At a public hearing for the BC Legislature's Standing Committee on Health today, the BC Humanist Association called for an end to the government's tacit endorsement of religious based addictions recovery programs.
Many of the treatment centres in the province still rely on the 12-step recovery model of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). And some addictions specialists include attendance at AA meetings as part of their treatment plan. AA is based on a religious view that treats addictions as a sin in need of moral salvation by God or a higher power.
Courts in the USA have repeatedly found that AA is religious and mandating attendance at AA to be an infringement of the establishment clause.
Ian Bushfield, Executive Director, BC Humanist Association told the committee:
Of course it is entirely within the right of organizations to form and operate religious based treatment recovery programs and for individuals to seek those out as part of their recovery. However, it is not the government’s role to endorse sectarian treatment programs.
This is why today we are recommending that the government seek to ensure that provincial treatment guidelines for substance use issues are secular, based on the best available evidence and culturally sensitive. This means ending the government’s endorsement of AA, ensuring secular alternatives are available and that healthcare professionals are aware of them, and upholding each individual’s autonomy and religious freedoms.
The committee also heard from Byron Wood, an atheist whose refusal to take part in AA saw him lose his job with Vancouver Coastal Health.
In a statement to the committee, Centre for Inquiry Canada's Science Chair Blythe Nilson said:
The religious component of the 12-step Alcoholics Anonymous program is a barrier to non-believers struggling with addiction. It’s also an unethical requirement for those required to attend AA by court order or workplace requirement. Such a religious test would not be applied in any other kind of program designed to help people in Canada and it should not be applied here.
The Okanagan branch of the Centre for Inquiry has been successfully offering a program called Secular Sobriety Group that uses the SMART program for over 2 years. We ask that BC consider using only those programs that do not require religious or spiritual acceptance and have no religious content.
Read the BC Humanist Association's full written submission to the committee.
You can read the draft transcript here.