Cases holding that mandating individual to Alcoholics Anonymous/Narcotics Anonymous (AA/NA) is a violation of the First Amendment

Sundquist v. State

Sundquist v. State, 122 F. Supp. 3d 876 (D. Nebraska 2015)

Sundquist may have agreed to participate in A.A. as a term of his probationary license. But that choice — to participate in A.A. or lose his livelihood — may have been the result of state-sponsored coercion rather than a voluntary choice. See Jackson, 747 F.3d  at 541.  At this stage of litigation, it is too early to say that by agreeing, Sundquist has forfeited his claim. In sum, the Court finds that Sundquist has alleged a plausible claim under the Establishment Clause, and that defendants Vierk and Schuldt are not entitled to qualified immunity, because the rights sought to be vindicated implicate firmly grounded Constitutional principles.

Jackson v. Nixon

Jackson v.  Nixon, 747 F. 3d 537. (8th Cir. 2014)

Concluding that based on the allegations in the complaint, Randall Jackson has pled facts sufficient to state a claim that a parole stipulation requiring him to attend and complete a substance abuse program with religious content in order to be eligible for early parole violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

Hazel v. Crofoot

Hazle v. Crofoot, 727 F.3d 983 (9th Cir. 2013)

Noting with approval the granting of  summary judgment for plaintiff on his claim that forcing him into a 12 step religious based treatment program, when he was an atheist, was a violation of the First Amendment and granting a new trial on Plaintiffs’ request for compensatory damages. Instead of a retrial, the matter was reportedly settled with the state paying $1M and the treatment agency $925K.

Norton v. Kootenai County

Norton v. Kootenai County, CV09-58-N-EJL (D. Idaho 9-11-2009)

Where claimant originally asked to go to facility that used AA, and never notified his probation officer of his religious objection to going to AA meetings, no First Amendment violation.

Thorne v. Hale

Thorne v. Hale, No. 1:08cv601 (JCC), 2009 WL 980136 (E.D. Va. 2009)

Holding that a valid § 1983 civil rights claim was presented in the complaint, where the complaint stated that Hale and Killian were to some extent responsible for implementing the treatment regimen which included mandatory participation in AA/NA); Compl. at 15, Thorne v. Hale, No. 1:08cv601 (JCC), 2009 WL 980136 (E.D. Va. Mar. 26, 2009) (claiming that Killian “was responsible for all recommendations to Drug Court for treatment and clinical matters,” including “substance abuse issues.”); id. at 76 (claiming that Thorne was “subjected to the State religions of AA and NA by . . . [the] directors” of the Drug Court and the RACSB); id. at 89 (alleging due process deprivations by the “Directors” of the RACSB and the Drug Court). Members of the drug court ultimately prevailed in the Thorne v. Hale litigation, when the trial court granted summary judgment on the basis of absolute judicial immunity and dismissed the case. Id. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the granting of the summary judgment motion.

Thorne v. Hale is noteworthy, even in light of the dismissal, because the initial dismissal motion was denied and because, when coupled with Hanas v. Inner City Christian Outreach, the authority makes it patently clear that First Amendment violations can have consequences for drug court staff. Id. Hanas, 542 F. Supp. 2d at 683.

Hansas v, Inner City Christian Outreach

Hanas v. Inner City Christian Outreach, 542 F. Supp. 2d 683, 683 (E.D. Mich. 2008)

Holding that the drug court program manager and the drug court consultant were liable for actions related to referral to faith based program, when they knew of participant’s objections while in the program, and when the program denied the participant the opportunity to practice his chosen faith – Catholicism).

Americans United v. Prison Fellowship

Americans United v. Prison Fellowship, 509 F.3d 406, 406 (8th Cir. 2007)

Holding that a state supported non-coercive, non-rewarding faith based program violated the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution because an alternative was not available.

Inouye v. Kemna

Inouye v. Kemna, 504 F.3d 705, 705 (9th Cir. 2007)

Concluding that parole officer had lost qualified immunity because he forced AA on Buddhist.


In re Garcia, 24 P.3d 1091, 1091 (Wash. Ct. App. 2001)

Given the non-religious classes available to Garcia, we conclude that DOC did not coerce him into participating in a religious program.

Bausch v. Sumiec

Bausch v. Sumiec, 139 F. Supp. 2d 1029, 1029 (E.D. Wis. 2001)

An offender cannot be said to have freely chosen a religiously-oriented treatment program as an alternative to revocation unless a meaningful secular alternative is also offered.

Alecander v. Schenk

Alexander v. Schenk, 118 F. Supp. 2d 298, 300 n.1 (N.D. NY 2000)

The sincerity of Plaintiff’s professed religious beliefs has no bearing on the Constitutional issue of whether Defendants coerced him into participating in religion or its exercise.

Yates v. Cunningham

Yates v. Cunningham, 70 F. Supp. 2d 47, 49 (D.N.H. 1999)

Injunctive relief was moot  remedy and damages barred by immunity, when defendant sought  order barring defendants from conditioning early release or parole on a prisoner’s attendance at AA-based programs, and forcing defendants to recognize Rational Recovery as a viable alternative to AA-based programs.

Arnold v. Tennessee

Arnold v. Tenn. Bd. of Trs., 956 S.W. 2d 478, 484 (Tenn. 1997)

Mandating a religious based 12 step program without a secular alternative violates the Establishment Clause.

Warner v. Orange County Dep't of Probation

Warner v. Orange County Dep’t of Prob., 115 F.3d 1068, 1068 (2d Cir. 1997), aff’d, 173 F.3d 120 (2d Cir. 1999), cert. denied, 528 U.S. 1003 (1999)

Holding that the county governmental agency violated the Establishment Clause by requiring DUI probationer to participate in A.A.

Warburton v. Underwood

Warburton v. Underwood, 2 F. Supp. 2d 306, 316-318 (W.D.N.Y 1998)

The emphasis placed on God, spirituality and faith in a “higher power” by twelve-step programs such as A.A. or N.A. clearly supports a determination that the underlying basis of these programs is religious and that participation in such programs constitutes a religious exercise. It is an inescapable conclusion that coerced attendance at such programs therefore violates the Establishment Clause.

Griffin v. Coughlin

Griffin v. Coughlin, 673 N.E.2d 98, 98 (N.Y. 1996), cert. denied, 519 U.S. 1054 (1997)

Holding that conditioning desirable privilege – family visitation – on prisoner’s participation in program that incorporated Alcoholics Anonymous doctrine was unconstitutional because it violated the Establishment Clause.

Kerr v. Farrey

Kerr v. Farrey, 95 F.3d 472, 479-80 (7th Cir. 1996)

Holding that the prison violated the Establishment Clause by requiring attendance at Narcotics Anonymous meetings which used “God” in its treatment approach.