Sorry, California, But You Have To Pay The Atheist *Something*.

A godless drug offender who was serving his parole
Was remanded to a program where they tried to save his soul
He denies a god exists—a “higher power” is their phrase—
So they threw him back in prison for another hundred days
Now, this differential treatment was unlawful (also, rude)
So the godless drug offender (and his lawyer, likely) sued.

The state had caused him injury, the judge could not deny
100 days in prison cos he wouldn’t tell a lie
The atheist could not deny, the bible isn’t buyable,
And since California locked him up, the state was clearly liable
A convicted drug offender, he was clearly no one’s hero,
When the judge awarded damages—the jury added, “zero”.

Now the Circuit Court has spoken, with the facts beyond dispute;
Sent the case back to a jury, with the warning “don’t get cute”

So, yeah, jury, you may not like the fact that an atheist convicted drug offender sued the state (of California) because they did not have a drug treatment program that did not require him to believe in a god… but seriously, the man was thrown back in prison for 100 days because he wouldn’t say he believed in a higher power, and this is worth nothing?

SAN FRANCISCO — California should compensate an atheist parolee for returning him to prison after he resisted participating in a religious-based drug treatment program, a federal appeals court decided unanimously Friday.

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.

What was the case about?

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.

Staff at the state-required treatment center reported that Hazle was disruptive “in a congenial way.” The state revoked his parole and put him back in prison for 100 days. He sued.

A Sacramento federal judge determined that Hazle had clearly suffered a violation of his constitutional rights and ordered a jury to assess monetary damages. The jury awarded zero damages.

100 days in prison, that any religious believer (or non-believer willing to lie) would not have had to suffer. But hey, he was on parole. A drug offender. An atheist. The judge asked for a reasonable damage amount, and the jury stepped up and said “nothing.” That was back in 2010 (the initial sentence was in 2007)

“Given the indisputable fact of actual injury resulting from Hazle’s unconstitutional imprisonment, and the district judge’s finding that the state defendants were liable for that injury, an award of compensatory damages was mandatory,” Judge Stephen Reinhardt, a Jimmy Carter appointee, wrote for the panel.

The court said another jury must be convened to determine Hazle’s compensation.

The comments at the story are actually not terrible, too, if you go for that sort of thing.

Edit–there is also the actual court decision here (thanks, screechymonkey), which is well worth reading.


  1. screechymonkey says

    The court opinion is here

    It’s quite worth reading. In addition to reversing the judgment for failing to award damages against the state defendants, the 9th Circuit also reversed the trial court’s dismissal of the claims against the private contractor, Westcare, who provides these services for the state in that district. Footnote 12 in particular is a beauty: apparently Westcare insists that it is aware of its obligation to provide nonreligious treatment options for parolees, but pretends that it accomplishes that just by not requiring attendance at church services, even though it still forces everyone into 12-step programs. The 9th Circuit was having none of it.

    The court also reversed the trial court’s dismissal of the claim for injunctive relief. The state defendants claimed that, after a 2007 decision of the 9th Circuit, they issued a memo requiring that parolees get nonreligious options, so hey, no need for an injunction because we’ve already brought ourselves into compliance with the law. The 9th Circuit thought that was an interesting claim in light of the fact that Westcare — again, the only provider for its region — had never been given a copy of that memo, had not altered its procedures or options in any way, and was continuing to force people into 12-step programs.

    Kind of makes up for my disappointment in those jurors who were such bigots that they pretended that wrongfully depriving a man of his freedom for 100 days wasn’t worth a red cent.

  2. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    Thanks for that link, screechymonkey.

    I wasn’t quite as enthused at footnote 12. Clear, but not knock-em-dead.

    One interesting question remaining is how Westcare managed to avoid being labeled a state actor.

    It’s hard to see how find Westcare not a state actor given the exclusive contract to provide services that are clearly governmental obligations (overseeing parolees) and their power under the contract to require parolees to attend only their facilities and indeed to select a specific facility for a specific parolee.

    Hazle has this one down. I hope Westcare gets well and truly slammed on damages, but it won’t happen.

  3. Tsu Dho Nimh says

    If he were a devout Christian and had been tossed bsack in jail for refusing to attend a New Age or Muslim oriented program, what would the jury have given him?

  4. nich says

    “But…but…but the decision was LEGALLY SOUND! The jury was totally LEGALLY SOUND! What’s the big deal? Don’t you get that it was all so legal sounding and on the judicial up-and-up? MY BOYFRIEND/AUNT/BRIDGE PARTNER IS A LAWYER so I know all about these things. He/she/xe totally said it was all legal and totally cool to screw that guy out of damages because THE LAW AS WRITTEN. I mean, I TOTALLY FEEL BAD FOR THE VICTIM but gosh darn it was so just LEGALLY SOUND. I get that people are just totally cheesed, but we have to stop ourselves from being so emotional and angry LIKE THE RELIGIONISTS and just recognize that the jury made a LEGALLY SOUND decision! Isn’t that what BEING A SKEPTIC IS ALL ABOUT?”

    Hyperskeptical Atheist Automaton, 2010

  5. Clara says

    Previous cases have awarded nothing and it could be that he gets a dollar. There are atheist meetings available. I think they should just do their prison time and move on with it. They don’t seem to recognize that they are beeing giving an opportunity.

  6. Cuttlefish says

    Did you read the decision, Clara? No, there were no atheist meetings available; the state contracted with a company that only provided religious meetings. That fact was uncontested. It is a matter of official court finding that the man was treated differently because he was an atheist, and that he deserves compensation for the 100 days he spent in prison which a religious believer would not have. Your dollar award would give him a penny a day for this injustice. Earlier this year, Daniel Chong was awarded $4.1 million for having been locked in jail for 5 days without food or water. Sure, Hazle was fed, but he was also kept 25 times as long, in violation of his first amendment rights.

    He was being given an opportunity? Not really the same opportunity as any religious believer, was it?

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