The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled in favor of an atheist man from Missouri who was denied parole on a drug charge because he refused to submit to a religious rehab program and the state refused to send him to a secular one. The denial of his original grievance and his loss at the district court level are rather alarming, but it’s a good thing that the appeals court reversed them.
Randall Jackson was sent to Western Reception, Diagnostic, and Correctional Center (WRDCC), a rehab program that required the saying of the famous serenity prayer and other religious elements. When Jackson complained about that, WRDCC told him to just pretend that it all meant something else. When he filed a grievance with the Missouri Department of Corrections and requested to be sent to a secular rehab program, he was denied. He appealed that denial and was again rejected and forced to stay in the program. He finally left the program and was then denied parole for failing to complete it.
Which is promising, however:
This is not a complete victory. The appeals court remanded it back to the district court to actually hold a trial in the case and issue a ruling. And with the district court being the same one that dismissed the case “with prejudice” in the first place, I’m skeptical that he can get a fair outcome. But then it would likely be appealed again to the much more reasonable appeals court. What needs to happen ultimately is that referrals to religious rehab programs as a condition of anything needs to be outlawed. It’s almost inconceivable how that could not be a violation of the First Amendment. You can read the full ruling here.
This is an issue that I think mainly gets swept under the constitutional rug due to a lack of complainants with standing. (I could very well be wrong, I admit not having looked into the amount of cases challenging similar laws. Feel free to correct me.) Personally, when confronted with the option of traditional 12 step treatment programs, either in place of incarceration or as a condition of parole, I was never willing to risk further incarceration by challenging the religious nature of the programs. I shut up and dealt with the programs I am sure a healthy percentage of people facing the same choice make the same decision. It is a shame, because not only do the 12 step based programs have extremely poor success rates, in my opinion they are completely useless for anyone coming to them with an atheistic mindset. There are other treatment programs. Not every rehab is based on the religious 12 steps. If we want to get serious about treating addiction in the United States, we need to see what treatment programs the evidence supports, and start referring people to them, instead of sweeping the whole problem under a 12 step rug.