Marvin Sundquist, 43, of Fremont, Nebraska has filed suit against the state claiming that his Constitutional rights were violated when he was ordered to attend AA meetings once a week — as a condition of obtaining a license to work as a massage therapist. His suit is based on the religious underpinnings of the AA program, in effect forcing him to take part in religious rites in order to ply his trade.
The 12 step program is overtly religious in nature. Half of the 12 steps include reference to God:
1. We admitted we were powerless over 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 alcoholics and to practice these principles in all our affairs.
Sundquist says that he offered to see an alcohol counselor who does not employ a religiously based treatment program, but the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services refused to allow that option, insisting that he had to attend AA meetings.
“AA is a religious organization,” Sundquist contends, “I do not believe the state should be telling anybody to go to them, and it cost me a career as a massage therapist because I didn’t go.”
The health department did eventually issue Sundquist a license rejecting the objections of the Attorney General and saying that he had proved, through random testing that he was maintaining sobriety even though he had refused to attend the AA meetings, but Sundquist said that it was too late, the damage had already been done, he had already lost his job and been evicted from his home.
There is precedent for Sundquist’s suit, in which he is representing himself and seeking $200,000 in damages, in 2007, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, based in San Francisco, found that a parole officer can be sued for damages for ordering a parolee to go through AA.
h/t: Journal Star