AA as a State Religion, a Listening Post for the Authorities

The program of Alcoholics Anonymous has been co-opted by the State of Texas as an adjunct of its court system, the drunk tank, the mental hospital, and the state penitentiary.

People are court-ordered to attend even though their offense has nothing to do with addictive drinking.

You will find sex offenders, often those that molested children, among those that must have an affidavit of their attendance signed by the authorized chairman of the meeting, a chairman authorized—naturally—by state authorities.

From there, the list goes downhill. We see wife beaters, known in the penal code as perpetrators of "domestic violence—causes physical harm." There are robbers, rapists of adults, burglars, hot check artists, forgers, embezzlers, manufacturers, and distributors of methamphetamines such as crank or ice, crack salesmen, and the odd pothead.

That leaves the ordinary drunk drivers and public inebriates, a decided minority.

All are required to pray to God at the beginning of the hour-long meeting, reciting the "Serenity Prayer," a composition of the clergyman Rheinhold Neibuhr, "God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference."

This is in spite of the First Amendment's guarantee against the establishment of religion through any law passed by Congress. Obviously, courts interpret those laws; they don't make them in any other manner than case by case.

Devotees of AA will tell you it's not religious; it's spiritual. Federal justices have disagreed. They say it's religious, and, hey, they've got the hammers, the black robes, the law licenses. What's more, they were appointed for life by the President of the United States and confirmed by the Senate. At least, they were until Dub-yah came along. He has found a better way, apparently. He uses his emergency powers in the face of filibusters.

At the end of the meeting, they recite the Our Father, a prayer reputed to have been uttered by Jesus after the Sermon on the Mount. One of the gospels says someone said, "Rabbi, teach us to pray."

I don't have any problem with any of that, don't mind praying at all, since I have always been a voluntary participant. However, Texas has a much broader, different idea of how to do things.

It's a little bit hard to stay on message when the room is filled with people sweating out their next urinalysis, you know.

It is equally hard to bare one's soul when the room holds sometimes as many as a half dozen law enforcement types with badges prominently displayed. You will find anything from narcs to probation officers and those occupying all points in between. Parole officers routinely patrol the parking lots taking down license plate numbers. Police officers stroll at will through the meeting halls, and government agents openly carry mug shots of those they are seeking, pulling them out in the middle of the meeting and comparing them to faces.

Local college students are assigned to attend the meetings, write down peoples' names and what they said, and turn them in to professional counselors that evaluate their skills as observers.

Kind of makes a man want to pray, or at least feel the need, no?

The moral to this little tale of woe is this. Read the book, Alcoholics Anonymous, remain anonymous, do your sharing on-line, and stay out of trouble when you're in Texas. Place has not much of a sense of humor about these things, unless your daddy is the director of the CIA, vice president, ambassador to China, or something, then you get deferred adjudication and a new driver's license number. On top of that, the court records are sealed.

—Jim Parks