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Report: Atheists Forced Into Religious Rehab Programs

Some atheists are reportedly being forced by courts to attend religiously-based rehab programs for their alcohol and/or drug addictions.

Vice reported that a woman named Katie McKibben was convicted of her third DUI and ordered by the Orange County Superior Court in California to join a 90-day inpatient rehabilitation facility in Santa Ana from August until November 2016.

The court said that McKibben praised the facility, the Villa, but she insisted: "That's false."

According to McKibben, she objected to the Villa because it was at its maximum capacity and is a 12-step faith-based program.

McKibben said that she told the judge that she wanted a non-religious program: "The judge consulted with my probation officer who said, 'Nope. She has to go to this program. This is where we always send people, and that's how it goes.'"

There are no detailed court transcripts because the 25-year-old secular humanist had been charged with a misdemeanor.

McKibben recalled being locked up in an Orange County jail for 37 days until there was an open spot at the Villa: "Everyone in there gets the feeling they are supposed to just sit alone in their cells and think about how low they've fallen."

McKibben recalled her transfer from the jail to the Villa:

At my regular check-ins [with the court], I was expected to be grateful for the rehabilitation program. Any apprehension was seen as resistance to recovery, and became a hindrance to moving on to the next phase of the program.

McKibben told Vice how she felt after being out of jail: "I was starting to feel better. I was sober. To be honest, I was just grateful to be out of jail, and maybe that was misconstrued as me being grateful for the program."

However, that initial good feeling was plagued by what McKibben alleges was constant proselytizing at the Villa: "There were multiple prayers every day, before and after every meal, before and after every session."

According to McKibben, she was required to listen to recovered addicts who "told their life story about how they were saved and how we needed to be saved as well."

McKibben recalled being sent to "Celebrate Recovery" meetings at a Christian church in Anaheim. She said she identified herself at the meetings as a secular humanist: "They didn't like that. They let me know that accepting Jesus Christ was the only way."

According to McKibben, secular humanism was not acceptable to the Villa's counselors either, who believed her refusal to acknowledge a higher power was a symptom of "the alcoholic mind."

"There was a lot of fear, because if you do one thing wrong, you're back in jail," McKibben said. "If you don't like the program they send you to, then the other option is jail."

A Villa spokesperson told Vice that the program is completely voluntary:

Their parents can't make them. Their probation officers can't make them. And all we do is try to give them tools to help guide them toward their recovery. If they don't want it, then they'll probably continue to drink and use. It's that simple.

The spokesperson added: "We're not going to make them comply with what we do here," and said that some addicts may want "to look for another program."

McKibben said she made real progress after graduating from the Villa and going to the secular nonprofit the Center for Inquiry in Hollywood: "I feel like the healing really began once I got out of the program."

McKibben added: "There are other ways to have a good life, and it doesn't have to be through a higher power."

In a similar story, the Sacramento Bee reported the story of atheist Barry A. Hazle Jr., who settled his lawsuit against the state of California and WestCare California Inc., a rehabilitation contractor, for almost $2 million.

Hazle had his parole revoked after complaining about being required to attend a WestCare drug treatment program that required the acknowledgment of a higher power.

U.S. District Judge Garland E. Burrell Jr. ruled that forcing Hazle to do the program ran "afoul of the prohibition against the state’s favoring religion in general over nonreligion."

According to the judge, Hazle's constitutional rights were violated because the government was imposing religious beliefs via the rehab program.

The Los Angeles Times reported in August 2013 that Hazle self-identified as an atheist and requested a secular program, but state officials said there were none.

Sources: Vice, Celebrate Recovery, Sacramento Bee, Los Angeles Times / Photo credit: Dan Etherington/Flickr

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