Refuge Recovery, the first widely adopted addiction recovery fellowship using buddhist meditation and principles, is experiencing conflict in its ranks regarding the actions of its Board of Directors and its Regional Representatives. The Refuge Recovery Board of Directors has retained legal counsel to pursue a lawsuit against Refuge Recovery’s founder Noah Levine regarding ownership of the trademark Refuge Recovery. Now that official word has come from a police investigator that Noah Levine will not be charged in the single serious allegation made against him in October of 2017, members of the RR general fellowship and state level officers are calling for open debate, questioning the RR Board’s wisdom in pursuing legal action.

A December 30th open letter posted to the main RR Facebook closed page and to the Region 1 closed page by a state-level Intersangha Chair of Refuge Recovery have been removed. The open letter was removed by RR Executive Director, Jean Tuller and by RR Region 1 Representatives in their capacities as Facebook page moderators. Ironically, the subject of the censored post is Facebook censorship by the RR Board/Reps, the use of Facebook as the primary communication method for Refuge Recovery groups, and a call for in-person conferences and meetings to create forums for open communication.

full text of post available here

Censorship strategies used by the board/reps include the use of subjective and religious criteria.

Official Criteria for posting on the Refuge Recovery Region 1 closed FB group page:

Refuge Recovery Region I: Alaska, Hawaii, BC, California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho 

The integrity of this safe space relies upon the following wise speech guidelines:

Are we speaking out of goodness? 

Is the intention of our speech geared toward something positive rather than something negative?

Is what we are going to say true? 

Have we rounded a few corners in accuracy and made things seem as they are not?

Will we be helpful when we say this?

Are we acting impulsively or have we take the time to reflect?

Is our speech meant to be impactful or punishing?

Is our communication unsolicited?

Thank you! Metta! ❤️

Molly Rice, Region 1 Representative, removed the open letter stating, “the post is written in a way that is perpetuating blame and divisiveness by throwing out opinions posed as facts and spreading things that simply put, are absolutely not true and at the very least ill-informed. The practice of wise speech includes, according to some interpretations, avoiding harsh or divisive speech. I felt that this post divides our community further while we are working hard to rebuild it.” The moderators post did not allow “commenting” and included the statement that the decision to remove the Intersangha chairs post was, ominously, “not made alone”.

RR Washington Chair Joseph S., author of the censored open letter comments…, “Censorship has long been shown to hide behind protecting adults from speech. Debate and the exchange of free ideas cannot be concerned with impact. Our country does not recognize this concept as valid and sees it for what it is, censorship. This principle has been affirmed by our courts over and over. Only private corporations use this type of Censorship. I personally believe Refuge Recovery should be acting in line with recovery principles of honesty. Demonstrating a commitment to free debate rather than corporate censorship tactics.”

“By not allowing me to post my open letter, Refuge Recovery Regional Representatives are showing that they are more concerned with representing the Board’s views than the views of local Intersanghas. It is not surprising given the unelected nature of the Board and the unelected reps in Region 1. We (RRWA sangha) opposed using open applications + insecure “online voting” to “elect” region 1 reps, calling it biased and dishonest at the time. I myself argued strenuously at the time against this type of illegitimate election process for region 1 and any other RR Region. This rep voting process was sold to RR members as leading to eventual bottom up representation of the general fellowship to the Board.”

“The problem is that we need that bottom up representation right now. In the question of: should we risk splitting the fellowship over an expensive and unnecessary lawsuit against Noah Levine?, there has been no substantive in-person debate and the Board/Reps have provided no forum over the last 9 months. Our Refuge Recovery conference in June 2018 was a wasted opportunity to have open debate on this asset sharing question, instead the Board/Reps scheduled panels that lectured attendees on the full spectrum of identity politics issues, including a non-existent RR sexual harassment problem. This conference agenda contributed to the moral panic at the heart of the community conflict.”

“My letter is a call to all levels of the Refuge Recovery fellowship to organize regional and national forums and hold face to face debate concerning this threatened lawsuit’s potential existential threat to our program. I personally believe the fellowship would be better served with an acknowledgement, by the RR Board and the Regional Reps, that no evidence of any crime has surfaced against Noah Levine, that an attorney hired by Chris Kavanaugh has advised the Board that there is no financial conflict of interest in reinstating Noah to the RR Board, and that using Facebook and other methods to create the perception of a moral panic in order to pressure Noah Levine into signing an asset sharing agreement is morally wrong. These acknowledgements would restore a trusting atmosphere to the negotiations and allow both parties to proceed with dignity.”

“These are serious matters and the Board/Reps should not be insisting that the only debate on these questions take place on Facebook. RR is an addiction recovery program. Many of our members desire anonymity for a whole host of reasons. The principle of anonymity practiced by our predecessors in AA/NA, while unfashionable in RR now, is vitally important. To prevent persecution of RR members in employment, housing and political participation. To prevent self seeking promotional behavior by members who seek to speak for the fellowship as a whole. It is unethical to require RR members to participate in Facebooks data collection and surveillance service as the main forum of expression for their thoughts, opinions and votes.

The additional use of FB as a polling tool for the Board of Directors and regional reps as they make major decisions such as the recent decision to commit the fellowship to the risk, expense and uncertainty of a lawsuit against the founder is, in my opinion, irresponsible. The expectation of, and insistence on, anonymity by many RR members makes any overall RR opinion based on Facebook engagement worthless.”

Refuge Recovery member Bree LeMaster called for the reposting of the Washington Chairs letter, stating… “ I am deeply saddened by the censorship that has been put on the last post made by Joe RRWA. I don’t think the requests are unreasonable, or something to censor debate around. This is the only platform we are able to express concern about what’s going on with the Refuge Recovery infrastructure, but then people with differing views can be silenced? I am not alone with these concerns. I hope more people will come out of silence to help create positive change within the sangha.”

—The American Buddhist