The fourth tradition covers the topic of autonomy within AA. This tradition allows AA the ability to set the agenda and format of the meeting provided that it does not pull away from the program’s usual practices. The group also has the power to decide on what topics can be discussed at the meeting. They also whether a meeting can be open or close, and where the meetings will be held. The group can also determine the financial decisions when and where it is fitting.
Not all AA meetings will be the same. One AA meeting would begin or end in prayer and others won’t. The way the meetings are operated is based on the decision of the group. As such, the group can make changes at any time if they see fit. If any changes are made, it should be done with the basic principles of AA in mind, so it doesn’t stray far off the path.
Just because an AA group has autonomy, it does not give them the authority to amend the 12 steps or the 12 Traditions. Nor does it have the authority to write or distribute any literature outside of the group. One of the concerns that have been addressed within AA is the number of non-approved literature being distributed among groups. Also, a concern is AA groups inviting non-approved speakers and professionals whose opinions differ from AAs.
Mark Twain reminded us not to take health books seriously as you may die of a misprint. The “expert opinion” of someone with little or no understanding of the AA culture would end up throwing any member’s recovery efforts off course. And in turn, the effectiveness of the group would be lost. The autonomy of each group should be exercised freely, but with some limitations.