Quantcast

«

»

Aug 28 2013

Huge Church/State Victory From 9th Circuit

One of the serious church/state problems in our criminal justice system is the routine sentencing of people to religious counseling and rehabilitation programs as a condition of probation or parole or even in lieu of incarceration. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals handed down a very important ruling on one such case last week:

A three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals said a jury should award Barry A. Hazle Jr., a drug offender, compensatory damages for his loss of freedom and could consider possible punitive and emotional distress damages as well.

The appeals court also ordered a district judge in Sacramento to reconsider whether to issue an injunction to prevent California officials from requiring parolees to attend treatment programs that emphasize God or a “higher power.”

After Hazle served a prison term, California ordered him to spend 90 days in a residential 12-step program. Hazle said he was atheist and asked for a secular program instead. But state officials told him they had none to offer.

This also points up the importance of having secular treatment programs available as alternatives to the religious ones. But it’s a really big victory. Hopefully there is a blanket ban on this practice in California that spreads around the country. The government simply cannot force or coerce someone into a religious program of any kind, and giving them a “choice” between a religious program or prison is clear coercion.

16 comments

Skip to comment form

  1. 1
    colnago80

    A decision sure to be overturned by the SCOTUS.

  2. 2
    daved

    If this stands, my concern would be that California will just abandon the 12-step stuff and keep prisoners in jail an extra 90 days or whatever.

  3. 3
    raven

    My local jurisdiction has both a 12 step program, AA, and a secular program that is vaguely similar as part of a diversion program for people arrested for DUII. They’ve done this for a long time.

    And oddly enough, no one forced them to do so.

  4. 4
    sinned34

    My wife was watching one of those crime porn “lockup” shows on TV last night. On that episode, they were showing a program that inmates could go into that was similar to a six-month military boot camp, where inmates who succeed can get out at the end of instead of serving their full sentence of a number of years (I think the longest sentence one man had was seven years).

    They showed them lining up at a long table, one person wiped the table down, a few others began placing food trays, then they were all commanded to sit down and bow their heads in prayer for grace before they could eat.

    I was quite surprised everyone in the program had to pray before their meals. It seemed… inappropriate.

  5. 5
    rabbitscribe

    An oldie but a goodie: drug rehab program attempts to forcibly convert Catholic to Pentecostalism. ACLU: “Yeah, um, no.”

    https://www.aclu.org/religion-belief/aclu-michigan-defends-catholic-man-coerced-convert-pentecostal-faith-drug-rehab-prog

  6. 6
    Ben P

    My local jurisdiction has both a 12 step program, AA, and a secular program that is vaguely similar as part of a diversion program for people arrested for DUII. They’ve done this for a long time.

    And oddly enough, no one forced them to do so.

    Both one of my prior jobs and my current job have me dealing with cases where we routinely have conditions that include attending drug and alcohol treatment and/or AA/NA.

    I’ll bend over backwards to try to accomodate someone who objects to a non-secular treatment facility, but it’s difficult because the plain fact is there are very few such facilities, and the ones that do exist tend to be full.

    In this case, California was particular flagrant about not accommodating the Plaintiff. He objected to a 12 step program, requested a secular program, and his parole officer told him “there’s no such thing,” but suggested he could file an appeal to his parole determination if he objected.

    He filed the appeal, but then was kicked out of the 12 step facility for “disrupting, but in a congenial way” or being “passive aggressive.”

    Then the parole board wrote a really smarmy decision where they suggested the Plaintiff “make the best use of the tools he was given,” and sentanced him to 100 more days in jail.

  7. 7
    iknklast

    I bet there is a secular program in California; much smaller (and less progressive) states have these available. It’s just that the court/prison system hasn’t bothered to do any homework on it and set up any system for using it. Why bother, when you could simply send everyone to AA, because AA is like, the greatest no matter what, right? How could anyone be opposed to AA?

    I have several counts on which I have doubts about AA, not just religious ones, having seen a number of people I know and love go through the program. Until we have good studies done by people not wearing AA-colored glasses, we can’t be sure if it works at all, let alone if it works better than other programs. I’m suspicious of any rehab program that doesn’t set up some sort of closure, determine some point at which the person will be recovered enough to live on their own without the group. AA doesn’t do this, at least in any of the cases I’ve been aware of. My friends/family members have all been told they have to be part of AA for life (and possibly afterlife?)

  8. 8
    gshelley

    Very disturbing that the Jury initially decided on not giving monetary damages, despite the clear harm he suffered. I don’t know if there is any possible reason for that other than anti atheist bias.

  9. 9
    Randomfactor

    If this stands, my concern would be that California will just abandon the 12-step stuff and keep prisoners in jail an extra 90 days or whatever.

    While that would be harder on the system infrastructure and the prisoners themselves, it would probably work better as a treatment program.

  10. 10
    Gretchen

    Hazle said he was atheist and asked for a secular program instead. But state officials told him they had none to offer.

    Given that it’s the state, they should have nothing but secular programs to offer.

    Silly me, thinking we lived in a secular country again…

  11. 11
    felidae

    As an atheist who got sober through AA–and I have been sober for 33 years and haven’t gone to a meeting in 10 years–I would like to clear up some misconceptions about it being a religious program. The concept of a Higher Power is open ended, it can be anything you choose–the group, a tree, and in one case I know, a coffee cup (it could hold hot coffee and she could not). The idea is that one is not in control of their disease and one must surrender to it, thus giving up the illusion of control. Yes, some groups have a highly religious bent and they say those silly prayers but you are free to shop around for a group that demphasizes the god part like the one I found and no one shames you if you don’t participate in the prayers–the Serenity Prayer works just fine if you leave out the god part. Also, nothing in AA is compulsory, everything is a suggestion, as it says in the book and you are free to do any or all of it as long as you stay sober. For me, the real power is the group, sharing the struggle against addiction with our common experience. As for efficacy, all I know is addiction has a poor prognosis and low cure rates and very few people manage to quit on their own

  12. 12
    David C Brayton

    Gretchen–I’m not sure I follow your reasoning. Why shouldn’t the state offer a christian-themed program as log as it treats all religions (and atheism/agnosticism) equally?

  13. 13
    Ben P

    Given that it’s the state, they should have nothing but secular programs to offer.

    Silly me, thinking we lived in a secular country again…?

    I’m not disagreeing, but where you’re making a mistake is how these programs are typically funded.

    For the cases I work, and your average prisoner, inpatient rehab programs are usually paid for by medicaid. The precise rules vary from state to state, but usually medicaid will pay for inpatient drug rehabilitation if a person is indigent and the rehabilitation is a condition for probation or necessary to resolve issues with Children and Family Services (i.e. getting kids back from foster care).

    There’s not necessarily any more of an establishment clause issue with a religious entity accepting medicaid payments for drug and alcohol treatment than there is, say, a religiously affilated hospital accepting medicaid patients. The primary stipulation is that any explicitly religious activities can’t be part of the treatment offered.

  14. 14
    Gretchen

    Gretchen–I’m not sure I follow your reasoning. Why shouldn’t the state offer a christian-themed program as log as it treats all religions (and atheism/agnosticism) equally?

    Treating all religions and atheism/agnosticism equally = secular. Not Christian.

    There is no more reason for a drug treatment program to endorse religion than for nutritionist to endorse religion, and when the government is forcing you to do something it shouldn’t involve any endorsement of religion at all.

  15. 15
    democommie

    Felidae:

    I never went to an AA meeting but I spent some years in “Program”, first in ACOA and then Al-Anon. I hated GOD when I started. Then I adopted, “Let go and let whatever”, then I became an atheist–thank you, Al-Anon–primarily as a result of seeing that prayer had no effect on anyone except the prayer AND that effect was only psychological as best I could tell. I too, quit getting drunk–31 years ago. I still drink, I drink more than my doctor recommends. Having spent about 13 years getting drunk as often as possible I know the difference between being drunk and being “impaired” by a legal definition. They are not remotely the same thing and the DWI/Rehab Industrial Complex has made a fuckton of money for a bunch of hypocritical cops, prosecutors, judges and rehab providers. I know people who are, by any criteria I’ve ever looked at, addictive personalities. Those folks, when they are not in total abstinence will do almost anything to get a fix of whatever poison they love. Alcoholic recidivism is endemic amongst those who are addictive personalities and think that they’ve learned how to “handle” their drinking. Dry drunks can be almost as annoying as Teabaligenicals but at least they aren’t smacking around their families/friends, smashing up cars and the like.

    I gotta say that for me, atheism is more likely to keep me from doing stupid shit, as I’m convinced that this ratty, balding, liver-spotted, pus gutted body is the only one I’m gonna be usin’. WWJSJW*?

    * Who Would Jesus Shoot Jaeger Bombs With

  16. 16
    democommie

    @7:

    AA and other programs don’t do a lot of the things that other, privately or gummint funded programs do. This is partly because they don’t have many employees and partly because the program is intended to be voluntary.

    I’ve seen numerous outspoken KKKristianist asswipes at Al-Anon meetings–some of them actually trolling for converts. I’ve also seen numerous outspoken “oldtimers” who will politely and VERY firmly tell them to put a sock in it.

    I “chaired” a fair number of meetings in one group because others didn’t wish to do so. If someone got off on their GOD tangent, it was up to me or another attendee to bring them back to Program stuff which does not include religion.

    You say:

    ‘My friends/family members have all been told they have to be part of AA for life (and possibly afterlife?)”

    I have heard it, it’s bullshit. You go to meetings until you don’t want to go anymore. If you backslide and want to go back you do so. If you’re ever at a meeting where people are being judgmental–it’s a REALLY, REALLY BAD meeting and it’s time to go find another one.

Leave a Reply

Switch to our mobile site