For the second year in a row, Governor Kathy Hochul vetoed a bill that had the support of American Atheists and both houses of the New York legislature.

This year’s decision was announced quietly — cowardly — just before Thanksgiving, in an (apparently successful) effort to avoid a repeat of the outrage and bad press that followed her December 2022 veto, including, “This from Kathy Hochul will get New Yorkers killed,” from a journalist with The Intercept.

Besides the statement we released, it’s unlikely you’ve seen any media coverage about it. Kudos to Kathy, but we’re not giving up.

The recovery options bill would have required courts to inform New Yorkers of their right to access to secular addiction treatment programs. Instead, nonreligious and non-Christian individuals will continue to be forced into overtly Christian programs like Alcoholics Anonymous simply because they don’t know their rights.

Of course, 12-step programs do provide vital support and community for some people in recovery, but they can also — for a number of reasons — cause real harm to others, and some research suggests their efficacy rate could be as low as 5-10% whereas advances in pharmacology are showing a lot of promise.

Governor Hochul offered little explanation for her discriminatory decision. She stated the policy “would impose an overly rigid burden on courts and judges.” She added: “I vetoed the same bill last year for the aforementioned reasons. The legislature has passed it once again, and my concerns remain. Therefore, I am constrained to veto this bill.”

“Constrained” seems the wrong word for the highest legislative and executive authority in the state. The term would be far more apropos for the individuals being held in correctional facilities, forced to relinquish their First Amendment rights and participate in faith-based programming.

More than half of New Yorkers identify as either nonreligious or non-Christian. The representatives they elected have now twice presented Governor Hochul with the opportunity to stand up for their rights and for their recovery. Instead, with the swipe of a pen, she has twice failed millions.

Governor Hochul’s betrayal is especially confounding following two recent court victories for recovery options. In West Virginia, American Atheists won $80,000 and the release of our client. In Colorado, our friends at Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the American Civil Liberties Union advocated for another atheist who was re-imprisoned for not being a Christian.

Our team is continuing to investigate the use of faith-based recovery programs in correctional facilities and determine how many receive federal funds to proselytize to prisoners. And we’re going to continue fighting for evidence-based recovery options in New York and elsewhere so all Americans have access to life-saving addiction treatment that doesn’t infringe upon their constitutional rights.

We’ll do this because, unlike some politicians, American Atheists isn’t short on courage. We know that when we stand together, we can effect truly meaningful change. But our success depends on your support.Contribute $25 or $50 today to ensure we can keep litigating and lobbying for atheists all across America.

In solidarity,

Nick FIsh

American Atheists is a 501(c)(3) non-partisan, nonprofit educational organization that relies on the support of members like you. Contributions are tax-deductible. Our Federal Tax ID Number is 74-2466507 and our Combined Federal Campaign number is 52217.

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See This governor failed us blog post for more details.

See Secular Recovery Bill blog post for more details.

See Persistence blog post for more details.

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