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Court Rejects Compulsory A.A. Attendance

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The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals recently ruled in favor of a Buddhist drug offender who sued the state of Hawaii after he was penalized for not attending an addiction treatment program based on the principles of Alcoholics Anonymous, the Eugene Register-Guard reported Nov. 25.

Paroled offender Ricky Inouye was sent back to prison after dropping out of the treatment program, but successfully sued the state, saying his Constitutional rights were violated because the A.A. program was religious in nature.

In Oregon, cardiologist Patrick Bergin has filed a similar lawsuit against the state Board of Medical Examiners for forcing him to attend an A.A.-based treatment program. Lower courts ruled against him, but Bergin has appealed to the 9th Circuit, saying his First Amendment rights have been violated.

Bergin alleges that the defendants in the case, including the Board, the medical director of the Oregon Health Professionals Program, and a psychiatrist who evaluated Bergin's addiction problems, engaged in an “ongoing campaign of harassment intended to cause emotional and financial hardship.” Bergin is seeking $12 million in compensatory and punitive damages.

“No one was trying to tell him what to believe,” said Kathleen Haley, executive director of the Board of Medical Examiners. “We were trying to find out if he was impaired and able to practice medicine safely.”

In the Inouye case, the court ruled that the plaintiff had been coerced into a 12-step program because other options were not offered.

“In this case, it is essentially uncontested that requiring a parolee to attend religion-based treatment programs violates the First Amendment,” the 9th Circuit ruled. “For the government to coerce someone to participate in religious activities strikes at the core of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment,” namely, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting free exercise thereof.” 

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