Nonreligious Recovery Options Bill

ACTION ALERT | Support Nonreligious Recovery Optionsimage of NY State emblem

LifeRing fully endorses NY Bill S5332/A5074, which requires written notice to a defendant of their right to complete court-ordered alcohol or substance use treatment in a nonreligious treatment program. This bill has passed the NY Assembly and Senate and delivered to Governor Hochul.

Please take five minutes to make a phone call and/or send an email to Governor Hochul. Hearing from constituents and community members makes a difference! Please take a moment to review and support this bill.

The press conference on the Nonreligious Recovery Options Bill has been rescheduled to next Monday, November 20th at 11:30am to 12:30pm Eastern Time. This bill has been sent to the Governor's desk so we could see action soon, but as of now sponsors AM Epstein and Senator Harckham have decided to move forward with the press conference.

 


Here's how you can help:

  1. Help get folks out to attend the press release. Hold up supportive signs! 
    DATE: Monday, November 20, 2023
    TIME: 11:30am to 12:30pm Eastern Time
    LOCATION100 Centre St, NY, NY 10013
  2. Send an action alert urging the Governor to sign the bill! 

Action Alert Language

SEND A MESSAGE TO GOVERNOR HOCHUL

Simply copy-paste the subject line and text below and submit on Governor Hochul's website contact form.  Feel free to edit this message and put it into your own words. If you have a personal connection to the issue, please feel free to share it.

SUBJECT LINE: Support NY Bill 5074, Nonreligious Recovery Options

BODY: My name is (NAME). I'm [a New York voter in (CITY/NEIGHBORHOOD IN NEW YORK) and] a member of LifeRing Secular Recovery. I am writing to urge you to support NY Bill S5332/A5074, the Nonreligious Recovery Options Bill.

This bill will ensure that nonreligious recovery options are made available for individuals mandated by courts to attend substance use treatment programs. It protects the First Amendment rights of individuals in the criminal justice system by preventing our state from coercing attendees to attend faith-based programs. While faith-based recovery programs work for many people, they do not work for everyone. This bill ensures that multiple pathways to recovery are available so that individual can choose programs that will work for them.

PHONE CALL INSTRUCTIONS 

If you get a voicemail, please leave a voicemail using the script below. If someone picks up, it will likely be staff. If you're extra short on time, the most important things to remember are to [establish you are a New York voter,] mention the organization you are affiliated with, and say you are calling to urge Governor Hochul to support 5074, the Nonreligious Recovery Options bill.

Phone number: (518) 474-8390

Script for phone call:

  • My name is (NAME). I'm [a New York voter in (CITY/NEIGHBORHOOD IN NEW YORK) and] a member of LifeRing Secular Recovery.
  • I am calling to urge Governor Hochul to support 5074, the Nonreligious Recovery Options Bill.
  • This bill is very simple—it will ensure that nonreligious recovery options are made available for individuals mandated by courts to attend substance use treatment programs.
  • This bill protects the First Amendment constitutional rights of individuals in the criminal justice system by preventing our state from coercing attendees to attend faith-based programs. Faith-based recovery programs work for many people, but not for everyone. This bill ensures that multiple pathways to recovery are available so that individuals can choose programs that will work for them.
  • I strongly urge Governor Hochul to pass the Nonreligious Recovery Options bill 5074. Thank you.

Memo of Support: S05332 (Harkham) /A05074 (Epstein) 

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. 

Background

The drug addiction epidemic continues to harm our communities, particularly younger New Yorkers and people of color. In 2021, New York City suffered nearly 2,700 drug overdose deaths, and today in New York someone fatally overdoses every three hours. Addressing this epidemic requires using every available tool at our disposal. 

By expanding treatment options and mandating that the state court system offer secular options, we can create a more equitable system that works for everyone. 

Issue

Incarcerated individuals represent 47% of all treatment admissions to New York State’s Office of Addiction Services and Supports programs. Oftentimes the only support groups available for participants are based on the traditional twelve-step model. While these recovery programs can be effective, they frequently require submission to a higher power which courts have found to be religious in nature. Defendants may be not aware of their First Amendment right to access non-religious treatment programs. As a result, individuals can be denied access to secular treatment options. 

It is well-settled law that any individual mandated to attend recovery treatment must be provided with a secular option. Furthermore, offering various treatment paths can improve recovery outcomes. Forty-six percent of New Yorkers are religiously unaffiliated, and accordingly many New Yorkers may find faith-based options are not conducive to their recovery. Additionally, there are cases in which defendants and incarcerated individuals are outright denied a secular option when requested. This was the case in lawsuits in New York and in dozens of additional cases across the country. The problem is not limited to the court system either—in 2022, a Buddhist won a case against their employer and collected $305,000 in damages for being denied a secular recovery option. 

Legislative Solution

The Nonreligious Recovery Options bill has two purposes: to shift the burden from defendants to the courts to ensure judicial compliance with the Constitution while improving overall recovery outcomes. 

This bill requires New York’s courts, prior to specifying a substance use program, to inquire on the record if the defendant objects to a religious element of the program. If the defendant objects, the court would then be required to identify an alternative equivalent program to which the defendant has no religious objection, and confirm the defendant’s consent on the record. 

Regarding the latter—it’s about much more than aligning programs with a defendant’s values. Some faith-based settings stigmatize individuals using Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT), a life-saving and evidence-based tool strongly endorsed by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), a federal agency devoted to substance abuse and mental health issues.