Man commits suicide after court-ordered Christian drug treatment program tried to ‘un-gay’ him

Recently the New York Times ran a story about Nicklaus Ellison, who was in court facing charges of drunk driving after allegedly “breaking his probation …and crashing into four parked cars,” his mother Cheryl Spivey said to the Times.

Facing jail time, the judge instead offered the young man a final option — enrolling in Teen Challenge, a drug-treatment program that encourages participants to become more “Christ-like.”

Ellison, an openly gay 20-year-old, allegedly had issues with complying with the program, and eventually left one afternoon and was tragically found the next morning dead from drugs and alcohol by a stranger he’d met the night before.

What troubled his family beyond his death was a letter they found in his backpack to his sister saying that the program, in addition to curing his drug and alcohol problems had tried cure him of his homosexuality.

Suspicious and distraught, his mother attempted to sue Teen Challenge. But she was told a lawsuit was not possible because upon intake to the program, Ellison had signed an arbitration contract that agreed all matters and disputes pertaining to Teen Challenge must be settled through a Christian arbitration process not bound by state or federal law, but by the Bible where “The Holy Scripture shall be the supreme authority”

Unable to legally take the organization to court, Ellison’s family had no recourse or way of ever knowing what happened to her son while in the program’s care.

Today, there are a growing number of websites run by numerous Christian law firms that instruct churches and non-profits how to utilize religious arbitration to “keep their businesses out of courts,” as one such site advertises:

Every year, thousands of lawsuits are filed in America against churches, schools, other non-profits, and related entities. These lawsuits range from injuries on church property to disagreements over employment, from accidents on youth group trips to cases of sexual abuse. Indeed, the recently publicized sexual abuse cases and multi-million dollar settlements within the Catholic Church should warn church leaders of the risk of such cases within their own churches.

The website then goes on to list the steps these organizations must take in order to avoid court interference and operate under their own moral codes.

“Our secular court system is darn good,” Bryce Thomas, former attorney turned Christian conciliator told the Times. “But it doesn’t get into deep moral issues like sin and reconciliation.”

Unfortunately for many within these religious communities and those being served by non-profits operating under contracts with arbitration agreements, they have no recourse for traditional litigation and it leaves them no access to their basic rights as citizens.


In a letter to his sister, Mr. Ellison described being “de-gayed” by the Christan-run substance abuse program he was attending. (Credit Michael Corkery/The New York Times)

However, what the Times article glosses over is the fact that Ellison, an openly gay 20-year-old male, was sentenced by a secular court to Teen Challenge. It was either that or jail. And it is this piece of Ellison’s story that should be of concern to those of us living in California with the largest prison population in the nation.

Unfortunately, in California there are currently only 161 free treatment centers operating, many of them funded by Christian and other religious charity organizations.

While of course most of the facilities are operating with good intentions from their various moral perspectives, the growing trend of faith-based arbitration creates the potential for many men and women in the judicial system to be handed down, with minimal oversight, from the justice system and into the quickly expanding superseding-wild-west dictates of a religious “tribunal” that potentially perceives religious indoctrination as important as recovery.

This may sound far fetched, but take for example the Salvation Army: for the last few decades as jails crowded in California, many drug offenders were released early and ordered upon parole to enroll in The Salvation Army’s 6- month in-patient rehabilitation program. The organization has operated for decades under a more militarized but nonetheless early model of Christian-based arbitration.

The bottom line is that in a country where the concept of separation of church and state has gradually been reduced to a suggestion, religious arbitration grows in acceptance and holds up in cases reaching as far as the Supreme Court.

Instead of being a nation founded on religious freedom, we are becoming a nation sentencing its citizens to religion.

Featured image via Teen Challenge San Antonio (YouTube)



  1. Avatar


    November 8, 2015 at 5:13 pm

    So these Christian communities want the courts to stay out of their business but they are fine with supporting government overreach into the private lives of citizens. Typical Conservative hypocracy!

  2. Avatar


    November 9, 2015 at 3:39 am

    She can sue the bastards in civil court. They have no business sending people to Christian programs. Personally I’d beat the schijt out of the scum.

  3. Pingback: Man commits suicide after court-ordered Christian drug treatment ... - NewUCity

  4. Avatar


    November 9, 2015 at 2:16 pm

    Why does this article not even mention what STATE he lived in? Poor writing!

  5. Avatar


    November 9, 2015 at 2:16 pm

    Sounds like a “sharia court” to me… Funniest thing.

  6. Avatar

    Steve Leong

    November 10, 2015 at 2:48 am

    Like the government turning them over to the Taliban!

  7. Avatar


    November 10, 2015 at 3:17 am

    I mean he could have said “no, send me to jail because I don’t believe like they believe.” However, that would have been a lesser punishment in his eyes I suppose & so he chose the lesser & went to a place he would not be in jail. He could have also chosen to not leave the place & do drugs & alcohol with some guy he barely knew. He was of sound mind. He made a choice, he suffered for his choices. I’m sure he could have appealed to the judge as well & moved into a jail situation if he was so mistreated. Has nothing to do with him being gay; has everything to do with his choices.

  8. Avatar


    November 11, 2015 at 4:37 am

    “Christian based arbitration” should not be legal or binding. Sounds like fundie Sharia law to me.

  9. Avatar

    Angie Helms

    January 23, 2016 at 7:51 pm

    I support Cheri 100% , my Son was also sentenced by a court of law to attend Teen Challenge, he was in the same place as Nick , they were very good friends ,I remember the day My Son called and told me his friend had died and how it happened. This is NOT WHAT A TRUE CHRISTIAN IS, Jesus would not do what these people are continuously doing to these young men and women. You reap what you soe and I certainly would not want to have to face my Savior knowing that I had done what these so called Christian facility workers have done !

  10. Avatar


    January 28, 2016 at 7:58 pm

    Thank you so much Angela. You and Tyler have a special place in my heart.

  11. Avatar


    June 13, 2017 at 11:15 pm

    Very well written post. It will be useful to everyone who utilizes it, as well as myself. Keep up the good work – i will definitely read more posts.

  12. Avatar

    shareit lenovo

    June 14, 2017 at 3:15 am

    I was speaking to a good friend of my own on this info and also about shareit apk too. I believe you made some great points here, we are excited to find out more information from you.

  13. Avatar

    mobdro apk

    June 15, 2017 at 6:10 am

    It was actually amazing to read this info and I feel you’re 100 correct. Tell me in case you are looking into mobdro premium apk, that’s my principal competence. I am hoping to hear from you soon, bye for now!

  14. Avatar

    garageband for android

    June 15, 2017 at 6:23 am

    My spouse and I really adore your website and find the vast majority of the posts to be exactly what I am in need of. Would you offer other people to create articles for you? I wouldn’t mind producing a story regarding garageband download or perhaps on some of the topics you’re posting about on this website. Again, awesome information site!

  15. Avatar

    framaroot apk download

    June 16, 2017 at 10:53 am

    Greetings! This is my very first reply on this site so I really wanted to say a quick hello and say I genuinely enjoy reading through your blog posts. Can you recommend any other blogs which deal with towelroot apk? I am as well really keen on that! Thanks for your time!

  16. Avatar


    June 21, 2017 at 9:55 am

    I like what you people are now up to. Such smart effort and coverage! Continue the excellent work guys, I’ve included you on our bluestacks for windows site.

  17. Avatar

    FireStarter Apk Download

    June 22, 2017 at 4:45 am

    Hi and thanks for the superb article! I genuinely enjoyed reading it.I will make certain to take note of the blog and will come back in the future. I want to suggest that you keep going with your fine job, perhaps write about firestarter apk download also, have a great morning!

  18. Avatar


    May 16, 2019 at 3:34 am

    Excellent, what a website it is! This website gives helpful information to
    us, keep it up.

  19. Avatar


    November 29, 2019 at 8:48 am

    Teen challenge was started by Rev David Wilkerson and Nicky Cruz and has helped so many drug addicts. Of course its faith based and they have rules. If he wanted to go to another program that was not faith based or to jail for drinking and driving and crashing into cars than he should have done that. It’s about taking personal responsibility for your own actions and not blaming everyone else for it. This whole articule is promoting the new offended generation who points fingers at parents, family, society and God for their issues and not taking responsibility for themselves. He clearly had freewill but sadly he fell into self destruction. Looks like lawsuits are made and protests to destroy any faith based programs that actually stands on God’s word. The percentage of addicts and alcoholics that get help in secular programs all have a high relapse rate and in a faith based program the relapse rate is lower. Unfortunately for this guy he needed jail and a secular program because he wasn’t desiring to quit but continued blaming . That’s what addicts do.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

To Top