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Why do courts mandate 12 step programs when they are clearly based in religion?

I wouldn’t think it possible to order someone to participate in a program that is based in religious beliefs. How do courts get away with making someone follow a 12 step program?
I live in one of the largest cities in the US and there are no alternatives. Just mildly curious.
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.


  1. 12-Step programs are actually based on honest self-examination. It’s too easy to only see the G-word.
    Look at it this way. An NA or AA (or GA or CA or SLA…) meeting in Indonesia has an entirely different view. Or Japan. Or Lebanon.

  2. I don’t know if the court can mandate a specific program. There are others, such as Rational Recovery, and even with AA people can find sessions where the group is considered the higher power.

  3. Because they work and because the ‘religious aspects’ of the program (I assume you are referring to AA) are less important than the mutual support aspect. I’m not in AA but I have family members who are and as a result I have met many AA people over the years. They come from a variety of religious backgrounds and include atheists. The atheists I’ve met in the program didn’t have a problem with the religious aspects. It’s only people outside the program who seem to have a problem with it.

  4. The California Supreme Court agrees with you (and me). It recognizes AA as religious based and allows people ordered into treatment to choose programs like Rational Recovery.
    Further, 12 step based “AA” types of programs are no more effective that people who quit on their own without the 12 steps.
    I will provide links for support.

  5. They are also the only thing statistically proven to significantly improve chances of recovery.
    They are also anonymous, so proving one has been to a meeting and getting witnesses is almost impossible
    AA was originally partially based on a group called The Washingtonian group.
    They are spiritual, 12 step programs are spiritual, however 12 step programs are not affiliated with any other groups or institutions.
    And if someone has reached a point where substance abuse has brought him/her to court to face charges, perhaps (s)he should look into a new approach. The word God is meant in a generic term as in Higher Power/deity-you could become a Norse Heathen, or a Taoist if it works or you may just respect electricity as powerful-Doesn’t matter.
    The idea is to believe in something more powerful than yourself.
    I know many who see the sun as their higher power,
    and one man who’s higher power was the radiator in his home,
    because it kept him consistently warm in winter, when he had not been
    able to accomplish that while he was still”out there”.

  6. This follows the traditional 12 step program long-held as a positive program in reconstructing the life of the alcoholic (AA). In the last twenty years or so this program extended it’s usage to include those addicted to illegal drugs. It is by far, the only program tried and tested that conclusively “works”.
    My daughter wanted to be housed in a rehab facility that had no religious affiliation but, there was none to be found.
    I imagine sometime in the future if not already tested , there may be concise programs for those who choose not to be associated with this kind of platform. 😀


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