Take Action for Secular Recovery Options in New York

The New York State Capitol building in Albany, NY (Photo by Rob Martinez on Unsplash)

Thanks to the efforts of constituents and advocates who understand recovery programs should embody inclusive considerations, the New York State Legislature has once again successfully passed the Secular Recovery Options bill with resounding support, with even more support than last year. Sponsored by Senator Pete Harckham, S. 5332 would ensure eligible defendants mandated to attend a substance use treatment program are informed of their right to request a nonreligious option. (You can read the bill here.)

This bipartisan-supported bill now faces one final obstacle–approval by the Governor. While this bill did pass the New York State Legislature last year with flying colors, it unfortunately was vetoed by Governor Kathy Hochul. If you are a New York resident, please take just one minute now to tell Governor Hochul to sign this bill. If you are not a New York resident, but know someone who is, please send them the link to the action alert.

This bill itself essentially contains one important provisional component, in that it requires written notice to a defendant of his or her right to complete court ordered alcohol or substance use treatment in a nonreligious treatment program. This ensures that nonreligious recovery options will be made known and available for individuals mandated by courts to attend substance use treatment programs.

SMART Recovery (Self-Management and Recovery Training) is an example of such nonreligious recovery options. SMART takes an evidence-based approach “for people seeking a self-empowering way to overcome addictive problems. What has emerged is an accessible method of recovery, one grounded in science and proven by more than a quarter-century of experience teaching practical tools that encourage lasting change.” LifeRing Secular Recovery, another example, “welcomes individuals of all faiths and none…LifeRing encourages members to feel empowered, and not powerless [, and] honors the philosophy that there are multiple pathways to recovery.” Both programs are available across the country.

Today, people caught up in New York’s criminal justice system account for nearly half of all treatment admissions to the state’s Office of Addiction Services and Support. However, the only support groups available for many participants are based on the faith-based twelve-step model and too often, individuals in the court system are denied access to nonreligious recovery options that are consistent with their values and personal beliefs.

The First Amendment right to secular recovery options is well-established—there is a long list of cases in which the courts, time and time again, have affirmed it as a constitutional right. Unfortunately, the criminal justice system doesn’t always protect this right in practice, and as a result, individuals suffering from substance abuse disorders are being coerced into faith-based programs, and denied the opportunity to choose a nonreligious, science-based organization.

A federal court recently ruled that an atheist’s rights were violated when their parole was revoked for refusing to attend a faith-based rehab. While this case took place in Colorado, similar instances are happening all over the nation. You can help change that.

While faith-based recovery programs work effectively for many, they are not the right fit for everyone. Many struggle mightily with substance abuse—it is critical that we make every possible resource available for those who need help with recovery. New York residents: help support making nonreligious recovery options available for all New Yorkers in the criminal justice system by urging Governor Hochul to sign this important bill.

While you are contacting Governor Hochul or encouraging your New York resident friends to do the same, chew on this—the Michigan State Legislature has jumped in on the charge for secular recovery options with the introduction of House Bill 4690. The passage of a bill in one state can have great impact on a bill’s success in others—including yours. Take action on the issues you care about, in the ways you can, today.