Tonya Harding would be proud:

Norma Jaeger Fools Nobody
a discussion of a recent CRT guest
compiled by Cliff Walker

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On Tuesday, March 11th, Norma Jaeger, the woman who calls the shots for Multnomah County's involvement in addiction care, spoke to members of the Center for Rational Thought and made utterances in response to our questions. Here is some of the written discussion which ensued from Ms. Jaeger's performance.


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Jerry Billings writes:

Norma Jaeger seemed to be well prepared and knowledgeable about her subject, Multnomah County's involvement in substance abuse programs. The listener was frustrated by her apparent unwillingness to speak frankly with us. When it came to cooperating with the concept of state-and-church separation in, she obviously favored AA's 12-step program with its attendant mumbo jumbo to a secular program of abstinence.

Now, except for this single reference, I promise you that I will never write the word "psycho-bio-social" for the rest of my life. Our speaker used this term in an attempt to impart some knowledge to us, but just exactly what that knowledge is escapes me. I see the term as just another example of politically-correct babble. We can agree that some substance abusers are psychologically impaired. Others may have a biological defect. Still more are obviously socially deficient. We already knew this and have not been helped in our quest for answers to just what it is that the County is doing. The speaker mentioned that there is a present study to determine what the cause of substance abuse might be and that "they" tended to believe that it was going to be biological. I could not help but be amazed that a so-called scientific study was being made by people who did not have open minds but were going into the study with a ready opinion as to the probable outcome. This doesn't tell us anything about solving the problem.

I had the definite impression that our speaker was not the most honest speaker ever to address us. When asked, several times, about what she thought of the county's involvement with religious causes she waffled and fell back upon "counsel's advice." The question was about how she felt, not about how a lawyer believed nine years ago. It was obvious that she saw no problem with treating physical problems with spirituality. If substance abuse is primarily a biological problem -- as she believed -- and if spiritual treatment is really effective, then it follows that all we need are a couple of really good faith healers. The same is true if the problem is either psychological or social. We know that the treatment of mental illness by prayer has no reputable following, nor does relying on any "higher power" to handle social problems show any future for the human race.

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Cliff Walker writes:

I still don't know what to think -- my mind is just spinning right now.

Norma Jaeger, Operations Manager of the Department of Community and Family Services, spoke to the Atheists, specifically asked to address the question: "What addiction care options are available for Atheists?" Two people asked her if there are any, and twice she began her answer with the pronouncement, "Absolutely!" Then she proceeded to talk about "diversity" but never once named an agency which could benefit an Atheist. Addiction treatment is a branch of medicine that has been given over to faith healing, which every Atheist rejects.

After this, someone asked Ms. Jaeger about the State and Church issues with county money funding religious instruction. This answer was gobbledegook to us (I could see it on the other CRT members' faces), so someone else asked the same question. So Lanny Swerdlow ended the show by asking the same question a third time. She finally admitted that nine years ago, the County asked its lawyers if this is a problem, and the lawyers said, in effect, "No. AA is not a specific denomination, so therefore it is not religious."

End of discussion.

Who does she think we are?

In short, Norma Jaeger lied through her teeth for an hour. The Atheists exchanged bewildered glances, rolling their eyes and shaking their heads.

She described addiction as "a psycho-bio-social problem" and proceeded to frame her vision of County policy around that viewpoint. I asked, "Since the County sees addiction as a 'psycho-bio-social problem,' where is there room for the approaches that see addiction as a behavior -- seeing that getting loaded is, in fact, a behavior?"

She answered that her approach "also addresses behavioral issues."

What? Approaches which see drug use as a "bio-psycho-social problem," addressing behavior as a sideline, are a far cry from approaches which see drug use as a behavior.

I finally said, "I'm trying to be polite, here, but I need to address the results of my research: Of the four agencies mentioned by Supervisor Stein as receiving direct County funding, only one will allow a Rational Recovery coordinator to speak to the staff and (possibly) to the clients. The rest refuse, claiming to be 'Twelve Step programs.' I proceeded to name the agencies and to name their respective directors and to quote their words. I summarized by asking her why -- since the County sees addiciton as 'a psycho-bio-social problem' -- why, then, when I get inside of the treatment center as a patient, why is the spiritual angle so heavily emphasized? Of course, addiction treatment representatives are silent about spiritual emphases when describing their programs to the public. But what happens behind closed doors is a different story."

In all, the meeting with Norma Jaeger was very productive. I think it is good for the public to watch its servants lie through their teeth. Many of the Atheists were very agitated, and the social time afterwards was tense and very fragmented.

I highly recommend seeking these people out on a local level and publicly confronting them.

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RR founder Jack Trimpey responds to Cliff Walker:

Trimpey responds: Yaa, but you suspected as much all along, you old devil. My head spins too, when I think about the big picture, with thousands of Norma Jaegers in place lying through their teeth all over the nation. Is she a Twelve Stepper? If so, she should be outed. Outing is a powerful trump card we have been holding, and no one else would have the balls to play. Is she licensed? Who is her boss?

Be careful not to mix atheism with RR. Just a reminder.

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Larry responds to Cliff Walker

Dear Cliff,

The beauty of theistic systems is that they can be used as a cover for whatever current doctrine those with the upper hand in society wish to foster -- "Why, it's not our rules, it's God's." However, if "your kind of people" ever get the upper hand, you folks will have to use similar techniques to stay on top -- that is, to shift the responsibility for your policies onto some straw man or potential scapegoat until things work out well, then take full credit. It has nothing to do with whether one is theistic or atheistic, it's just how power is maintained. So don't be too angry; Machiavelli was just honest.

Managing addiction will always entail a certain amount of behind-the-scenes "arranging." RR, SMART, and others will get greater support when their leaders show how these methods will not be a threat to those having the advantage in our society.

There is a need for methods tailored to the rapidly increasing sector of society that is skeptical of arguments based on theistic generalizations. So be patient; time is on the side of those humanistically oriented, although humanists often make the mistake of taking pride in not submitting to organizational constraints. This tends to undermine the power they could wield if they would organize coherently.

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Author Vince Fox responds to Cliff Walker

I sense your anger -- entirely appropriate -- and your frustration. But, good news on the legal issues of court and other mandated assignments to AA/NA. First, there is but one Supreme Court which handles only about 100 cases each year. The real power lies in the Federal Appellate Courts, of which there are 11 (plus one in DC). After a victim has challenged AA/NA assignment in lower courts (called "inferior" courts in the law), he or she can move up to the Appellate level -- a half-step below the Supreme Court. And this has been done successfully.

The Kerr case out of Wisconsin was heard by the 7th Appellate in Chicago in late '96. I functioned as advisor to James W. Kerr for over a year on that. The court was sharp and clear on that issue, not at all equivocal. It declared AA/NA a religious activity and ruled accordingly. Its jurisdiction covers most of Wisconsin, Illinois, and Indiana. The Warren case in NY produced the same result -- again in sharp clear language. It too has jurisdiction, based on population concentration, in the State of New York. Future challenges to AA/NA mandate will thus be made much easier, since two major precedents have been set.

You may have seen my computer study of religious terminology used in AA's book covered on pages 51-56 of my book, Addiction, Change, and Choice.

A last thought. The fact of being an atheist, agnostic, Buddhist, and so on is actually irrelevant to a challenger. The issue is the establishment clause of the First Amendment concerning the rights of citizens under the Constitution concerning forced religious activity. And oh yes, a book is underway now on this issue. Kerr, his attorney Walter Stern and I will author it. Tom Hovarth, President of SMART Recovery, will write a Preface, as well as Will Isseks, the successful attorney in NY on the Warren case. I'm going to ask Jack Trimpey, President of Rational Recovery, to do one too, since RR fired the first shot on this issue back in 1986 and has been a powerful force in this area ever since.

Note that our subject covers federal, state, and municipal assignments (parole and probation) and industrial and military. The ramifications are gargantuan. We're going to win. Any input from any source will be welcome here -- personal accounts of victims and everything else.

Vince Fox
Author of: Addiction, Change, and Choice

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Sheri responds to Cliff Walker

Cliff Responds: I doubt it. Not in her case. I'm sure she has seen it. This woman is no dummy; she is the slickest defender of the recovery status quo I have seen in person. For years, she has been building and defending that monster which I now try to confront and expose.

She knew beforehand that the audience was the local Atheist group, and that their questions would be: "Are there any County-funded addiction care options for Atheists?" and "How do you reconcile the First Amendment Establishment Clause with the practice of using public funds to teach about God?" and "How do you reconcile the principle of freedom of religion with coerced AA attendance?"

The fact that she never once answered these questions, even though they were all asked beforehand and were asked more than once during the meeting -- one was asked three times -- demonstrates to me that she feels it is her job to try to keep things as they are and to resist change.

Several wondered aloud if Ms. Jaeger is a member of Alcoholics Anonymous -- a clear conflict of interest when she is in a position to mandate people to attend meetings of that not-for-progit organization -- but none of us had the nerve to ask her this question. I doubt she would have been candid if we did ask. I later asked County Supervisor Dan Saltzman to find out for me, among other things, if she is a member of Alcoholics Anonymous.

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Russ responds to the dialogue between Cliff and Vince

Dear Vince and Cliff,

I find this exchange confusing (did I miss something?).

Cliff posted the first notice to this list on Griffin v. Coughlin being appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court and yet you seem to be discussing the subject as though this appeal hadn't taken place. I would agree that all three decisions (Warner v. OCPD; Griffin v. Coughlin; Kerr v. Farrey and Lind) unequivocally reject the argument that AA is not religious and find that any government mandated Twelve Step attendance is a violation of the First Amendment.

Russ responds: In my lay opinion, the precedents set in the last 3 years have been pointing clearly in one direction. By 1995, there were scattered cases in lower courts: some pro, some con. If you were a probation officer or an administrator in a prison system you could argue that there were plenty of Atheists, Jews, Buddhists, etc., in AA, "your higher power could be anything"; therefore, AA was not primarily a religious program. Recent cases at the Federal level have completely rejected this argument (as far as I know, unanimously). The U.S. Supreme Court's refusal to hear New York's appeal in the Griffin v. Coughlin case at least sends the message that the Supreme Court sees no reason, at this time, to interfere with this trend.

Russ replies: No. It is definitely not true of the three cases that I named above. They are linked by three main points.

(a) All three rejected the argument that because your "higher power" could be anything (a doorknob, the group, etc.), AA is basically secular.

(b) All three found that the Twelve Steps were unequivocally religious in content and intent and declared that mandated AA, for any reason, was a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. All three based this on prior reasoning in Establishment Clause cases by the Supreme Court.

(c) Taken together the three cases form a chain of precedence. The first case (Warner v. OCPD), was cited in the second (Griffin v. Coughlin), which was cited in the third (Kerr v. Farrey and Lind).

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Cliff is still skeptical

Cliff responds: Despite the decision, the abuses continue. No amount of court decisions will stop certain people from taking advantage of the vulnerable when they can get away with it, and when the victims are afraid to rock the boat. The Clarence Thomas hearings and subsequent attention hasn't stopped sexual coercion in the workplace, but it has given many women the confidence to at least fight a good fight. In the same way, only when the abuses in the name of addiction treatment routinely make the front pages for months or years will people begin to see that they have rights in this matter and that they need to fight for them.

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Larry explains AA's popularity

It should be emphasized that the popularity of AA's is rooted in the failure of conventional psychotherapies to effectively deal with addictive behavior. Indeed, there is much in the pre-1965 theories of psychotherapy that worsens addiction. The influence of AA's approach derives from the willingness of psychiatrists and psychologists to refer patients they expect to fail with to a 12-step program.

The newer therapeutic theories -- "Cognitive," "Moral Reality," Frankl's "Therapy of Meaning," Azrin and Hunt's "Community Reinforcement Approach," Peele's "Life Process Program," -- boil down to the same basic approach: arranging the addict's life such that his social fabric becomes better aligned with his intuitions, personal goals, and values. AA does this by altering the moral intuitions and social fabric of the participant, using theistic terminology.

The way to fight the hold that 12-step programs have on our culture is to show (with accepted methods of clinical trials) that for many people secular programs work well. Agnostic judges would welcome objective evidence that non-theistic methods do indeed work well.

So marshall it, and present it to relevant audiences.

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Vince Fox offers a ray of hope to the above discussion

District court cases, regardless of the findings, are of no real significance. A state supreme court (or Court of Appeals) is of some significance, but the only real significance lies at the Federal Appellate level. And we've won two cases in them thus far. We need one or two more and the prevailing system will collapse.

The next 18 months will see gargantuan changes. Keep at work, watch, and wait. The die is cast. The indicators are positive.

My new book will be on mandates to AA and NA. I'm writing it with J.W. Kerr, his attorney Walter Stern (Seventh Appellate win). It will be published in early 1998 and should cause one hell of an uproar.

Note: Sadly, Vince died a few months after he wrote this and we never saw this book which was to be his final and most important statement culminating a lifetime of helping others inspite of The System.

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