
    alcoholics to achieve sobriety.”

    You will note the absence of ‘god,’ and ‘steps.’ I have been a sober member since 1988 without any intrusion of either. Unfortunately, the influence of the religious right, the treatment industry and the catastrophic policy of AA groups signing ‘cards’ for those compelled to attend, has lead to a growing religious tendency in AA.

    Do look at for some resistance to this encroachment.

  • bmorejoe

    well sure – in an ideal world we would have tailored programs, in this world you use what’s available and work for more tomorrow. I used to work in a prison. The warden would use anybody who had the energy to do something for/with inmates – religion, scientology, Ram Dass etc. I’m sure if there was a humanist prisoners aid he would have welcomed that. But there was/is not (that I know of). I agree that coercion did not make sense and if there was punishment that would not make sense.

  • bmorejoe

    weight loss programs do not work for most people either – but they work for some people. Do you know of a program that has better success rates? fwiw I know several people including moi who have found 12 step useful. I’m all in favor of research and finding better tools. In the meantime why spit in the eye of something that works for a fair number of people? Seems petty and spiteful.

  • bmorejoe

    on your first graph, well sure and see comment above. On your second graph I think you missed my point – it does not matter what evolution or anything else is objectively, it is the internal psycho-emotional process of relief and release that is (imho) useful. And if it helps you to be snotty, good enough, but please do not confuse your perception of what I said with what I actually said. And fwiw, if Darwin can see something awesome in the long story of life evolving, I guess I can too…
    ” There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.”

  • bmorejoe

    Why? Is this a refereed journal? Check your personal experience, if it does not fit discard it. Fits my introspective observation and my observation of others.

  • bmorejoe

    These atheists seem a priggish, surly bunch. Not sure I want to hang out with them. ;-p

  • Michael W Busch

    That something has grandeur to or is awesome does not make it a higher power.

  • bmorejoe

    dang I thought it was a joke too.

  • Carolyn Pigford

    In all fairness, I did say jackass…but still. Ugh.

  • Carolyn Pigford

    Yes, as it is anonymous, it does tend to be difficult to track. I do agree that people should not be forced into attending. Instead what I see happen is that they are forced to attend rehab facilities which practice 12 step work. If there are rehabs out there that use other methods, I am sure that would be enforced as well, but the AA method is FREE. That’s the thing…to me, I don’t think it’s done because it’s amazing, or they (the courts) are forcing God down anyones throats…but because it is free.

  • Carolyn Pigford

    Thank you. I have posted my own experiences only to have them down voted by the ‘experts in addiction’ that must frequent this comment board. Go to any meeting in a large city and you will see that AA is all inclusive.

  • Nate Frein

    I’m impressed. Just about none of that comment was in any way germane.

  • Carolyn Pigford

    That’s how I feel at an AA meeting. Of course, so much of the ideas are Judeo-Christian based, but one on one I have NEVER EVER witnessed someone forced to believe in God. Just not rely on themselves and themselves only.

  • Carolyn Pigford

    I will bow my way out. I detest smug Christians, but I detest smug atheists even more. I have never really been on the atheist board on Reddit. Now I understand why. Oh hey, and Congratulations! Did not realize you had your PhD in Addiction counseling. Please, impress me some more!

  • Carolyn Pigford

    And you are qualified to tell me what God is? To me helping another person is part of being in touch with the universe as a whole. Calling it God humanizes it so our brains can comprehend such an abstract concept. And finding that source of reassurement, and comfort helped me so much in those early days of getting clean.

  • Nate Frein

    but I detest smug atheists even more.

    Whatever helps you feel superior!

  • Nate Frein

    I love smug woo throwers.

  • Carolyn Pigford

    You’re welcome! Wow, what a welcoming comment board this is.

  • Nate Frein

    Wow, what a welcoming comment board this is.

    Translation: “OMG I can believe that commenters on a skeptical website criticize unskeptical thinking”

  • Carolyn Pigford

    I would venture to say your response to me was pretty shitty-that’s where I came up with the whole ‘smug’ idea. You know, your responses have been about my only (limited) exposure to an atheist comment board…and you really have not represented yourself well. I posted only my experience, and expressed that I find it funny that AA’ers and atheist want the same thing-to be separate from exclusion based on beliefs. While your response didn’t lack humor or snark (I do love snark!) it did lack even a basic attempt to try to have an open mind about my comment.

  • Nate Frein

    I’m sorry, but you came on this thread to announce your experience, ignored everyone with experience to the counter, and especially ignored the fact that this whole conversation started because a man was forced into the program when he shouldn’t have been.

    Get the hell over yourself. You came in here with a smug self-superiority complex and you got pushback because of it.

    Grow up.

  • Carolyn Pigford

    ZOMG “Someone with an open mind is commenting!! Must prove them wrong!”

    Seriously…ready to go get that drink yet?? hehehehe…the TENSION. Egad the tension. I am too damn sensitive for this internet stuff.

  • Nate Frein

    Your say your mind is open? It must be so open stuff is falling out.

  • Carolyn Pigford

    You are zero fun.

  • Nate Frein

    Really? I’m having a blast!

  • Ella Warnock

    If you’re staying clean, ultimately you are relying on you. I know that many people couch that in terms of how much god or their higher power is helping them out, but we make the decision – every day – to keep it together. As an atheist, I know that’s all me, which is good; I don’t have to believe that I’m powerless. If I am powerless, then I don’t have to blame myself if I screw up, right?

    Now, you clearly are getting what you need out of AA, and I think that’s great. My experience was that AA/12-step hastened my deconversion, and I would have preferred a secular program if one had been available. I don’t think that’s an unreasonable request.

  • Quintin van Zuijlen

    “And you are qualified to tell me what God is?”
    For starters, I’m not telling you what God is, that would be a fictional being, but what God most definitely isn’t and indeed what helping another person isn’t. Perhaps some qualifications are required to really distinguish between what could count as “God” and what couldn’t, but certainly your example requires none. Moreover I must ask what makes you qualified to tell me what helping others is?
    “To me helping another person is part of being in touch with the universe as a whole.”
    To me it’s just part of being a socially active being.
    “Calling it God humanizes it so our brains can comprehend such an abstract concept.”
    I find it rather dehumanizing to turn something basic to human existence as we know it into something that is above it.
    “And finding that source of reassurement, and comfort helped me so much in those early days of getting clean.”
    Good for you, but you’re wrong. You haven’t found a source of reassurement and comfort in a higher power, you’ve found it in something basic, something foundational to human society. You admit it yourself, it’s not God that helped you get sober, it’s helping another person, now it’s up to you to recognize that.

  • Carolyn Pigford

    That is definitely not unreasonable. Until there is true mental health and addiction reform this will not change however. And a secular program that rehabs, jails and the courts etc will stand behind. As of now, I haven’t met anyone that is actually in any type of non “higher power” type of rehab-I don’t know if they exist or not. And, you better believe, at the last conference I was at, this has been a huge issue for AA-as a ‘member’ of AA, it greatly concerns me to be considered a religious org and to have people forced to attend meetings. That is not what AA is about (at least in my experience).

    I am not powerless over taking steps to not drink, but if I do drink, I sure as hell am powerless-cuz this girl gets crazy when you add alcohol. This is actually truly a debate I struggle with as well.

  • Ella Warnock

    The only one I know of is SMART:

    They encourage you to also utilize AA if it’s helpful for you. It’s all about finding your own path, which is probably what a lot of people end up doing anyway.

  • bmorejoe

    Okay dude I give up. You any relation to the Busch who is house speaker in MD?

  • atheisticallyyours

    I just read the ENTIRE 33 page appellate court decision, and I am now COMPLETELY IN LOVE WITH THAT JUDICIAL BODY! Besides being MILITANTLY anti-12 Step, this decision FURTHER CEMENTS the rights of non-believers to be COERCED INTO “12 Steppism” in ANY way, shape, or form! Mr. Hazle is gonna get awarded SIGNIFICANT DAMAGES as a result of this decision! This does NOT INCLUDE what he will get when he PERSONALLY SUES the “bad actors” who are PERSONALLY, INDIVIDUALLY LIABLE for the pathetic, pro-religion decisions they made that cost Mr. Hazle 100 days of his freedom!

  • atheisticallyyours

    WHO did the sentencing? YOU CAN SUE THE COERCING AUTHORITY IF ITS A JUDICIAL OR OTHER GOVERNMENT AUTHORITY! They are PERSONALLY LIABLE under federal law for violating your First Amendment rights!

  • indolering

    I’m not sure, it’s more a thing of right time/place, much like any religous group looking for converts.

    The studies on this in regards to formal psychotherapy was done in 80′s. Basically, it broke it down into what types of people actually benifited from therapy and then they altered therapy to suite what “stage” people were in:

    It has a lot in common with the norwegian prison model of normalization.

  • Pattrsn

    it’s not all about you jackass

    Can’t imagine why you don’t get a warmer response.

  • Goape

    In all fairness, what did you expect? You are on an atheist blog making assertions about what you think god is and then defending your eccentric opinions with sarcasm and name calling. Well, I think Helpinganotherperson would be very disappointed.

  • Goape

    Oh yeah, you know a lot of addicts? Here’s something interesting: every single person that I know named Mick is invariably a total asshole who wears diapers full of chunky peanut butter while watching disney movies and drawing woodland creatures on his own skin. Do you see how that might not hold true for all of the people named Mick that I don’t know? Also, why are you even saying this?

  • Goape

    What do you mean here: “I find it funny that neither AA or the people that criticize it want to be affiliated with any particular religion.”?

    Are you saying that atheists shouldn’t mind theistic therapy so long as it’s inclusive of all religions? This isn’t very open minded at all; this notion, if I understand you correctly (sorry if I don’t), is completely closed minded to the fact that atheists are (of course) not theists.

  • Warren McIntosh

    Addiction is not a game, and the effect it has on innocent lives and families is beyond anything anyone who has not experienced it can really imagine. People die of this disease, in huge numbers. These poor people’s lives are not pawns in your little theist/non-theist war, and I say that as a committed athiest. These people need help, desperatley, and 12 step programmes are a proven, vitally important resourse which changes the lives of thousands of addicts every day. I know, I’ve listened to them, listened to their unbearable pain, and seen the relief and support the programe gives them, allowing them (and me) to finally manage their diease in a way they simply could never do on their own, theists and non-theists alike. As an athiest, I have wrestled with the ‘higher power’ issue. It may be different in the US, but in the UK it is commonly accepted that the 12 step group and the programme itself can be the ‘higher power’, or you can make up any woowoo that suits. Many people use the power of nature or similar. It IS NOT a religious program, it is a spiritual program (the founding literatiure envisaged the higher power as the christian god, but we have moved on from that a very very long time ago), and in my long experience in this country I have never seen it used as a vehicle for religious conversion. But i will say this – even if it did result in a few people deciding to find God, that is a very very small price to pay for those people’s mental and physical health, and the positive effect on society, their families and firends. Lets be clear – your opposition to these programs is causing harm to people who need the help they offer. In the face of what these people are going through, your concerns with the percived religious nature of the program are petty, largely irrelevant, and I don’t doubt causing more harm than they ever will good.

  • Carolyn Pigford

    I know, you are right. I shouldn’t have said jackass. I was already frustrated by some stuff. I was wrong to say that.

  • Carolyn Pigford

    Really I was just trying to say that as a whole AA doesn’t agree on the idea of courts forcing addicts into AA, any more than people like the idea of being forced. Either for philosophical differences, beliefs etc. AA is very clear that they are not affiliated in any belief. I always thought there were different levels of atheism-some that have a belief that human experience is the true outside influence, some that do deny the existence of a supreme being. That really, it is just not that black and white. And, according to the intent of AA, every single one of those mindsets are welcome.

    Which is why it states a ‘God as we understand’ can be chosen. Really it just is trying to get the addict that is habitually selfish, to believe in something bigger than their own wants or desires.

    . Naturally, in different parts of the country (and world) there are all sorts of variations. It has unnerved me in the south that we say the Lords Prayer at the end of the meetings, with the caveat of a prayer of our choice to be said in silence. I don’t agree and feel that should not be a part of the meeting-but, to me, maybe there is another woman, like myself that IS finding comfort in that particular part of the prayer. So, I just deal with it.

    I think the main reasons 12 step programs are coerced into punishment is because it is FREE. Drug courts cost money and are getting cut out for budgetary restrictions, the only other structured ‘therapy’ I have heard of is Celebrate Recovery which is a Christian recovery group (also free)Which would be a clear violation. AA is being thrust into the court system but this action is not welcomed. A lot of counselors in the field of addiction HAVE found success in AA, so they recommend it on the road to recovery. But not force it.

    On a secondary note, I will say, when the desperation is great enough, addicts find great strength in AA and in the people that attend the meetings. Even if it isn’t found in a deity, love and support can be found in the meetings.

    If recovery groups exist without an deity involvement, I have not heard of one (except for one mentioned on this board) So maybe, there can be a solution. If you are in the field, start one. If you are an addict, belong to one. If it is working, people will come. Then, every belief system will be represented. There is a crushing loneliness that exists in addiction, and the support of like minded people would be awesome. Once word of mouth and experience gets spread, then the court systems can include that in the laundry list of ways to fix addiction. But it starts at ground level. Working with the addict her/himself. Get busy fixing a broken system.

  • Goape

    Wow, thanks for all of this. You are clearly passionate about this, which is understandable.

    For the record, I’ve attended several AA meetings to lend support to friends and family—so I’m not an expert. Now, for the sake of friendly discourse, I’ll try to unpack some things that I think warrant scrutiny or commentary.

    The crux of our discussion is revealed in your first paragraph. Perhaps to you it seems a small thing to ask an atheist to overlook the theistic tendencies of AA because, after all, AA is inclusive of all belief systems (meaning, in this case, belief in supernatural powers). However, acceptance of all types of faith is still quite excluding towards atheistic beliefs. I myself was quite uncomfortable with the level of supernatural-fixation at the meetings I attended and I was just a guest! If you can’t agree that there’s reason for atheists to want counseling that doesn’t require them to submit (commit?) to a deity or “power” that they don’t believe in then our dialogue may be at an impasse. AA’s stated intent may very well be welcoming, but as long as it’s practices are theistic it will be an uncomfortable source of counseling for atheists in need of help.

    As for differing levels of atheism, as someone who values words and respects their communicative power, I feel it is necessary to point out that an “atheist” is simply someone who disbelieves in god. There is very little grey area. Atheists all have different reasons for their respective lacks of belief, but they all just don’t believe. If you want to introduce some other appellation that isn’t so polarised then please feel free.

    Good for you for dealing with the forced prayer services, but as you pointed out (by saying that those prayers might help someone else), not everyone is the same. For some, a prayer might just be too tough a pill to swallow (no pun intended) during rehab. It seems callous to insist that because you were able, everyone else should be too.

    Yes, many people (thankfully) achieve success with AA—many others don’t. I think this point must be considered moot or we risk engaging in an infinite and meaningless anecdote battle.

    Lots of things are free. Going for a walk can be very therapeutic.

    I wholeheartedly agree that strength can be garnered from our fellow humans (even without us being driven to help from desperation). Obviously, like minded people will develop stronger bonds and an atheist being force fed ideas contrary to his/her beliefs will have a hard time opening up to devotees of an invisible (albeit “higher”) “power”.

    Finally (thankfully), we agree that there is a dearth of secular options for people who need help. However by implying that—because I have a problem with the structure of AA—I am somehow responsible for or capable of implementing the necessary changes, you run the risk of interjecting the “moral high ground” fallacy into our otherwise productive discourse. Being a glaciologist, I’m ill equipped to change the rehab industry from the ground up. I am however, fully within my rights to apply criticism.

  • Anat

    You are missing the point here. Barry Hazle needs help, but the program he was required to attend was not helping him because of the differences in belief between him and the program organizers. What do you have to offer to him?

  • Itarion

    Technically no, but yes.

  • Itarion

    You know, the whole “warden has to serve your term” seems like a good way to increase security and cut down on escapes.

  • James

    Define God.





    (in Christianity and other monotheistic religions) the creator and ruler of the universe and source of all moral authority; the supreme being.

    synonyms:the Lord, the Almighty, the Creator, the Maker, the Godhead; More


    (in certain other religions) a superhuman being or spirit worshiped as having power over nature or human fortunes; a deity.

    “a moon god”

    synonyms:deity, goddess, divine being, celestial being, divinity, immortal, avatar

    I see nothing in there about “Helping another person”.
    Just because your personal definition of god is different than every single other persons definition on the planet does not mean you get to ignore the other definition.

    Praying has been scientifically proven to actually be bad for you. When people pray for you while in his hospital you assume you are sicker than you are and your body has this amazing ability to fuck itself up pretty good.

  • James

    Christ, what is with all of the people in this thread claiming 12-step programs aren’t religious? Most of them (and by most, I mean virtually all) have steps specifically requiring the belief in a higher power and the willingness to allow god to improve your life.

    The original 12 steps from Alcoholic Anonymous:

    We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.

    Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

    Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

    Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

    Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

    Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

    Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.

    Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.

    Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

    Continued to take personal inventory, and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.

    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.

    Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

    Groups other than Alcoholics anonymous have made only minor changes, as you can see in Narcotics Anonymous’ 12 steps:

    We admitted that we were powerless over our addiction, that our lives had become unmanageable.

    We came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

    We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

    We made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

    We admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

    We were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

    We humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.

    We made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.

    We made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

    We continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.

    We 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.

    Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to addicts, and to practice these principles in all our affairs

    Just check out literature from these programs for more mentions of the need to be aware of god and his magical ability to heal you.

    This document from Narcotics Anonymous ( ) is about step 4, which doesn’t even directly mention god. You’ll note the repeated mentions of opening up to god, prayer, etc.

    This pamphlet from Sexaholics Anonymous ( ) talks about why you should stop lusting. It comes down to something like, “The spiritual sickness of lust wants sexual stimulation at that moment instead of what a Higher Power or God of our understanding is offering us.”

    I only clicked one random link from the literature pages on each of those organizations’ sites to find these mentions of god. I didn’t have to go looking for the most religious sounding crap they spout. It’s just that god is fundamentally a part of their programs.

    It’s ridiculous to require court-mandated programs that necessitate people believe shit like, “We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.” Some of us believe in taking responsibility for our lives and not blaming god for our problems. The last thing the courts should be doing is directing people to turn their lives over to god.

  • wmdkitty

    “Am I free to leave at will at any time? Yep.”

    Err… no. In my experience, if you try to leave, you WILL be told that you WILL relapse and you WILL die.

  • wmdkitty

    Pffft… liar.

  • wmdkitty

    The rate for natural remission is around 5%.

    Oddly enough, that is exactly the success rate of 12-step cults…

  • Adam

    Taken directly from the AA website material, pdf entitled “The Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous”:

    3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

    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.

    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.