Motions to Welcome Agnostic AA Groups


Democratic efforts to ensure that Alcoholics Anonymous welcomes secular groups – and doesn’t delist them as was done in Toronto and Vancouver – were launched in both Canada and the United States on Sunday.

Motions to relist agnostic groups and for AA to always be “inclusive and never exclusive” were presented in Area 79 (British Columbia / Yukon) and Area 39 (Western Missouri).

Many, many thanks are owed to Mike B. and John S. for writing these motions and having the courage to present them.

Mike B., from Oliver, British Columbia, presented his motion to District 68 and reports:

I attended the district meeting and had an opportunity to give a talk on the issue and present my motion. There was considerable interest and discussion…  They tabled my motion until the next district meeting in September. I am dismayed how few members know anything about this issue but I’m sure a few more newspaper articles and some progress on the human rights front and we will start getting a lot more attention and support.

John S., from Kansas City, presented his motion directly to the Area Assembly for Western Missouri. He reports:

I asked that the General Service Conference request that anytime GSO is asked for direction from an Intergroup regarding whether or not to list an agnostic group, they should always answer unambiguously “welcome them with open arms”. I cited the situation in Toronto, AA tradition, etc….

These motions are a remarkably effective means to bring our secular movement – and our problems within AA – to the attention of our fellowship. Mike is absolutely correct when he talks about “how few members know about this issue”.

There are a total of 93 AA Areas in North America. Motions to welcome agnostic AA groups have now been presented in two of them. That leaves 91. Let’s get to it!

This could be the main topic at the General Service Conference in 2017 but it’s up to us to make that happen.

Kudos again to Mike and John.

Mike’s motion is here:

AA Area 79 Motion

A. Objective:

To reverse the delisting and disenfranchising of secular AA groups in Vancouver and Toronto by the intergroup committees in those cities.

B. Background Information:

  • Approximately 5 years ago the Greater Toronto Area Intergroup (GTAI) and the Vancouver Area Intergroup (VAI) committees delisted a number of secular AA groups by refusing to list their meetings in the community meeting guides (printed and online) and furthermore banned secular intergroup representatives from voice and vote at intergroup meetings.
  • This unacceptable situation has continued for over 5 years despite the ongoing efforts of secular groups to be reinstated.
  • As a last resort, a member of a Toronto secular AA group has filed a charge of discrimination with the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal against the GTAI, the AA General Service Board and AA World Services. The discrimination charge is based on the fact that the same rights and services provided to all other AA groups and members are being restricted, withheld and denied to secular AA groups and their members; based on creed and secular non -belief in god. The Tribunal preliminary hearing has now been upgraded to a full hearing with all parties ordered to respond in writing to all questions from the Chair within 35 days.

C. Supporting Documentation:

Please find attached the following documents:

D. Action Required:

  • This motion requires passing at the District 68 meeting on March 13th, 2016. From there it needs to be taken forward by our DCM, as an emergency motion, to the BC/Yukon area pre-conference assembly held on April 8, 2016.
  • When passed at the Area 79 pre-conference assembly our area 79 delegate should take the emergency motion forward to the General Service Conference in New York April 17-23, 2016.
  • It is important that this motion move forward with the utmost urgency to mitigate potential bad public relations, financial penalties and negative public opinion.
  • It is certain that many rulings will come out of the Human Rights Tribunal before the next AA General Service Conference in 2017. If we get on this thing now we should be able to head off most of the impending damage and settle this unity destroying crisis once and for all.
  • This injustice needs to be made right by making secular members and groups whole.
  • Instead of marginalising and excluding secular members and groups why not try being more welcoming, accepting and inclusive to this rapidly growing sector of AA.
  • Let’s make AA more proactive in accepting secular AA groups and members in order that AA may become more attractive, inclusive, relevant and effective in the future treatment of alcoholism; for all alcoholics!

E. Motion:


  • The unacceptable actions of GTAI and VAI have led to a Human Rights Tribunal action against AA and that such action has and will continue to create negative publicity for our fellowship.
  • The Tribunal could award severe financial penalties against AA.
  • That the actions of GTAI and VAI contravene many of the traditions and principles of AA including:
  1. Our leaders are but trusted servants, they do not govern. Since when do intergroup committees decide what groups are in good standing with all rights and privileges of membership? When were they given the power to decide what constitutes an AA group and the right to expel those that don’t meet their standards?
  2. Each AA member has the right to believe or not believe in a higher power. They do not need to believe in any god or deity!
  3. AA group conscience is based on the democratic process within each group. Any 2 or 3 members may call themselves an AA group providing they have no outside affiliation. Non- belief in god does not constitute an outside affiliation.
  4. Secular AA groups should not be excluded from any level of AA service because they do not believe in god or interpret the 12 steps without God.
  5. Lack of action and silence on this issue by districts, areas, GSO and the Board of Trustees is unacceptable and may well be construed by the Human Rights Tribunal as condoning the actions of the GTAI and VAI intergroup committees.
  6. AA’s creed of love and tolerance cannot be attained using the tools of discrimination, hatred, bigotry and exclusion of members or groups based on creed; their belief or lack of belief in any god.

Therefore be it resolved:

That every means, at all levels of AA service (districts, areas, GSO, General Service Conference, AAWS Inc. and Board of Trustees), be taken immediately to rectify the discriminatory practices within our fellowship that presently exist against AA secular members and groups. Be it further resolved that the corrective action be taken as quickly as possible to mitigate any further legal action, financial penalties and minimize and reduce negative public criticism. The unity of our fellowship is paramount in resolving this issue.

F. Submitted by:

Mike B.
The Fellowship Group
Oliver, BC

23 Responses

  1. Jack B. says:

    Hi Mike,
    The BCHRT action proceeds slowly and cautiously as the process is quite involved. Please let Larry know that I’d appreciate any help he can throw our way.
    Thanks for all your good work,

  2. Helen L says:

    Just a point of information:

    The protestant version of the prayer is the one being spoken in AA in the USA.

    The Roman Catholic version and title is slightly different.

  3. Mke B says:

    Human Rights in AA – AA claim of non control: 25 Mar 2016.

    I have recently had numerous lengthy phone calls with area 79 officers; namely our delegate, chair and f2f with our CPC/PI chair on today’s intergroup human rights issues. They solidly maintain that AA at all service levels, (district, area, GSO and AAWS) has absolutely no control over intergroups; AA’s hands are tied on the issue and maintain they must refrain from getting involved.

    I had a very fruitful discussion with Larry K., our Toronto secular member who initiated the Human Rights Tribunal against GTAI, GSO and AAWS. He tells me adamantly that that their information is false and misleading. Larry has presented the following facts on the issue and I hope I got them right:
    1. GSO employs a fulltime staff member to coordinate AA business with intergroups worldwide.
    2. GSO sponsors workshops, literature, leadership and assistance to intergroups throughout AA. See Box 459 (Sept 2008) – titled “Central office/Intergroup Seminar held in Edmonton”. GSO sponsored the workshop so can’t truthfully claim it has no relationship with intergroups.
    3. GSO distributes and sells books, pamphlets and many other AA items which are resold at intergroup literature depots where money changes hands and profits made by all parties.
    4. There are AA guidelines outlining the relationship between intergroups reps. and AA groups.(see AA service manual – Service Structure Inside the AA Group – chart, p. S48)
    5. Integroups donate moneys to other AA service levels as well as exchange money for products purchased.
    6. Larry K. stated he was able to unequivocally establish a working / business relationship between intergroups, GSO, AAWS and the Grapevine; a relationship which has continued uninterrupted for years. Larry successfully established these principles / truths at the tribunal which were accepted entirely by GSO without cross-examination.
    7. Intergroups are not a quasi AA committee without controls, reporting procedures and the need for transparency and need to follow AA’s traditions of unity and concepts of service. They are not a loose cannon on the deck of the good ship AA.

    In conclusion do not let any of our leaders use this argument as a means of BS baffling brains.

    Good luck to all and strongly suggest we ask Larry to keep us up-to-date on the tribunal.


  4. Life, I’ll be happy to talk with you. I don’t attend Petaluma regularly. Pick up a phone list there and call me.

  5. life-j says:

    Harry, I think if we were affiliated with the “United Atheists and Agnostics of America” (don’t know if there actually is such a thing) it would be a problem, but we are only atheist and agnostics within AA.

    I think any similar subgroup directly subscribing to any organized philosophy would have a harder time claiming absence of affiliation – you can’t really be “AA Baptists” without being affiliated with Baptism, or Republicans, whatever. Even if there are a variety of agnostic and atheist organizations, one cannot be accused of having an association with them just from lack of certain beliefs.

    I acknowledge that us all being associated with AA Agnostica is a borderline problematic issue, since the site happens to be privately operated, but I see nothing on AA Agnostica that associates itself with any organization whatsoever, other than trying to serve agnostic and atheist AA members, thus, I think we’re on safe ground in that respect.

    I think in this respect the activities at AA Agnostica are like holding a meeting in a church that is owned by another entity. AA Agnostica is not controlling anything, only hosting activity for AA members.

  6. life-j says:

    Christopher, we need to coordinate efforts and help each other (read: we need help in Mendocino County).

    I went to the Petaluma meeting a few weeks ago, and it was a good experience. I would like to establish contact with you there.

  7. Anthony says:

    Aloha from Hawai’i thank you for raising the awareness to us who’d rather leave out the god bias’ and blanket assertions regarding specific religions (aka: “our father’s” and “him” and our “creator”)double standard’s?

    We all know (or not?) that the “Our father” prayer is specifically a Catholic prayer and is often prayed by Christians to promote their theology?

    So why is it still in AA? I know but great job and good luck 😉

  8. Harry says:

    Atheists in AA say: “Any two people meeting for the purpose of staying sober may call themselves an AA group with no other requirement than a desire to stop drinking.” On the web site AA Agnostica.

    Yet they leave off the part in the tradition about being affiliated with any other entity.

    Can you imagine Baptists in AA? Or Republicans in AA? They cry for AA to be inclusive yet they are the most exclusive of all by excluding those without faith in God.

  9. This discrimination is so tragic. I’m so grateful that Sonoma County District 12, Area 06 CNCA is proudly listing our three Atheist Agnostic Freethinkers meetings. I will do my part to encourage the proposed motion for next year’s GSO conference.

  10. John S says:

    I think that the Service Structure (the upside down triangle of AA) is very responsive to our needs. I have great respect for it. Minorities are given very special consideration, there is a huge effort to avoid a tyranny of the majority.

    I have been impressed by the commitment and dedication from people I have met during my minimal involvement with General Service.

    I think the Service Structure is where it’s at for us. We need to get involved in all levels of AA service. It’s not they, it’s us. We need to take responsibility for our fellowship of AA. The more of us that are involved the better.

    When the gay groups were starting their meetings they also experienced problems, but they were very involved in AA service and this helped them a lot. We need to do that same, but not just so we can express grievances. We need to do the work of AA, carrying the message to the next suffering alcoholic.

    The only problems that any agnostic group has experienced has been with a handful of Central Offices, not to my knowledge with the General Service Conference or GSO.

  11. John S says:

    Life, I had no idea that your Central Office was refusing to list your group. This needs to end, there should be no question whatsoever.

    My experience with AA in Kansas City has been nothing but positive. I know that there are individual people who don’t like our group, but the Central Office and District has been wonderful and when I meet people at Intergroup meetings or whatever, they are always supported.

    When I delivered this motion, I was met with warm applause and a number of people stopped by to shake my hand. We are not at all controversial in Missouri or Kansas City.

    However, the fellowship as a whole needs to understand that groups like your’s and the groups in Canada deserve to be welcomed in your local AA Communities and given a voice in Intergroup.

    I also am the GSR for my group and I don’t understand how all this works either. I was quite nervous presenting this motion and came close, very close to chickening out. However, I felt that the motion was for the benefit of AA overall. It has nothing to do with my group specifically, but it has to do with AA overall, that we always be inclusive and never exclusive.

    Central Offices are outside of the Service Structure of AA. They are independent and operated by the groups in the communities they serve. There has not been a single instance of an agnostic AA group not being allowed representation in the service structure of AA. However, there have been instances of agnostic groups not being allowed a voice in their local Intergroup.

    When Central Offices call GSO to ask about listing an agnostic group, the GSO gives no advice, or at least they shouldn’t. However, they do share their experience. I think in light of what happened in Toronto, the General Service Conference has an obligation to request to GSO when they share their experience on listing agnostic AA groups that they be very, very clear that these groups have been listed in AA meeting directories for decades and are part of AA. That is our experience.

    Knowing that GSO shares this experience will help groups like your’s who are experiencing problems with Central Offices.

  12. Ron H says:

    The same happens in Al Anon: they will not list agnostic meetings and people over react to someone saying they are an atheist, or non theist. There is strong peer pressure to conform.

  13. Tom L. says:

    Thanks … I hope for a similar experience with our intergroup.

  14. Dan L says:

    Sometimes I wonder if our fundamentalist brethren are going to destroy AA in order to preserve it from being “watered down”. Just how you can “water down” a process which occurs in each individual member’s mind is baffling. Nobody can do the steps the same as it is an “inside job”. Those people who believe in a god must perforce tie that god into their healing but the rest of us are required to use another method. How long until they want to use only one sect’s god(s)?

  15. Thomas B. says:

    Hello Tom,

    The Board of the Portland Intergroup Association just this month voted to designate the three secular AA groups as “Agnostic”. Initially, the manager didn’t want to list them, following the thinking of Toronto and Vancouver, but advocacy on the part of AA members active in General Service at the District and Area levels convinced him otherwise.

  16. John S says:

    The same experience in Kansas City. Our Central Office has been nothing but helpful. They listed our group without question and they have been wonderful. Our group is also active in our District where again we are welcomed.

    There has been absolutely no problem in Missouri at all. This motion was intended to advise GSO in a very gentle way that when sharing their experience with intergroups on this subject that they be very clear in stating that agnostic groups have been listed in AA meeting directories for decades. Agnostic groups date back to 1975.

    I want to be clear that the AA community in Kansas City as well as Western Missouri has been totally accepting and we are grateful to them and we have no disagreement at all.

  17. life-j says:

    Excellent initiative. May I suggest that the two of you who have made these put your heads together and make a cookie-cutter version? Something that the rest of us can adapt without having to duplicate all your efforts.

    And while I am the GSR for my group I confess I do not understand the structure of AA’s higher level service very well. Anyway, the guy who heads up our GSR meetings, and so is what, our DSM? – he actually showed up at the Intergroup fight here in inland Mendocino, and spoke in favor of including us, but they did not take his advice.

    I think we need an initiative about some stronger language advising Intergroups that they are to refrain from governing.

  18. Tom L. says:

    Thanks, Roger. I take encouragement from your response. I meet with the local intergroup manager later this week. I’ll post the progress of this effort as we proceed. Tom.

  19. Lon Mc. says:

    For those of us who found wanting our indoctrination into AA involving products of human imagination, our own efforts to find solutions in the world of reality became life saving. Our service structure should acknowledge that, if it wants to expand the capacity of AA to show the ways to successful joyful sober living for all alcoholics.

  20. Roger says:

    Hi Tom: I started a “We Agnostics” meeting in Hamilton, which is just outside of Toronto, at the beginning of February and it was very well received (and listed) by the Central Office. In fact, the manager indicated that he was happy to be an example of how agnostic groups should be welcomed, in contrast to the behaviour of Toronto Intergroup. And, by the way, the meeting is going just great! Roger.

  21. Tom L. says:

    Our secular meeting, Many Paths AA, in Burien, WA was listed by our intergroup with no obvious animus. We have begun to ask for a specialty code designating “atheist, agnostic, secular” in the intergroup directory. The inital reaction from the intergroup manager was against doing this, but we will work with them to get a code established.

    We will follow the Canadian and W. Missouri efforts with great interest.

  22. Thomas B. says:

    Indeed, the exemplary work that both Mike B. and John S. did at their respective Area’s General Service Conferences last weekend is essential to the secular AA movement within AA to insure that our agnostic, atheist and freethinking voices, though a decided minority within North American AA, nevertheless are included in the discussion of what AA is and how it is useful for all alcoholics, regardless of belief or lack of belief.

  23. Donald J. says:

    The Steps are merely suggestions. Perhaps a re-reading of pages 26-27 in the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions would be helpful to those who wish to exclude any groups formed under the guidelines in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous.

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