"The intent of privileges appears to apply almost exclusively, with the possible exception of the spousal privilege, to individuals who have some kind of professional duty, obligation, knowledge," Hebert said. "This is not the case in an Alcoholics Anonymous setting."
The district attorney's office will appeal the decision, he said. Cox will be held at least until that ruling.
What's a Religious Communication?
Brieant noted New York law states the Constitution protects confessions to a clergyman or "other minister of any religion or duly accredited Christian Science practitioner."
And, he wrote, previous rulings by the New York federal Court of Appeals found separately that, to avoid prejudice of one religion over another, the protection would apply to confessions to all spiritual advisers.
"Doctrinally and as actually practiced in the Twelve Step methodology, adherence to the AA fellowship entails engagement in religious activity and religious proselytization," said a 1996 decision.
AA Says It's Not a Religion
For its part, Alcoholics Anonymous, in a fact sheet posted on its national Web site, says it is not a religion: "No. Nor is it allied with any religious organization."
A spokesperson for the organization, however, said AA "considers ourselves a spiritual organization."
That spiritual quality is apparent in the 12 Step program. Step 3, for instance, reads members have "made a decision to turn our will and lives over to the care of God as we understood Him." For Step 5, members "admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs." Step 6 says members "were entirely ready to remove all these defects of character."
The AA spokesperson, who requested anonymity in the organization's tradition, said AA had no opinion on the court ruling.
It is group's policy not to comment on "outside issues; hence the AA name ought never be drawn into public controversy," said another brochure.
"AA should be happy with this, because this vindicates the fact that if you do confess and somebody squeals that can't be used against you," says Drinan. "That's an added incentive for these people to confess to each other."