The FFRF Action Fund applauds the introduction of a Michigan bill ensuring that anyone ordered to attend recovery support programs will be provided secular options.
HB 4690, sponsored by state Rep. Betsy Coffia, requires Michigan judges who order defendants to attend substance-use disorder meetings to “inquire, on the record, if the defendant has an objection to a religious element of that treatment program,” in which case the court must offer a nonreligious option. Too often, individuals in the court system are denied access to secular recovery options that are consistent with their values and personal beliefs. Instead, these individuals find themselves ordered to attend a traditional 12-step program that includes religious content — for instance, more than half of the original Alcoholics Anonymous steps include some reference to God.
“This bill’s key benefit is that it provides multiple paths to recovery,” comments Senior Policy Counsel Ryan Jayne. “If someone in the criminal justice system is willing to attend a substance-use disorder treatment program, the state should do everything possible to make sure that program is a good fit.”
Providing secular options also avoids potential lawsuits, since courts have consistently held that it is unconstitutional for courts to force defendants to attend religious programs, with the alternative being incarceration. Currently, though, the onus is on defendants to assert this right themselves, and the power dynamic between a judge and a defendant can be too intimidating to raise such an objection even if a defendant is well
versed in basic constitutional rights. Coffia’s bill simplifies this process by requiring judges to ask defendants whether they object.
Finally, this bill stipulates that judges offer online attendance at treatment programs if no local option is available. In post-pandemic America, online treatment programs are commonplace, and such options allow attendees to find the program that is best suited for them.
FFRF Action Fund is a 501(c)(4) organization that develops and advocates for legislation, regulations and government programs to preserve the constitutional principle of separation between state and church. It also advocates for the rights and views of nonbelievers, endorses candidates for political office, and publicizes the views of elected officials concerning religious liberty issues.