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W.Va. recovery programs have secular options (January/February 2024)

After FFRF’s intervention, a West Virginia judge has modified the language used by his drug court to ensure it is clear that participants have secular options.

The state/church watchdog was contacted by someone required to attend Judge Jason Wharton’s Mid-Ohio Valley Adult Drug Court, who reported that the program mandated participation in Alcoholics Anonymous/Narcotics Anonymous. The complainant provided paperwork from the court listing the requirements for each phase of the treatment program, which clearly indicated that participation in Alcoholics Anonymous/Narcotics Anonymous was compulsory. The FFRF complainant requested an alternative secular recovery treatment (SMART Recovery) but this request was denied by Mid-Ohio Valley Regional Day Report Center Executive Director Hernando Escadon.

The central components of 12-step programs, such as Alcoholics Anonymous/Narcotics Anonymous, are religious in nature, FFRF pointed out. These programs require recognition of a higher power and require participants to turn their lives over to a personified, gendered “god.” While requiring a religious addiction recovery support program as one of multiple options is permissible, the Mid-Ohio Valley Adult Drug Court violated the First Amendment when it requires participation in solely religious programs, FFRF Attorney Chris Line wrote to Wharton.

FFRF’s insistence yielded the desired results.

“I have reviewed the documents that you submitted and directed the drug court probation officer to modify the documents to reflect ‘a program such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Smart Recovery or other program approved by the court,’” Wharton responded. “I was not aware of the specific language on the form you included, but I believe that the modified language will make it much more clear to the participants from the onset that they have other options besides Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous.