Twelve Steppers
Get Clerical Privilege
Paul Murray

Graphic Rule

From: "Positive Atheism" <>
To: "Paul Murray"
Subject: Re: Alcoholics Anonymous Gets Clerical Privilege
Date: August 06, 2001 4:48 PM

In an early column called "Eugene DA Genuflects" (June, 1996), I point out that doctors and lawyers are licensed by the state. I did not know about husband-wife relationships, but in a way, they're licensed by the state as well (though not to the same degree of responsibility that doctors and lawyers are).

However, my understanding of the separation of religion from government protects religion from being something that the state can license.

Nevertheless, I have since moderated my views in that one of the most sacred elements of the Roman Catholic faith is the confidentiality of the Roman Catholic rite of confession: even if a priest hears a murder confession and an innocent person is slated to be put to death, the priest cannot violate that confidentiality -- even if it means that an innocent person will die for the crime. Now, I abhor such a religious tenet to the point where I'd probably be willing to fry in Hell even if I knew that such an ogre-god existed who would require this of His servant-priests. I certainly would not pay such a god the homage said to be required of me if I wanted to escape His wrath!

But, we would have a tough time going up against such a strong religious view as one that would force a priest to watch an innocent man die, knowing that he had the key to saving the innocent man's life. Though I could make a case that anybody who would let their religion get in the way of an innocent man's life deserves whatever punishment the state metes out for similar crimes in other circumstances, I still must ask, What would be our prospects for peace if we took on the Roman Catholic Church on this issue?

This is a tough one, because since we're unwilling to take on the Roman Catholics in this respect, we must respect the Steppers in the same respect, seeing as how the Fifth Step is, to some Steppers, as sacred as the Rite of Confession is to most Roman Catholics. We cannot allow it for one and deny it for the other -- notwithstanding the fact that no small chunk of the Fifth Steps end up being freely discussed amongst irresponsible Twelve Step Sponsors, and notwithstanding the fact that the Program is so big on anonymity that the state would have a tough time disputing or disproving anybody's claim to being a Stepper.

Our situation is this: we really have no solid case against clerical privilege unless we're willing to take on Rome and all her followers. Furthermore, if we're going to do it for Rome we cannot exclude the Steppers. Hence, we do well to go ahead and grab as much, positively, as we can from this situation.

What we can gain from this is a solid precedent for the Program being a bona fide religion -- a precedent which you can be sure most of the members of the Program have welcomed. Not only that, it's a sure bet that virtually all Steppers have heard about this story. In other words, the vast majority of Steppers have now become willing to see the Program as a religion -- at least in this one legal sense.

And very few Steppers that I've known are long-sighted enough to see how this decision will impact their relationship with the State wherein the latter has become the Program's illicit recruiting arm. Most Steppers will welcome this decision uncritically, without putting two and two together. Many Steppers are almost greedy when it comes to availing for the Program any opportunity that will enhance the strength of the Twelve Step message, willing to overlook even the state-church infringements resulting from court-mandated meeting attendance if it means that a single person might find out about the Program through this infringement.

Few of them will see that this decision signals the end of that state-church collusion in that if they want to be a religion and enjoy ministerial privilege, they will have to be a religion and accept the responsibility that comes with this privilege: they cannot rightly avail themselves of court-enforced coercion of people to join their Program.

But that's what this decision means: Now that it's out (and agreed) that they get ministerial privilege, it becomes that much easier to successfully oppose court-ordered meeting attendance.

During the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings, we all learned about sexual harassment in the workplace. Now it has become very difficult for men (and a few women) to get away with this behavior. For over ten years, I've been waiting the equivalent of this to strike the Twelve Step movement, and I think this might be that strike. I cannot think of a more vivid way to display to the world the fact that the Twelve Step program is a religion, and that Steppers are lying when they insist that they are not a religion. Here we have a person who was able to get off on a murder rap because the only evidence was illegally obtained from the Twelve Step Sponsor who, because the Program is a religion, had clerical privilege.

Cliff Walker
"Positive Atheism" Magazine
Six years of service to
     people with no reason to believe

Graphic Rule

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