Thursday, October 16, 2014

Atheist jailed for denying ‘higher power’ in Calif. drug rehab gets $2M


Atheist jailed for denying ‘higher power’ in CBarry Hazle Jr. sued state and treatment center for violating his religious liberty
October 15, 2014 9:10AM ET
by Marisa Taylor @marisahtaylor

An atheist in Northern California has been awarded nearly $2 million in a settlement with the state and a nonprofit drug rehab organization for violating his religious liberty by sending him to jail for refusing to submit to a “higher power” as part of a treatment program, local news outlets reported.

After serving a year behind bars for methamphetamine possession, 46-year-old Barry Hazle Jr. of Shasta County was ordered to participate in a residential drug treatment program.

When he arrived at the Empire Recovery Center in Redding, Calif., the atheist was told that the center’s 12-step program, which was modeled on Alcoholics Anonymous, involved submitting to a “higher power” through prayer, the San Francisco Chronicle reported on Tuesday.

When Hazle balked and asked about secular drug rehab, he was told that Empire was the only state-approved facility in Shasta County — and that it wasn’t picky about whom that higher power should be — the Chronicle said.

“They told me, ‘anything can be your higher power. Fake it till you make it,’” he told the newspaper.

But when Hazle still objected — the program included prayer and references to God, according to the Redding Record Searchlight — he was sent to jail at the California Rehabilitation Center in Norco for more than 100 days. Probation officials said they did so because Hazle was allegedly being "disruptive, though in a congenial way, to the staff as well as other students ... sort of passive-aggressive,” the Searchlight said.

In 2007, Hazle sued the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) and WestCare California, a Fresno-based substance abuse treatment organization contracted by CDCR to coordinate rehab for parolees, according to the Sacramento Bee.

Six weeks later the CDCR, citing federal case law, issued a directive saying that parole agents can’t compel a parolee to participate in religious-oriented programs, and that they must offer a nonreligious alternative if they object, the Bee reported.

A U.S. district court judge ruled in 2010 that that Hazle’s constitutional right for religious freedom had been violated.

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