AA Atheists and Human Rights

By Roger C.

On May 31, 2011, two agnostic AA groups were booted out of the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) Intergroup and off of the area AA meeting lists.

That was disturbing and offensive to many people within the fellowship of AA. Within a few days an article appeared on the front page of the Toronto Star: Does religion belong at AA? Fight over ‘God’ splits Toronto AA Groups.

One of the problems is that the expulsion of the two groups may well be a violation of the Ontario Human Rights Code. This Code took effect in 1962, and was the first Human Rights Code of its kind in Canada. It provides that every person has a right to equal treatment with respect to services, goods, and facilities without discrimination because of creed (including atheism and agnosticism).

And one of the things that the Ontario Human Rights Commission says is this:

It is the OHRC’s position that every person has the right to be free from discriminatory or harassing behaviour that is based on religion or which arises because the person who is the target of the behaviour does not share the same faith. This principle extends to situations where the person who is the target of such behaviour has no religious beliefs whatsoever, including atheists and agnostics who may, in these circumstances, benefit from the protection set out in the Code.

You see, the groups had been booted out because they changed the Steps. The “suggested” program of AA, the 12 Steps, has the word “God”, “Him” or “Power” in them six times. Obviously that is not going to work for an agnostic or atheist. Interpreting the Steps without God is pretty much inevitable for an atheist and his or her group.

But if AA is “spiritual and not religious” and if the only requirement for membership is “a desire to stop drinking” can agnostic groups really be booted out? Even if they adapt the “suggested” 12 Steps to their own understanding and needs?

A very good question.

One of the founders of one of the groups booted out by the GTA Intergroup decided to challenge the Intergroup decision. He lodged a complaint with the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal. His argument was very simple: If AA is for everyone, if it is not religious, then it was a violation of the Human Rights Code to exclude his agnostic AA group.

To date, there have been two hearings on the subject. In the first hearing – Interim Decision October 2015 – the General Service Board and AA World Services attempted to distance itself from Intergroup – they had, after all, not expelled the two groups – and thus be removed as respondents and defendants at the Human Rights Tribunal. The judge said no: all of the literature upon which the GTA Intergroup had based its behaviour and decisions was owned, copyrighted,  distributed and promoted by the General Service Board and AA World Services. They thus shared legal culpability for the expulsion of the two secular groups.

What follows is the interim decision based upon the second hearing.

Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario

Between the Applicant and the Respondents: AA World Services Inc., General Services Board of Alcoholics Anonymous Inc. and the Greater Toronto Intergroup.

Interim Decision – February 17, 2016


[1]          This application alleges discrimination with respect to services because of creed contrary to the Human Rights Code, R.S.O. 1990, c. H.19, as amended (the “Code”).

[2]          The applicant alleges, among other things, that the respondent, GTA Intergroup of Alcoholics Anonymous (GTAI), is responsible for maintaining a list of all Alcoholics Anonymous meetings in the Greater Toronto Area. The applicant alleges that GTAI removed the applicant’s Alcoholics Anonymous group from its directory, website listing and listing given over the phone because the group members are agnostic. It is further alleged that the members of the applicant’s group have been denied the right to vote and to have their voices heard on matters that are important to all AA members.

[3]          The applicant alleges that the respondents, AA World Services Inc., General Services Board of Alcoholics Anonymous Inc., discriminated against him when it failed to direct the GTAI to include his group as a member of the intergroup.

[4]          In Interim Decision 2015, HRTO 1306, the Tribunal directed the Registrar to schedule a summary hearing teleconference in order to determine the issue of whether the applicant had a reasonable prospect of demonstrating that the respondents discriminated against the applicant in the delivery of its services when it removed his group from the directories, and denied them the rights that come with membership in the intergroup.

[5]          A summary hearing was held on January 13, 2016 during which time I heard submissions from the applicant and each of the respondents.

[6]          In addition to listing and de-listing all the AA groups in the GTA, it appears that the GTAI collects and distributes donations and distributes AA literature that is published by the General Services Board of AA.

[7]          The respondent, GTAI, submits that the Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) recovery program follows 12 steps and that these steps involve a belief in God. GTAI submits that evidence indicates that its purpose is to practice the 12 steps and practice a belief in God. In order to be part of GTAI, a group must be prepared to practice the 12 steps and thus the members of the group must have a belief in God. GTAI submits that it is not denying the applicant’s group the right to form its own intergroup and follow its own process.

[8]          GTAI submits that it is a special interest group that is protected, by section 18 of the Code, from a finding that it has breached the applicant’s Code rights. Section 18 of the Code states,

Rights … are not infringed where membership or participation in a religious, philanthropic, educational, fraternal or social institution or organization that is primarily engaged in serving the interests of persons identified by a prohibited ground of discrimination is restricted to persons who are similarly identified.

 [9]         GTAI also submits that it is a bona fide requirement that groups that wish to be part of this intergroup must have a belief in the higher power of God.

[10]        The applicant submits that AA is a fellowship of men and women who share the common desire to achieve sobriety. The only requirement for membership in AA is this desire to achieve sobriety and to help others in this achievement. The applicant referenced a number of publications which he alleges support a position that AA was not meant to be presented in any religious terms and that atheists and agnostics have been included as members in other parts of Canada and the United States over the years in order to promote an inclusive approach to AA membership rather than promote any religious perspective. He referenced documents that discussed the many paths to spirituality, including “making the AA group itself the higher power”.

[11]        It is obvious that there is a dispute on the facts and legal issues that are fundamental to a determination on whether the applicant’s rights under the Code have been breached by the respondents’ actions. At this point, I am not prepared to find that the applicant has no reasonable prospect of demonstrating that his rights to be free from discrimination on the basis of his creed have been breached. There are a number of complex legal issues that will need to be addressed in this Application and they cannot be properly determined without the benefit of a full evidentiary record. It would not be appropriate to dismiss this Application at this point.


[12]        The Application will proceed through the Tribunal process.

[13]        The respondents shall file their Responses within 35 days of receiving this Interim Decision.

Dated at Toronto, this 17th day of February, 2016.

Obviously based upon points 7 through 9 above, the Toronto Area Intergroup believes that a belief in God is a necessary part of being a part of its organization. And as expressed in point 8, it seeks to rely on an exception in the Code which allows “religious organizations” to exclude those who are not like-minded from membership or participation, in this case atheists and agnostics.

This is, to put it mildly, an unusual view within Alcoholics Anonymous.

AA World Services and the AA General Services Board has a little over a month to express its opinion and file a formal response.

We await the results of the next steps in this Tribunal’s proceedings.

 The Toronto Sun also wrote an article on these hearings, called Alcoholics Anonymous accused of discriminationYou can read that article by clicking on the image below:

Toronto Sun

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  1. Rich October 2, 2016 at 12:48 pm - Reply

    In the  Cleveland , Ohio area , Agnostic meetings are listed. Though I’ve never been to any of these meetings , they do exist. In over 18 months , I have been to approximately 450 meetings. I have met Atheists , Agnostics , Christians , Buddhists , Muslims and everything in between. Never an issue regarding who believes what. I was never forced to believe anything & I politely listen to others beleifs , opinions or interpretation of the BB , steps , traditions , etc. Not an issue unless I start taking their inventory instead of mine. Live & let live…  Keep it simple…. And I suggest we all apply Rule 62 : Don’t take yourself too seriously . Let’s not over analyze a peanut butter and jelly sandwich .

  2. Anonymous October 1, 2016 at 7:04 am - Reply

    Please keep an open mind.  I am NOT a Christian nor am I religious in any way, shape or form.  I have NEVER been questioned or chastised for my spiritual beliefs (which I created on my own, that do not match any other person’s concept of a higher power or conscience which AA INVITES ME TO DO.)  Not once has anyone ever suggested that I must believe in “God” in the rooms of AA in order to be a member.  NEVER.  The ONLY requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking.  That’s it.  You don’t even have to be sober…just a desire to stop.  Any member of AA who tells ANYONE that they must believe in God or be religious in order to be a member of AA is flat out wrong or a liar…take your pick.  I have 13 years of sobriety through the AA program and continue to be an active part of the fellowship.  I have a respectful inclusive attitude towards ALL members of AA…I could give a hoot if they’re religious, spiritual, agnostic or atheist…is just doesn’t matter and they are welcome at ANY AA meeting.

    The problem with the groups that choose to change the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous and omit the “God” word is that they DO NOT have the right to do so AND call themselves AA.  This is in keeping with our traditions.  In fact, in order to change the 12 steps of AA (or the Big Book or any other conference approved literature of AA) it would have to be taken to a vote at the AA World level…and I can assure you that will never happen.

    I myself do not like the fact that “God” is referred to as a “Him”.  Many of us have female or non-gender higher powers.  But again, it would require a vote at the AA World level in order to change that.  So I just practice acceptance where that is concerned.  It just doesn’t really matter to me in the greater scheme of things.  I also don’t have much use for the Big Book…it is antiquated, sexist and smacks of Christian beliefs.  I also believe that the chapters “To Wives”, “The Family Afterward”, and “To Employers” are NOT in keeping with Tradition 10 – “Alcoholics Anonymous has no opinion on outside issues; hence the AA name ought never be drawn into public controversy”.  I don’t think AA should be dictating to wives, employers or otherwise how to deal with alcoholics.  Not our business.

    Also, I don’t particularly like that most AA groups close the meeting with the Lord’s Prayer which is very obviously Christian.  I would rather see the meeting close with the Responsibility Pledge.  But again, I know my group will never change that and I really don’t care.  I do NOT have to participate in the Lord’s Prayer if I don’t want to.  It is NOT a requirement.  I can choose to walk out of the meeting and leave others who wish to participate in the Lord’s Prayer to do so.  That being said, I do choose to participate in the Lord’s Prayer…not because I believe in it or support it, but I have come to look at that closing prayer as a circle of unity and love that fills my heart with joy.  My own spiritual take on the prayer.

    It is a common sentiment in Alcoholics Anonymous that destruction of our program will come from within the fellowship, not from external sources.  I believe that to be true.  Larry Knight taking AA to the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal is a great example.

    It truly would be wonderful if agnostics and atheists would divert the energy they put into bringing AA down into being of service to the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous.  The program that helped them to achieve sobriety and recovery, get their lives back, and become happy, joyous and free.  What a shameful way to thank AA and be respectful to the program that saved their lives.  I’m heartbroken and sincerely hope the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal throws this case out.

    • Mike B. October 5, 2016 at 2:49 am Reply

      Thanks for your comments on AA atheists and human rights.

      Respect for your beliefs must also be extended to others whose beliefs and practices differ. Those in the majority opinion must be willing, in the interests of AA unity (not uniformity), to  respect minority opinions. We achieve this by practicing AA’s code of love and tolerance. Failing this principle is the root cause of our present dilemma.

      The traditions and steps guarantee AA members the right to personal beliefs. Group autonomy, determined by group conscience, is a principle of functioning AA groups. Our leaders are but trusted servants, they do not govern nor dictate, punish, admonish or exclude any member or groups from AA. When acting within the law, including human rights law, AA members and groups are in good standing. Toronto and Vancouver intergroups have contravened human rights law and will, if ruled by the courts, suffer the consequences (legal and publicly) of their actions. Will the reputation of AA as a whole be negatively impacted? Of course it will and is the result of AA leadership doing nothing to resolve this issue for 5-6 years. Most members have dropped the ball since day one. Due to the inaction by AA as a whole makes us all potentially culpable by putting AA’s unity and survival at risk. I love AA but I’m personally unwilling to put it above the law by denying the rights of any member or group!

      I assume you support the actions of GTAI that disenfranchised and delisted two secular AA groups in 2011. For that reason I will take issue with some of the reasons you wrote as your rationale.

      I am neither fearful nor hesitant to reveal my identity and opinions.  There has been far  too much anonymity and secrecy, especially from AA leadership and those personally responsible for this chaos. I am ahappy atheist AA member in a small traditional closed men’s discussion/no prayer group. I live in  a small rural community, Oliver, in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley where secular AA is non-existent. I’m now in my 27th year of sobriety. After 20 years of  denying my own beliefs I decided to begin sharing my atheist beliefs, when appropriate, at traditional AA meetings. It was then that I became the target of bigotry, intolerance, hatred and discrimination by religious extremists, theist zealots and big book literalists. Many wished I would just go away and get drunk and told me so. That is my experience and it should not have happened!

      There are three comments you made that give me great concern personally as well as for the future survival and unity of our fellowship. I have copied your comments followed by my thoughts on each.

      You wrote, “Any member of AA who tells ANYONE that they must believe in God or be religious in order to be a member of AA is flat out wrong or a liar…take your pick”.

      I don’t believe you are a liar but are definitely wrong and somewhat naive. Membership is not the issue here as tradition 3 states, “The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking”. What I often hear, and find wrong and insulting at meetings are religious/theist members telling others, particularly newcomers, they must find a god; often a magical, mystical, miracle performing, male, superstitious, non-evidenced based, unscientific, interventionist, Christian god of theist understanding. It must be a Christian god hence quotes from the bible and closing meetings with prayer circles, and the Christian lord’s prayer. They frequently tell us to  follow the steps exactly as written in order to find and maintain contented lifetime sobriety. The truth is many AA members are finding contented sobriety without belief in god or religion.

      The greatest lie in AA (IMHO) is the god concept espoused by many theist AA members and exacerbated by most AA literature. The overwhelming god issue heard in most traditional AA meetings today is the single greatest threat to the relevance, attraction and survival of AA in our modern pluralistic, secular society. Society has changed much over the past 80 years but AA’s creed, dogma and theist based literature and practices have gotten worse. This is a primary cause of AA’s abysmal recovery and negative growth rates over the past 30 years not to mention our loss of respect from many health care professionals and a public reputation of being a religious cult.

      You further stated, “The problem with the groups that choose to change the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous and omit the “God” word is that they DO NOT have the right to do so AND call themselves AA.  This is in keeping with our traditions.  In fact, in order to change the 12 steps of AA (or the Big Book or any other conference approved literature of AA) it would have to be taken to a vote at the AA World level…and I can assure you that will never happen”.

      Your comment makes no sense and I believe is totally illogical. Your issue is about  total control and punishment of others who don ‘t conform to your beliefs while  mine is about respect, tolerance and acceptance for the beliefs of others without having to deny my own. Secular group members do not believe in god. Their group conscience is to interpret and practice the basic principles of the 12 steps without a god. AA  group autonomy (tradition 4) allows them to do so. The 12 and 12 (page 149) states, “thus it was under tradition 4 an AA group had exercised its right to be wrong”. Even though secular AA groups are not wrong they have, like any other AA group, the right to do so.

      This issue is neither about rewriting the big book (or any other AA approved literature) nor denying traditional AA groups the right to practice the original 12 steps. Secular groups rightly post their interpretation of the 12 steps (as suggested) on the walls of their meeting rooms without reference to god. By what authority (moral or legal) does any AA member have the right to dictate to secular groups what they can or can’t do by threatening them with expulsion? AA tradition encourages any AA group to follow group conscience and in no way harms other groups or AA as a whole. If you don’t like secular beliefs or practices don’t attend their meetings. Acceptance is the solution to this and many other problems!

      Logical and necessary changes to AA will never be made until the attitudes, bias and fears of the majority of AA members are resolved by love and tolerance. AA will then be better able to carry our message of recovery to ALL suffering alcoholics! As the solution seems unable to be found within so be it that it is accomplished from without so justice is served.

      Lastly you wrote, “It is a common sentiment in Alcoholics Anonymous that destruction of our program will come from within the fellowship, not from external sources.  I believe that to be true. Larry Knight taking AA to the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal is a great example.

      It truly would be wonderful if agnostics and atheists would divert the energy they put into bringing AA down into being of service to the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous.  The program that helped them to achieve sobriety and recovery, get their lives back, and become happy, joyous and free.  What a shameful way to thank AA and be respectful to the program that saved their lives.  I’m heartbroken and sincerely hope the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal throws this case out”.

      With all due respect your comments are out of line and will be rejected by most freethinking, tolerant and respectful members of AA. Traditional/theist AA member should be thanking their so called god that through the tireless efforts of secular we are probably saving the ass of AA as a whole. You are correct and I believe Bill W. was the 1st to say so at a talk given in 1965. If the destruction of AA occurs it will do so from within and this is certainly one of those issues. Secular AA is not the cause of this problem but rather the result of the intransigence of religious fundamentalist, literalist and back-to- basic members who are unwilling to make necessary changes to meet the needs of all alcoholics in today’s pluralistic society..

      Secular AA is not going away now or in the future and is one of the fastest growing sectors if not the only one in our fellowship. Your heartbreak will heal but will the unity of AA caused by the unacceptable creed and dogma of like- minded members such as yourself? Larry K. should be considered a hero. He is one of a few AA members with the honesty, courage and integrity to challenge the illegal action of GTAI and I hope the OHRT upholds his challenge. It is a sad day for AA that this issue had to be fixed by an outside agency; so be it for justice to be served. I am hopeful that AA may soon return to the principles and traditions it should have always been following.

      Hope you had approval to break Larry’s anonymity? He may  break his own but doesn’t justify others to do so. This is a no brainer … but just wondering?

      I’m presently recovering from my third surgery in 6 months and have been healing and keeping a low profile. I will submit another article later to update all on my  failure to advance the cause of our secular AA human rights issue at my district, mini assembly and area. Although somewhat bruised in many parts I’m still alive, sober and grateful for secular AA. These things too shall pass.
      If anyone wishes to contact me directly my email address is

      I would like to hear from any of you.

    • Roger C. October 2, 2016 at 12:18 pm Reply

      I’ve said this before but let me say it again: Nobody is trying to change the original Steps as they were published in 1939.

      God forbid!

      What we are saying is that you can, however, have your own personal or group version and interpretation of the Steps. I mean, if you can interpret God “as you understand Him” then you are surely able to interpret the Steps without having to accept anyone else’s beliefs or having to deny your own.

      Imagine that! No doctrine, no creed, forced upon you!

      And that is exactly what the author of the Steps said, for the record: “We must remember that AA’s Steps are suggestions only. A belief in them as they stand is not at all a requirement for membership among us. This liberty has made AA available to thousands who never would have tried at all , had we insisted on the Twelve Steps just as written”.

      And I agree that the “destruction of our program will come from within the fellowship, not from external sources.” But the problem here is not the agnostic groups or taking the matter to the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal. The problem is the Greater Toronto Area Intergroup for behaving in a doctrinal and bullying fashion and acting as “our new governing body”, as life-j so well put it in an article in the October AA Grapevine.

      That ain’t AA. And if you think it is, I can only quote Dr. Bob: “I feel sorry for you”.



    • John L. October 1, 2016 at 10:23 am Reply

      Anonymous writes: “The problem with the groups that choose to change the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous and omit the “God” word is that they DO NOT have the right to do so AND call themselves AA.”

      I disagree.  The Steps are only “suggested” and therefore optional.  The secular AA groups that do use steps (many use none at all) have written their own steps; the Steps in the Big Book and AA literature remain unchanged.  The first edition of Living Sober, by far the best book that AA ever published, merely suggests in Chapter 30 that the Steps might be tried; the Steps themselves are not even printed.

      Speaking for myself, I have written A Freethinker’s Twelve Suggested Steps, which are my words and ideas, not a mere rewriting of the Bill W./ BB steps.  They are found at: .

      I have sharply criticised the Bill W./BB steps, which I consider more harmful than helpful.  This critique is at: .

      It is just as wrong to close an AA meting with the “Lord’s Prayer as it would be to close one by singing The International or pledging allegiance to the flag.  Nonbelievers should have enough courage and self-esteem not to participate in reciting the LP.

    • Anonymous October 1, 2016 at 7:13 am Reply

      I forgot to mention that even though Toronto Intergroup does not list the Agnostic/Atheist meetings (which are NOT AA because the steps have been changed) on the website, we do refer people who phone in identifying as Agnostic/Atheist to your meetings.  We serve all alcoholics regardless of their (lack of) spiritual beliefs.   

  3. Virgil J June 1, 2016 at 11:48 am - Reply

    When is the court going to finalize it’s verdict?

  4. Nathan H. May 19, 2016 at 11:28 pm - Reply

    As an atheist and a sober member of AA for thirty years in the US, I understand feeling like an outsider for not believing in the ultimate dogma if the steps.  I also must point out that AA and its book and program are copyrighted material and an AA group though autonomous, is a franchise. To call yourself an AA group you should be using the approved material as the basic text of the instruction. You could not open a McDonald’s and change the menu and still keep your franchise. It makes no sense for the leadership to accept any group that writes it’s own program as falling under the same banner. Anyone can start a meeting of like minded folks as have I, but I would never call it an official AA meeting, but rather a Rational Recovery group. If you don’t agree with the dogma, don’t call yourself AA. It’s pretty simple. No individual has been thrown out in my experience for being atheist or agnostic or humanist. There is a difference between individuals and the banner if the group.

    • Mike B. May 22, 2016 at 11:33 pm Reply

      Hello Nathan. This topic is about 3 months old but I guess there is no time like the present to write in one’s two cents worth! I am encouraged that you are an atheist and a sober member of AA. We share a common problem and belief system as secular members in the AA fellowship.
      On first reading your post I thought surely you must be joking but on further review concluded you were indeed serious. I will begin by saying I disagree with most of your comments starting with your basic premise that an AA group is some kind of an AA franchise. Where and how did you come up with the idea that an AA group is synonymous with a MacDonald’s restaurant franchise? The fact that AA literature is copyrighted has nothing to do with how AA groups function or how individual members work their recovery program.
      In my country, Canada, we have what is called a Human Rights Code, which is entrenched in our federal constitution. The law prohibits discrimination of any kind, against any citizen, based on religion/creed (belief or non-belief), race, sex, sexual orientation, etc. To put it simply it is against our laws to do so. Let me be very clear; the discrimination I write about here and now in AA is based on the fact a number of secular AA groups in Toronto and Vancouver (our 2 largest cities) were kicked out of their respective AA intergroups because they were/are non-believers. These groups of atheists, agnostics and freethinkers were delisted from their intergroup meeting lists (online, printed and phone) as well as refused voice and vote at their intergroup meetings. I am certain that this discrimination against AA secular groups, based on their non-theistic beliefs, will be rectified by our courts; perhaps resulting in severe financial and/or other penalties to AA. The fact that these groups choose to interpret the 12 steps without the god/religious dogma or read non AA approved literature, at their meetings is a matter of group and personal choice.
      I am dumbfounded by your comment, “If you don’t agree with the dogma, don’t call yourself AA”. For enlightenment, I suggest you read or reread some of our AA approved literature such as the Preamble, How it Works, 12 traditions and the many stories of AA history found in the AA Grapevine and secular AA websites such as Beyond Belief and AA Agnostica.
      Only closed minded literalists such as big book thumpers, bible pounders, right wing Christian fundamentalist (or any other religious fanatics) and bigots would consider implementing or enforcing the idea “non-believers should get out or be kicked out of AA”. 
      Consider the following excerpts from AA approved literature:
      1. The only requirement for AA membership is a desire to stop drinking.
      2. Any 2 or 3 members may call themselves and AA group providing they have no other affiliation. A members personal belief or non- belief in god is not an outside affiliation whereas any group tied to any sect or denomination would and should be turfed from AA.
      3. “Here are the steps we took which are suggested as a program of recovery”. No must’s here. The steps are merely suggestions and do not in any way mandate a belief in god for AA membership or to get sober.
      4. Our traditions suggest unity not uniformity.
      5.A higher power does not imply belief in a mystical, interventionist, omnipotent fairy tale being called god as described in most AA literature and personal stories.
      6.The rights of the minority in AA were intended to be protected by AA’s traditions and concepts of service. In the past 20-30 years those rights have been disregarded and eroded by the religious god fearing majority in AA. The back- to- basics movement.
      I will conclude with the following comments. In spite of much dogma the fellowship off AA saved my life. We have every right to be here providing we have a desire to stop drinking. We can choose to believe or not believe anything we wish. AA can neither punish nor kick us out for our beliefs or how we practice our recovery program. Groups are autonomous and how they conduct their meetings is only their business providing they are not negatively affecting other groups or AA as a whole. AA has welcomed many specialty groups such as men, women, professionals and GLBT groups to name a few. AA accepted Buddhist groups and their members who wished to replace god with the word good in their practice of the steps.
      How is it that non-believers, who wish to remove the word god from the steps, are suddenly trying to destroy AA? We simply wish to widen the gateway so that all alcoholics, regardless of beliefs may find recovery in our fellowship. We wish AA to be as attractive and as inclusive as possible for all alcoholics now and in the future.

  5. Mike B. March 23, 2016 at 1:07 pm - Reply

    Thank you Robert for your very thoughtful comments.

    My comments are mostly in the form of questions so that I might better understand the workings of the GTAI and VAI.

    Are they elected or appointed. Do they have central offices with paid managers? Do they have executive committees? Who are the people responsible for the actions against our secular groups and members? Do we have any contact information on these people? How about  letter writing and phone call campaigns to voice our opposition personally? Who do they represent? What is their structure? Who are they responsible and accountable to?

    If they are not a part of the recognised AA service levels how do they have any clout in AA? If GSO recognises and lists secular AA groups how can these intergroups refuse to do likewise?Perhaps it is time for districts or area to replace the services of these intergroups by producing our own meeting guides, literature depots, etc and put these people out of business.

    If they are not a recognised part of AA what can AA do to force the wayward intergroups to reverse their actions or put them out of business? Every AA leader I have talked to say their hands are tied. They have no authority over intergroups and can’t or won’t take any action. So the hijacking of AA by religious bigots continues unabated.

    I ask these questions in the interest of knowing who the enemy is and how we might better defeat them. And make no mistake folks they are the enemy who if left unchecked will destroy AA. They are a cancer and as Bill W. stated many time if AA ceases to exist it will be destroyed from within and that is exactly what is happening now.

    Keep up the good fight. I just read a wonderful book called, “Taking Liberties” ( author- Cotton) which details the ongoing fight in USA against the religious right and the battle to keep the state and religion separate entities. A good Read!

  6. Robert T March 22, 2016 at 3:32 pm - Reply

    I am an atheist member who on the one hand chooses not to criticize anyone else’s spirituality, whether or not they believe in a god.  I see this as entirely a private matter.   On the other hand, I have a spiritual life which more or less defies description – again – a personal matter.

    I remember when I first came in, some kid in the program said to me: “if you’re not a Christian, you shouldn’t be in AA”.  Certainly not consistent with the big book BUT THE ISSUE IS: as a NEWCOMER, how was I to know that.  That young fellow might have torpedoed my involvement in AA.   I VIEW ANY IMPEDIMENT TO ANY PERSON JOINING AA  (beyond a desire to stop drinking) AS DISCRIMINATORY.

    Some of the’ God Believing” Christian types in AA clearly have a desire to hijack the agenda, which upsets me considerably.   I will not engage in a debate with them on inclusion etc. with them as I see such discussions as futile, and don’t wish to subject myself to their pious flaunting of moral superiority.     I am happy to discuss spiritual matters in an AA group, whether it involves the term God/god/or “fill in the blank”.   I believe we should meet people where they are, and it is not up to me to impose my atheistic views on believers.  We  want our encounters with our fellows to be rich and inclusive.  AA, in my view, IS a SPIRITUAL PROGRAM.  How we understand that term however, is a PERSONAL matter.

    Now, as to the Tribunal deliberations.  It seems patently clear to me that it is almost impossible to deny that the 12 Traditions is set out by AA as it’s GOVERNING DOCUMENT.  This is not just a philosophical point, Governing Documents have LEGAL FORCE, that is to say, they are the documents upon which civil legal decisions must be based.  The Twelve Traditions unequivocally states that “the ONLY REQUIREMENT to membership is a desire to quit drinking”.  ONLY REQUIREMENT means ONLY requirement.   Intergroup is going to lose this fight, and that pleases me quite a lot.  The prejudicial, bigoted position of TORONTO INTERGROUP VOTERS has tarnished the reputation of AA in Toronto and has subjected North American AA to liability.  New York will want no part of this, and Toronto will want to drag them, kicking and screaming, into it.

    Thank (a theoretical) god for Civil Rights Tribunals and Legislation, smashing down bigotry and exclusion everywhere.  If it weren’t for them, there are forces who would have us studying creationism in schools, and being punished for our disbeliefs.

  7. Jack Blair March 10, 2016 at 12:51 am - Reply

    To call the decisions of both Toronto and Vancouver inter groups a mistake is to grossly understate the case. These two offices have, it seems obvious, been hijacked by religionists primarily of the Christian bent. Toronto’s statement that members “…have a belief in God…” is diametrically opposed by AA’s own history written by the founders.

    It seems that both offices have exceeded (to say the least) any authority they may have had.

    The AA umbrella is vast and can and must offer shelter to ANY person of ANY belief. The fact that the christian group of believers have and are making their move to exclude any that are not christian sews the seeds of the destruction of the whole organization. As would any religious group seeking to enforce its beliefs on the rest of us.

    I look forward to the Human Rights tribunal decision as it, I believe, only come down against the inter groups offices decisions.

    A question I would ask these offices is what about hindus or sikhs or jews or muslims or is it only the christian god that counts?

  8. Rich March 7, 2016 at 5:15 pm - Reply

    I agree that somehow people don’t understand the concept of a higher power or specifically ” a God of our understanding “. Apparently some people in ” authority ” think their conception of a Higher Power / God is the only acceptable idea . Maybe they can explain , in detail , how their conception would relate to a practicing Buddhist , Taoist , Atheist , Agnostic , or any other concepts ( religious / philosophical / theological ) would apply. Splitting hairs is only muddying the waters. If someone wants to discuss these issues, outside of A.A., it may be more appropriate . I suggest they take it up at a philosophy class and / or a theological class at the local place of higher education. Do we need attorneys now to decide the interpretation of certain language in the B.B. ? And then wonder why people shy away from the program.

  9. Gene G. February 22, 2016 at 7:25 am - Reply

    Before commenting, let me say I have not been involved in this issue from the beginning and I realize that I am surely unaware of all of the facts and events leading up to this point. Therefore, my comments are simple opinions, perhaps founded on incomplete information.

    I applaud the applicant for seeking legal remedy. It is appalling that this is necessary.

    When I was attending traditional meetings, I reached a point where I would voice my nontheist opinion without reservation. I told myself that I was speaking to the newcomer who may have been having difficulty with the ‘god thing’. In fact, I may have  been putting doubt in a newcomer’s mind while attacking the very foundation for sobriety of the more traditional members of the group. While I have earned my seat in the rooms and have a right to be heard, I am learning to be more respectful of the ‘god people’.

    The heart of this matter, for me, is that I am afraid I would have difficulty maintaining my sobriety without inclusive agnostic and free thinker’s AA meetings available. Likewise, I think the traditionalists are afraid of eroding the very foundation of AA that has kept them sober. Perhaps we could somehow learn to put the focus back on our common bond and seek a solution together. Perhaps, it is too late for that.

    “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.” Nietzsche

    By including GSO and World Services as respondents, hopefully, we will get an official definition of Alcoholics Anonymous. I maintain that we are a fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strength and hope with each other. We have available to us a suggested program of recovery.

    I joined the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous, I did not join the program of Alcoholics Anonymous. However, friends of mine think of the program first, the fellowship second. It is their right. However, we all came to AA for the same reason.

    If we are fortunate, when all of this is said and done AA as an organization will start to grow and flourish again-becoming a truly inclusive fellowship, reaching and helping more sufferers and becoming stronger by enduring this struggle.

    I believe this legal process will have a positive outcome. I believe the fellowship works, as others believe in the program. Ultimately, it is our belief in AA and ourselves and even in the various ‘higher powers’ that will get us all, traditionalists and non-believers alike, through all of this.

    • John L. February 22, 2016 at 12:39 pm Reply

      Gene, you weren’t wrong to voice your opinions.  You may have been too hard on yourself when you wrote: “I may have  been putting doubt in a newcomer’s mind while attacking the very foundation for sobriety of the more traditional members of the group.”

      Newcomers should be steered to the 24-Hour Plan — staying away from the First Drink a day at a time — not to Bill W.’s rancid spirituality.  Regarding the “more traditional members, the known foundation for their sobriety is not picking up the First Drink.  It is not known that they are sober because of their religiosity;  perhaps they are sober in spite of it.

  10. Michael B February 22, 2016 at 12:57 am - Reply

    My name is Mike; alcoholic and atheist. This is my 1st attempt at contributing to this site which I found only a few months ago. It has been a lifesaver for this atheist surrounded locally by only theist AA members and groups.

    I read with dismay the Toronto Sun newspaper story yesterday titled, “Alcoholics Anonymous accused of discrimination”. I was even more dismayed when I read this article, “AA atheists and Human Rights”. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised knowing full well the flack this non- believer has received from traditional AA’s. That is my experience. I revealed my atheism 5 years ago but it has become a nightmare experience. I am the only avowed atheist in this district and can attest that the intolerance toward non-believers here is alive and well.

    I am frustrated and angry that in worldwide AA only 2 intergroup committees (both in Canada-Toronto and Vancouver) had the gall to delist and disenfranchise a number of secular AA groups. This irrational and preventable situation has been going on for more than 5 years. I am a proud Canadian where our society normally embraces egalitarianism, multiculturalism, multiracial tolerance, pluralism and secularism. I am embarrassed that some of our intergroup committees in this country have chosen to govern rather than be trusted servants. Where have districts, areas, GSO and AA Trustees been all this time? The silence has been deafening and the leadership non-existent. Something needs to be done and it appears the shit has now hit the proverbial fan.

    After reading today’s article I grabbed a copy of the Sun story and headed out to a traditional/theist AA meeting. The meeting topic was from the theist book “Daily Reflections” titled “I’m part of the whole”. I thought what a good article to lead into a discussion on this topic. How can AA be a more inclusive and tolerant fellowship for all alcoholics, particularly non-theists? I made a couple of opening comments in my talk and started reading the article (for information only) when about half the attendees abruptly rose and left the meeting. Is this the type of intolerance secular members are faced with everywhere? Where does our AA membership stand on Tradition 1? Are the majority of AA members willing to sacrifice a small number of non-believers, who pose little or no threat to others, in order to protect the theist majority?  Why is AA inclusive and tolerant of most including GBLT, men and women as well as many other specialty meetings but are exclusive to only non-believers?

    I was initially concerned that one of our secular members had breached traditions 10, 11 and 12 by taking legal action and going public on this issue. Now my hat is off to him/her for having the courage to do so. It has been more than a long time coming. If a non-theist’s higher power is waiting I for one have had enough!

    Thanks for the part you all play in my sobriety.

    Mike B.

    • bob k February 27, 2016 at 1:18 pm Reply

      I’ve been in AA a long time. At no point have I been enjoined to sign a contract surrendering the human rights protections provided me by the “laws of the land.” Larry may be taking AA into the world of public controversy, but he has a right as a citizen of Ontario to do so. If his case prevails, then Intergroup will have been shown to have violated the laws of the land. If it takes public controversy to right that wrong, so be it.

      • Mike B. February 27, 2016 at 3:27 pm Reply

        Thanks Bob. I concur 100%.


  11. Rich February 21, 2016 at 8:57 pm - Reply

    I can understand the point Jack from Vancouver is making, but let’s step back a moment and pause. We stopped fighting anyone or anything as the BB States. Let them roll with their religious based bigotry. They will self destruct under their own prejudices. Always have. There may be no atheists in foxholes and there are no atheists in the Ku Klux Klan either!

    • Mike B. February 22, 2016 at 7:22 pm Reply

      Hi Rich:

      I think there are atheists in foxholes…we just dig a little deeper hole!




      • Rich February 22, 2016 at 8:46 pm Reply

        You are correct Mike. But the point I was making ( maybe not accurately ) was prejudices exist . Some of the most prejudicial people claim to believe in the ‘Abrahamic ‘ concept of ‘ God ‘. I am also pretty sure there are non – believers who hold prejudices. The concept of a higher power and / or a concept of ‘ God ‘is a individuals personal concept. I have my own and I don’t like someone else’s concept shoved  down my throat.

        That being said , it IS appalling that any A.A. would not tolerate someone else’s concept of a higher power or God , or no concept . Where is the ” love & tolerance is our code ” in that line of thinking?  Sometimes ya just can’t argue with ignorance & close minded people . They really should practice what they preach. If someone is gonna talk the talk , then walk the walk. Some of the most enlighten people I know are atheist / agnostic . They work  a good program and I am inspired by their examples. My own beliefs / concepts do not in any way conflict with theirs. We’re on this road together headin’ for Happy Destiny !

        • Mike B. February 23, 2016 at 12:22 am Reply


          My comment on foxholes was made in jest. Trying to lighten things up a bit. 🙂 Have a great day!



  12. Jack B. February 21, 2016 at 8:31 pm - Reply

    What really appalls and infuriates me is the blatant religious bigotry going on here. It’s important to remember that these people truly believe that they are preserving the “real” AA from the un-godly hordes. Most of these cults of whatever size and stripe all have a built-in persecution complex usually imaginary. But like all these groups they adopt first fear, then hate. It’s been going on for as long as these groups have existed. And now they’re after AA.

    I’m told that I should be polite and communicative on this page. That I should be inclusive and be understanding of others positions. I am all those things EXCEPT when it comes to vicious bigotry no matter the “nice” people who spew it so easily.

    I have no time for bigots and their perverted ideologies.

    If the religious bigots in my beloved AA want a fight then I say bring it on. I’m not going anywhere!!!

    Jack B., Vancouver.

  13. steve b February 21, 2016 at 8:05 pm - Reply

    Rigid AA fundamentalists want to deny inclusion in AA to those who don’t agree with their ideology of what constitutes a proper recovery from alcoholism, never for a moment considering that their basic idea that “god” enables sobriety might be false.

  14. Rich February 21, 2016 at 7:04 pm - Reply

    It’s all in the wording : God as we understand Him . If I understand ” God ” or ” Him ” to be a curtain rod , so be it. If I understand  ” Him ” as nonexistent entity ,  so be it. My humble opinion is Jim Burwell knew this and hence insisted on the wording . It’s all an issue of interpretation of the language , like everything else , it is subjective.

  15. dave b February 21, 2016 at 11:12 am - Reply

    It appears to me that the big question is: does the Canadian human rights code apply to a private group.  In the US, I think private groups can discriminate if they wish but gov’t groups or businesses can’t.

    • bob k February 21, 2016 at 11:57 am Reply

      I interject ONLY because there is a plethora of misinformation arising around these issues. The Human Rights legislation is provincial, specific to the Province of Ontario.

      • Roger C. February 21, 2016 at 2:59 pm Reply

        Right you are, Bob, this is a provincial proceeding. That is worth noting.

        However, a ruling by the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal would have a real impact across Canada. In 1988, for example, the Ontario Court of Appeal ruled that the “recitation of the Lord’s Prayer… impose(s) Christian observances upon non-Christian pupils and religious observances on non-believers” and constituted a violation of the freedom of conscience in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. While it’s ruling only applied to Ontario, the Lord’s Prayer was soon prohibited in public schools not only in Ontario but in all of the other provinces across Canada.

        Just saying… I suspect the ruling of the Tribunal will have an impact outside of Ontario.

    • Roger C. February 21, 2016 at 11:41 am Reply

      Yes, it very definitely applies to private groups, Dave. The Code says “every person has a right to equal treatment with respect to services, goods, and facilities without discrimination”. Historically, it is quite evident that this applies to services, goods, and facilities that are provided  and operated by private organizations.

  16. Roger C. February 21, 2016 at 10:07 am - Reply

    I want to express my profound appreciation and gratitude to Larry Knight for taking this matter where, in the end, it had to be taken: The Ontario Human Rights Tribunal.

    It is a question of human rights, and is somewhat reminiscent of the GBLT community which had to work hard and deal with a great deal of opposition in coming out of the closet and insisting upon the respect and accommodation it deserved.

    Thank you Larry.

    • Thomas B. February 21, 2016 at 11:11 am Reply

      Absolutely, Roger — Larry will certainly go down in the history of secular AA recovery, but he may also be recognized someday in the annals of general AA history as being responsible for helping to keep AA relevant in the 21st century.

  17. dave b February 21, 2016 at 9:48 am - Reply

    Like the bible, the big book has multiple irreconcilable discrepancies about this issue – even more are evident if you add what Bill Wilson wrote and said over the next few decades after publication of the big book.

    Despite my general appreciation for AA’s aversion to publicity, I’ll be glad if they’re eventually forced to take a stand.  Maybe it’ll even inspire them to finally give atheists an appropriate pamphlet and grapevine collection of atheist’s sobriety stories.

    This will be a landmark case.  If it doesn’t end in a victory for our faction within AA, I suspect AA will also lose in the long run.

  18. Thomas B February 21, 2016 at 8:56 am - Reply

    What’s always baffled me about this kerfuffle is that Bill and the original members of AA, mostly from the Oxford Group meetings in Akron, who collaborated with him in writing the “sacred text” of the first 164 pages of the Big Book, make a pretty clear, declarative statement regarding the wording of the steps:

    The wording was, of course, quite optional so long as we expressed the idea, voicing it without reservation.

    Alcoholics Anonymous, Page 631939

    • life-j February 21, 2016 at 12:51 pm Reply

      Well, now, Thomas, your quote from p 63 actually pertains to the 3rd step PRAYER. Not the steps. Not that I don’t otherwise agree with you, only we need to keep the facts straight.

      So you may offer yourself to God using any words you want so long as you do it, fully.

  19. Manoel H. February 21, 2016 at 7:57 am - Reply

    I keep following the procedures with redoubled interest. I´m an agnostic member in a traditional group here in Brasília, Brasil. I´ve tried to raise the matter among some of my fellow companheiros, but they show little interest. The usual argument is “things are different here, you´re just after unnecessary discussion, after all the whole things is about a higher power any way you choose, we have more important issues at hand”, etc.

    I obviously don´t think this is just a  trifle intellectual matter. Next week we´re having a round table about the Second Step, and I intend to put the Toronto legal dispute in the agenda.

    Don´t see any risk of getting kicked out or anything, but sure expect some angry brows.

  20. George February 21, 2016 at 7:56 am - Reply

    This issue has nothing to do with religion. The issue is whether or not an AA group can rewrite the 12 Steps. To present this issue otherwise is a disservice to all–especially, to the atheists and agnostics who might benefit from AA. You falsely give the impression that agnostics and atheists are not welcome in AA.. You falsely suggest that atheist and agnostic meetings are not sanctioned by AA. Shame on you! To make this into a human rights issue and take it to the courts is misguided to say the least.

    • Mike B. February 27, 2016 at 5:19 pm Reply

      Well George it has everything to do with religion including the closed mindedness, bigotry and intolerance of bible and big book thumpers in our fellowship. Those who believe their beliefs are the only way to recovery. Those of us with different beliefs or no beliefs suffer the consequences of their intolerance, hatred and fears. As an avowed atheist in AA I speak from experience; I have been on the receiving end of their vindictiveness many times.

      Secular AA groups and their members were delisted and disenfranchised over 5 years ago. Secularists have been unable to get the decisions of Greater Toronto and Vancouver Area intergroups to reverse their decisions. Districts, Areas, GSO and the Trustees done little if anything to right these mistakes.

      It is not surprising that a secular member in Toronto has taken this issue to the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal. It appears there were no other acceptable options left to resolve the issue. His rights were trampled based on his creed or lack of belief. It is a disgrace that extreme measures were deemed necessary as the only way out of this mess. A  fellowship that prides itself on love and tolerance again find itself in the depths of despair. But fear not friends there is another light at the end of the tunnel.

      Perhaps the George’s of this fellowship will also see the light before the train runs over all of us. I fear not!

    • John S February 21, 2016 at 8:38 am Reply

      I don’t know George, I have to respectfully disagree with you on this one. The article does state the original reason for being delisted was because the groups altered the 12 Steps. However, the Intergroup is now claiming an AA group must believe in God to be members of the GTA Intergroup.

      GTAI also submits that it is a bona fide requirement that groups that wish to be part of this intergroup must have a belief in the higher power of God.

      AA is not a religion, and the case being made as I understand it, is that the Intergroup cannot deny membership on the basis of a person or a group not believing in God. That is a violation of the Ontario Human Rights Code.

      • michael saunders March 7, 2016 at 10:24 am Reply

        It seems that the offending Intergroup has made a serious error. The quote: “… this intergroup must have a belief in the higher power of God.” is at variance of the concept of either “god” or a “higher power”. But they have stated that “god’ is the possessor of higher power. They have conflated two separate terms into one, thus it seems that only “god” is acceptable, and has “higher power” to heal, an entirely theistic/Abrahamic notion to the exclusion of all else.

      • Chris G. February 21, 2016 at 9:45 am Reply

        Keep in mind that the US courts have found, at least 5 times, that AA is indeed a religious organization. This is detailed in this article :The Courts, AA, and Religion.

  21. Micaela S. February 21, 2016 at 6:09 am - Reply

    Wow.  Just wow.  In a way I am glad that this is coming to a head.  AA keeps saying it is NOT a religious organization much less a Christian Religious organization.  I always found this statement odd seeing as we close with the Lord’s Prayer which is distinctly religious and very much Christian.  In addition God is freely used by many people attending AA.

    AA has tap danced through the years saying “God…as we understood him” but the Toronto response clearly states only: God.

    I don’t see much of a problem with allowing an Atheist group to come under the AA umbrella.  The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking.

    I am almost ten years sober. I have a sponsor. (who happens to be a religious Bible thumper…we have been working together for 8 years).   My sponsor has a sponsor.  I have a home group.  I am actively involved in AA.  It just turns out that I discovered I was an atheist 6 years into the program.  Big deal.  Who cares?  That has no bearing upon my active sobriety.

    We will see how things turn out….

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