Pennsylvania Court Rules: A.A. Is Not Religious

Neighbors were complaining about the parking, noise, loitering and littering at the Glenside Center, which has leased a portion of the building to A.A. to hold meetings. So, because A.A. is a religious organization, the Abington Township took the Glenside Center to court for being in violation of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUPIA).

But, the appelate court ruled last week (3/17/09) that A.A. isn’t religious, and therefore, the Glenside Center is not in violation of RLUPIA. Reading some of the testimony in the ruling, I was really astonished at the typical A.A. coersive, gaslighting dogma that was considered seriously. Why would the court rely on A.A. members, especially the old-timers, who are in danger of losing their meeting house (their small pond), and who are trained to, and invested in, deflecting and obfuscating the religious nature of this organization? Why would the court not, instead, look to other court rulings, which conclude that it is unconstitutional to order a parolee to attend A.A. meetings because of its religious overtones?

Now, here’s something very interesting — surprising. A regular Washington Post column, called “Under God: A Daily Look at the News and What We Do in the Name of God” by David Waters, concludes that this ruling is quite wrong, that its “easy dismissal of AA as a religious organization raises troubling questions about the court’s (and our) understanding of religion and faith.” He tackles a few points in the ruling, regarding whether A.A. meets the standard of religion — and seems to feel that, not only does it meet the standard, but that it is the gold standard of religious fellowship. But his bottom line: “If a group that meets under spiritual precepts, performs rituals, and seeks to heal its members isn’t religious, what else is it?”

Edited to add: If the court had considered A.A. as a religion — rather than exploring it for religious elements — this case would have turned out quite differently. “Is A.A. religious?” is almost a meaningless question, when A.A. is considered, by its members, to be the Way and the Truth. Questions about their affiliation with other established organized religions can be easily dismissed and disproved. They are not afflilated with religion; they are a religion.