Violation of atheist’s rights proves costly
MORE than four years ago we reported that Californian atheist Barry A Hazle Jr, above, had mounted a successful lawsuit after he was compelled to attend a faith-based drugs rehabilitation programme. But it was only this week that he finally won damages of almost $2 million for a violation of his First Amendment religious rights.
Hazle served a year in prison on a drug charge, later overturned on appeal.
As a condition of his release, he was ordered to attend a 90-day, in-patient drug treatment programme. He reluctantly agreed to the programme, but even before his release told prison officials he wanted to be sent to:
A treatment facility that did not contain religious components.
Instead, he was assigned to the Empire Recovery Centre in Redding, to undergo a 12-step programme pioneered by Alcoholics Anonymous and featuring a strong religious element which included references to God and “a higher power”.
When Hazle asked to be moved to a secular programme he was told – wrongly, as it turned out – there were none in Northern California.
His parole agent, Mitch Crofoot, instructed him that:
He should continue to participate in the Empire programme or he would be returned to prison.
Hazel kept attending, but continued objecting to the arrangement. When he was judged to have “been disruptive, though in a congenial way” he was returned to prison for more than three months. In September 2008, he sued officials at the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
Six weeks later, the department issued a directive noting that parole agents “cannot compel a parolee” to take part in religiously-themed programmes if the parolee objects. Instead, such parolees should be referred to non-religious programmes.
Hazel won his case when US District Judge Garland E Burrell Jr decided in his favour, and five-and-half years down the track he was was finally awarded damages.