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WARNER v. ORANGE CTY. DEPT. OF PROBATION
December 14, 1994
ROBERT WARNER, Plaintiff, against ORANGE COUNTY DEPARTMENT OF PROBATION, Defendant.
GERARD L. GOETTEL, U.S.D.J.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: GERARD L. GOETTEL
This action was brought by plaintiff Robert Warner to obtain declaratory and compensatory relief on his claim that the Orange County, New York Department of Probation coerced him into attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings in violation of the United States Constitution's First Amendment Establishment of Religion Clause.
Previously, we denied defendant's motion to dismiss. See Warner v. Orange County Dep't of Probation, 827 F. Supp. 261 (S.D.N.Y. 1993). A one day bench trial was held on May 25, 1994 in White Plains, New York. The following are the Court's findings of fact and conclusions of law.
On November 13, 1990, plaintiff pleaded guilty to aggravated unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle in the second degree, a violation of N.Y. Vehicle and Traffic Law § 511(2), and Driving While Ability Impaired, a violation of N.Y. Vehicle Traffic Law § 1192(1). This was plaintiff's third alcohol-related driving offense within a period of slightly more than one year. Plaintiff was sentenced by Judge David L. Levinson of the Justice Court of the Town of Woodbury, Orange County, New York, to three years probation. There were six "Additional Conditions of Probation Pertaining To Alcohol." The fifth condition is the important one for this case: "That you will attend Alcoholics Anonymous at the direction of your Probation Officer."
Alcoholics Anonymous ("A.A.") is a worldwide organization that has been helping men and women recover from alcoholism since the 1930s. Our inquiry into A.A. is not concerned with the effectiveness of the program (which we have no reason to doubt), but rather with whether the A.A. program as plaintiff experienced it was essentially religious in nature.
The plaintiff attended A.A. meetings in Monroe, New York under the direction of his probation officer, Neal Terwilliger, from November 1990 through September 1992. On January 23, 1991 plaintiff, who is an atheist, complained to Terwilliger about what he perceived as the religious nature of the A.A. meetings he had attended. Terwilliger was not inclined to excuse plaintiff on this ground - he told plaintiff to continue attending the meetings, and to focus on how A.A. could help him with his abuse of alcohol.
The centerpiece of the A.A. program, as plaintiff experienced it, was the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. The Twelve Steps are the essential statement of the A.A. program. The plaintiff was specifically directed by Terwilliger to attend step meetings, each of which would focus on how to "work" a particular step. The Twelve Steps are as follows:
1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol - that our lives had become unmanageable.
3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
5. Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact ...
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