Nebraska man sues the state for being forced to attend AA meetings.
OMAHA, Nebraska — A Fremont man is suing the state of Nebraska, saying his constitutional rights were violated when he was required to attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings even though he objected to the organization’s religious foundation.
Marvin Sundquist, 43, of Fremont, was issued a probationary massage therapist license in late 2012 based on Sundquist’s history of drunken driving and other minor convictions. One of the requirements for him to move off probationary status was to attend weekly AA meetings.
The Nebraska Attorney General’s Office moved to revoke his massage therapy license last year when he objected to mandatory attendance of AA, Sundquist said.
“AA is a religious organization,” Sundquist said. “I do not believe the state should be telling anybody to go to them, and it cost me a career as a massage therapist because I didn’t go.”
Sundquist instead asked to see an alcohol counselor who offers a non-religious program, but was denied that option by the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, he said.
“They would not accept my alternative or provide any other alternatives,” Sundquist said. “Their only option was to attend AA.”
On Thursday, the health department provided documents showing that it had issued Sundquist a license earlier this year, rejecting the attorney general’s revocation request because Sundquist had established a sobriety support system and had proved his sobriety through random testing.
But Sundquist’s lawsuit, filed Tuesday, said the revocation action cost him his massage therapist job and caused him to be evicted from him home.
The lawsuit names the state, its Attorney General’s Office, the state health department and several individual state employees with those agencies as defendants in the case.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Human Services said her office had not yet seen the lawsuit and declined to comment on it. A spokeswoman with the Nebraska Attorney General’s Office said Thursday that she was looking into the lawsuit.
Alcoholics Anonymous is a 12-step program that seeks to help people overcome alcohol addiction. Several of the steps have religious overtones, such as those that have the participant pray, strive for moral reform and seek help from a higher power.
Some courts have held that it’s unconstitutional for authorities to order people who declare a religious objection to attend AA meetings. In 2007, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, based in San Francisco, found that a parole officer can be sued for damages for ordering a parolee to go through AA.
Sundquist — who is acting as his own attorney — is asking for $200,000, saying the state cost him a promising career as a massage therapist. He is also seeking an injunction to prevent the state or its employees “from requiring similar religious activities against their religious objections.”
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