Toronto Agnostic AA Groups Win Fight for Inclusion

By Bob K. 

On the evening of Tuesday, January 31, at the monthly gathering of Toronto area Intergroup reps, the executive committee announced that they had reached a settlement of the Human Rights complaint launched against GTAI some two years earlier. Details of the basic case and settlement can be found at in Roger C.’s February 2nd posting, “Toronto Intergroup yields to agnostics in AA.

Below is a copy of the media release made available February 6th, 2017, by Larry K. and his lawyer. The two agnostic-friendly AA groups have been reinstated to intergroup membership, relisted, and their rights under group autonomy have been specifically recognized.

“GTA Intergroup acknowledges that the manner in which individual AA members or groups of AA members interpret and apply the Steps and Traditions in their own lives is a matter for those individuals alone.” (From the executive committee’s statement to member groups)

In applying for reinstatement, the now relisted groups agreed to the terms of the now standard submission form, viewable at There is an agreement to “adopt or acknowledge” AA’s 12 steps, traditions, et. al Although this can clearly be seen as a face-saving measure on the part of Toronto Intergroup, there are two keywords. “Or” allows us to dismiss the “adopt” option, and move on to the second keyword “acknowledge.”

Prior to the 2011 delisting, the agnostic groups read a blurb before reciting a secularized interpretation of the 12 steps. The blurb “acknowledged” that what they were reading weren’t AA’s original 12 steps, which they further “acknowledged” were to be found in Chapter 5 of the book Alcoholics Anonymous. I expect that these acknowledgments will continue.

The now relisted groups, at their option, will be reading altered versions of the 12 steps. Toronto Intergroup is aware of that. GSO is aware of that. There will be no interference. There will be no policing. The taste for battle has disappeared.

Media Release

Toronto Alcoholics Anonymous Intergroup re-affirms right to inclusion, regardless of beliefs

“Anyone with the barest knowledge of recovery knows timely help is a matter of life and death,” said Lawrence Knight. Knight’s struggle to list agnostic groups with the Toronto A.A. Intergroup ultimately led him to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario.

On January 18, 2017, representatives of the Greater Toronto Area Intergroup, Knight and A.A. World Services Inc. and the General Services Board of Alcoholic Anonymous Inc. met to formally resolve Knight’s human rights claim. Lawrence Knight is ecstatic. “This is huge. There can be no doubts for A.A. chapters around the world – a desire to be sober really is the only requirement.”

Knight and GTA Intergroup agree that it is not A.A.’s practice to exclude anyone, including A.A. groups, based on creed: “All groups, regardless of their belief system form part of the A.A fellowship. The only requirement for A.A. membership is a desire to stop drinking, and any two or more people who come together for the purpose of being sober may call themselves an A.A. group, as long as they have a desire to be sober, and provided they have no outside affiliation”.

GTA Intergroup has re-affirmed that any A.A. group in the Greater Toronto Area that acknowledges or adopts the suggested 12 Steps and 12 Traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous can be recognized as a member of Intergroup with the right of representation on The Floor of Intergroup, regardless of how their members interpret and apply those steps in their own lives.

Mr. Knight said, “Many groups, such as Chicago’s Quad-A have been running agnostic A.A. groups continuously for over 35 years acknowledging or adopting the traditional 12 Steps and 12 Traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous and state unequivocally their membership is open to ‘all people with a desire to stop drinking. There are no further qualifiers or disqualifiers.’”

As noted on the Quad A website, “The atheist, agnostic and freethinkers meetings function no differently than other A.A. meetings – allowing recovering alcoholics to gather on a regular basis as autonomous groups. We share and learn how to live sober and rewarding lives.”

Given this understanding between the parties, the Greater Toronto Area Intergroup representatives have indicated the groups that were removed from the meeting lists in 2011 can be re-listed.

Megan Evans Maxwell, Knight’s lawyer from the Human Rights Legal Support Centre, was “thrilled to support Larry’s tenacity and passionate advocacy. There is no question in my mind. What Larry did was save lives.”

The Human Rights Legal Support Centre provides free legal assistance to people in communities across Ontario who have experienced discrimination contrary to Ontario’s Human Rights Code.

GTA Intergroup is the body of Alcoholics Anonymous in The Greater Toronto Area that serves as a forum for discussion and a focus for cooperation and coordination among AA groups in the area.

GTA is carrying the message of Alcoholics Anonymous to the suffering alcoholic. There are more than 117,700 A.A. groups around the world.

More Media Coverage

CBC Here and Now 

Gill Deacon spoke with Toronto lawyer, Megan Evans Maxwell about a Alcoholics Anonymous human rights case.

The Morning Show with Matt Gurney and Supriya Dwivedi

AA Agnostica

Toronto Intergroup Yields to Agnostics in AA

Toronto Star

Agnostic Alcoholics Welcomed Back into AA Fold

The Globe and Mail

After 3-Year Fight, AA Bod Backs Down on ‘God or Gone’ Stance

The Fix

Toronto AA Intergroup Finally Lets Agnostics, Atheists Back In


Toronto Alcoholics Anonymous Intergroup Re-Affirms Righ to Inclusion, Regardless of Belief

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  1. Wavy February 23, 2017 at 5:40 am - Reply

    So AA is more about being a believer and spreading “the word” than it is about helping humanity?
    Now, here is where they would say that spreading “the word” IS helping humanity. I say that them pulling their heads out of their a**es would be a better way to do so.

    • Bob K. February 23, 2017 at 9:51 am Reply

      Your comment might have been more apt a year ago when Toronto Intergroup may its initial grab at the religious exemption in an attempt to make Lawrence’s complaint go away. Even then, Toronto Intergroup does not speak for AA, the broader organization with 2 million members, which did NOT support their position.

      In the end, the idea that AA’s “only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking” has been upheld. It seems, in the words of Sarah Palin, Toronto Intergroup “went rogue.” They were not supported in that by AA, and as part of the settlement, they have abandoned their earlier position. In the podcast interview of Feb. 22, the complainant states that the New York AA people were helpful in resolving the case.

  2. Reid B. February 16, 2017 at 6:49 am - Reply

    In Minneapolis, MN, in about 1990, a bunch of us tried to have our Atheists and Agnostics group listed in the AA Intergroup meeting schedule booklet. We were denied a listing. Wonder how things are going there now. Anybody know?

    • Joe C. February 19, 2017 at 9:43 am Reply

      They may meet there a couple times per week. I visited the group on a Sunday afternoon when I was attending and presenting at NAADAC’s National Conference in Minneapolis last October. It was a tight group of AAs and I really enjoyed the meeting.

      Our Toronto archivist found a 1998 (or was it ’96?) Toronto meeting list with a We Agnostics meeting in the East end of Toronto. It wasn’t in the previously printed meeting directory or the next one. At the time, I was around but Toronto’s a big city. I hadn’t heard anything about it. I’m curious to know if it didn’t catch on, what the format was, if they got any blow-back, etc.


    • John S February 16, 2017 at 7:06 am Reply

      There is a We Agnostics group meeting in Minneapolis and listed in the Minneapolis Intergroup website.

      We Agnostics of Uptown

  3. Jack Blair February 12, 2017 at 6:02 pm - Reply

    When we approach Vancouver intergroup with the Ontario decision let’s hope reasonable heads prevail and they back down as well.

    Otherwise…what? Another $30,000.00 dollars of scarce resources wasted?

    Lets really hope not.

    Jack B., Vancouver.

    • Bob K. February 12, 2017 at 6:33 pm Reply

      I think the Toronto Intergroup expenditure will end up in the range of 50K. In the end, we have returned to where we were 6 years ago.

  4. Kit G February 12, 2017 at 12:59 pm - Reply

    Thank you, Bob.
    As an aside, sort of, I just posted a comment on The Fix article meant to be directed to whom you also replied to but it ended up as a reply to your comment. If anyone’s confused, oh well, join the club.

    Way to go, Larry and all. I’m afraid AA didn’t get drawn into public controversy, it just happened to cluelessly start it.

  5. Joe C. February 12, 2017 at 10:26 am - Reply

    Thanks for this, Bob. Thanks everyone.

  6. Thomas B. February 12, 2017 at 8:28 am - Reply

    Indeed, Bob K. and the AA Beyond Belief crew, thanks for this comprehensive summation of closure, for today, of this long-simmering incident, which has festered resentment in many of us longterm sober in AA members who do not profess a belief in the god of the Big Book and other AA literature, but who cherish our definitions of god, which include Group of Drunks, Good Orderly Direction, Gift of Desperation and Gratitude Over Drama. We experience these whenever we attend AA meetings and stay sober through the human power of the AA Fellowship, one alcohol addict sharing experience, strength and hope with another alcohol addict, which Bill initially did with Dr. Bob in May of 1935.

    I am most pleased to point out and to be grateful for the bottom layer of governance in our upside-down triangle of General Service, the A.A.W. S. Board, which passed a unanimous motion to delist GTAI approved meetings from its print and online editions of registered AA meetings as Roger C. reported. This action was truly in accordance with the highest principles and standards of AA’s history, traditions and concepts of service, which have evolved since Bill first met with Dr. Bob in May of 1935. I venture to believe that this was what really motivated GTAI to surrender to the reality that they had to change their bigoted and discriminatory position — they may be a religious organization, but A.A. as a whole is not.

    Unfortunately, as many of us have experienced, a substantial majority of the AA members throughout North America may likely tend to agree with GTAI perspective. This is indicated by actions of delegates to the annual General Service Conference, which since 1976 have strenuously resisted publishing any literature that accommodates our lack of belief in the Christian god of AA literature.  Yes, we got a tiny bone thrown to us in 2012 with the publication of the meager pamphlet, Many Paths to Spirituality. As well,  a special interest book of stories by agnostics, atheists and those of spiritual paths other than the theistic, pietistic Christian god of the Big Book  has been approved by the General Service Conference to be published. This year’s April conference will determine when it shall be published.

    I urge all of us to communicate to our Area Delegates, as well as to communicate with GSO, our wish to see this book of our stories published sooner, not later.




  7. Tommy H February 12, 2017 at 6:55 am - Reply

    Thanks for posting this.

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