Atheist Awarded $2 Million for Violation of His First Amendment Rights

Barry Hazle

The California government will have to pay an atheist from Shasta County $1.95 million in damages for refusing to attend a religious drug-treatment program. Barry Hazle, Junior, along with his attorney, announced the settlement in San Francisco on October 14 after emerging victors in a six-year-long legal battle.

Hazle, a former parolee, went back to prison after refusing to attend a religious inpatient treatment program at the state prison. The 46-year old California man had already served his one-year sentence in prison after being found guilty of drug abuse charges. However, he was ordered to participate in a religious rehabilitation program upon being released in 2007, an order he refused to obey.

Hazle was told Westcare’s 12-step program was the only rehabilitation process he could avail himself of in Shasta County. Since, the program required one to submit to his or her faith in a “higher power” and pray to God, Hazle decided to opt out of it because of his personal beliefs. That led his parole agent to arrest him for violating his parole provision by refusing to participate in the program. Hazle went on to serve an additional three months in prison thereafter though he sued the state corrections department upon being released a second time. A federal court ruled in 2013 that forced participation in the religious program violated Hazle’s constitutional rights.

While a judge ruled that Hazle’s constitutional rights had in fact been violated, a jury refused to award him any compensatory damages. Hazle went on to move for a new trial alleging he was entitled to compensatory damages, something the district court initially denied and only to reconsider later. In August 2013, a 9th Circuit Court of Appeals judge ruled that compensatory damages are necessary in cases of unconstitutional imprisonment. The settlement was finally handed down earlier this month.

The payout is expected to compensate Hazle for the costs incurred during the longstanding legal battle and the violation of his First Amendment religious rights as well.

“I’m thrilled to finally have this case settled,” said Hazle. “It sends a clear message to people in a position of authority, like my parole agent, for example, that they not mandate religious programming for their parolees, and for anyone else, for that matter.”

Photo Credits: Daily Mail

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