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Violation of atheist’s rights proves costly

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.

6 responses to “Violation of atheist’s rights proves costly”

  1. Matt Westwood says:

    The real WTF is jailing people for drugs-related offences in the first place. There is no moral justification for making *ANY* drug illegal.

  2. L.Long says:

    True!! I’ve been say so for years. to paraphrase….
    Making drugs illegal is the same as making steak illegal cuz a baby can’t chew it.
    I’ve used alcohol and never once wanted to get pucken drunk!
    I’ve used SPEED for what it was invented for , and never once overdosed or went weird. Because there are a few babies that can’t control themselves, I and others are punished for it. All so some politicians and cops can make money off it. And I’m sick and tired of others protecting me from me!!!
    Good for him for winning!!! many others will win to, then they will stop it.

  3. Toto says:

    Want to make a few million bucks…smoke some dope, get arrested, get put in the chokey, get on a god themed rehab scheme, complain, sue……smile. What a great idea.

  4. Paul Cook says:

    I think this is a good result. But it shows how the US is barking mad with its litigation. They litigate over anything.
    I do wonder, however, how much would have been awarded to a christain religious person, who had had NO chance to go to a religious set of sessions. I suspect a considerable amount more.

  5. AgentCormac says:

    Being an atheist in Indonesia can actually get you sent to prison in the first place.
    http://www.theguardian.com/world/2012/may/03/indonesia-atheists-religious-freedom-aan

  6. Rob Andrews says:

    “There were none in northern California”. fine!. The parole officer was only trying to help the guy. But I guess it didn’t occure to him that since Hazel doesn’t accept the basic premise of the program, it wouldn’t be of any use.

    No god; no bible; no sin; no hell; NO PROBLEM