Last week, I posted about how Taylor Bast, who was arrested on drug charges, was told by his parole officer that he had to take part in a substance abuse program or he could end up in jail. Unfortunately, all three programs offered to him by the state of California were religious, while Bast is a non-theistic Buddhist. He argued that the state was coercing him to participate in a faith-based program or else he would be punished.
The American Humanist Association’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center sent a letter to state officials demanding that secular treatment options be made available for everyone, including Bast:
“There is no need for the state of California to only offer religious treatment programs when secular alternatives are available. Numerous secular programs, such as SMART Recovery, use science and sound research, not faith, to effectively treat substance abuse issues,” said Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association. “Instead of treating substance abuse, the state of California is pushing a religious agenda that disregards the needs of nonreligious and nontheistic individuals.”
“The state is unconstitutionally coercing an individual to attend a religious program, as well as endorsing religion and discriminating against nontheists,” said Monica Miller, senior counsel at the Appignani Humanist Legal Center. “By failing to provide a secular alternative to these religious programs, the state of California is violating the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.”
This wasn’t a request for special treatment. Bast just wanted to enroll in a treatment program that didn’t replace one addiction with another, and programs like Alcoholics Anonymous are notorious for telling clients they must give themselves to God to have any hope of recovery.
I’m happy to say the state has finally agreed to allow Bast to participate in a secular recovery program. Specifically, he can go to the “non-faith-based Day Reporting Center” or attend a program through SMART Recovery.
The American Humanist Association is pleased with the outcome:
“We are satisfied that the California Department of Corrections is complying with the Establishment Clause and our client’s fundamental right to be free from religious coercion by the government,” said Monica Miller, senior counsel at the Appignani Humanist Legal Center. “In the future, we expect the Department to make secular alternatives known and available to all parolees.”
“Failing to provide secular substance programs to parolees is a serious injustice against nonreligious and nontheistic individuals,” said Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association. “The state of California should prioritize individuals’ need for effective treatment above pushing a religious agenda.”
It’s the right move by the state. It’s only disappointing that a Humanist group had to step in to make it happen.
(Image via Shutterstock. Large portions of this article were published earlier)