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Supreme Court Ruling Makes Room for SOS in Prisons

A recent Supreme Court ruling is expected to increase incentives for prison officials across the country to seek alternatives to conventional, faith-based "12-step" sobriety programs like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). This should encourage more jurisdictions to offer alternatives such as the Council for Secular Humanism's SOS (Save Our Selves or Secular Organizations for Sobriety) program to inmates.

The high court found for self-declared atheist David Griffin, an inmate at New York's Shawangunk Correctional Facility, when it upheld a New York ruling that bars requirements that inmates attend AA programs to obtain special privileges. Such 12-step programs explicitly demand participants to believe in and commit to a "higher power". Without comment the high court rejected state prison officials' argument that the program is not an unlawful government endorsement of religion.

Prison officials nationwide are beginning to recognize the need to offer alternatives to AA, says SOS Director James Christopher. This spring, SOS received large orders for SOS books, tapes and other materials from the Texas prison system, which is making SOS self-help available alongside AA in many of its facilities.

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This page was last updated 12/04/2003

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