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Judge redefines religion

Published: Wed, August 8, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.

U.S. District Judge Charles Brieant sees religion everywhere he looks.

Just two years ago, he made headlines when he ruled that White Plains, N.Y., school children were coerced into practicing religion by teachers who had them cut out elephant-head images of a Hindu god, make toothpick & quot;worry dolls & quot; and build an altar to Mother Earth on Earth Day.

That resulted in teachers being instructed to be more careful in crossing the line that separates church and state. Fair enough.

Now Brieant has conferred religious standing on Alcoholic Anonymous, and in so doing, has set a killer free. Paul Cox, 33, was convicted of manslaughter in the stabbing deaths of a White Plains man and wife who were living in his boyhood home. He broke in and killed them while in a drunken stupor.

Confession: Cox subsequently confessed to the killings during Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and AA members testified to that during Cox's trial. Brieant overturned the conviction, giving conversations between AA members the same level of confidentiality that the Catholic Church claims for a priest and penitent.

But it is the priest who is bound to not reveal what is confessed, which is quite different from a penitent having a legal right to confidentiality. If a priest turns in a murderer, he should have to deal with his conscience, his God and his bishop. But the state should still be free to seek justice and to punish the killer.


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