A long-fought lawsuit in California by an atheist who sued because he was sent to prison because he refused to take part in a mandatory religious drug treatment program has finally been settled. Barry Hazle, Jr. will receive nearly $2 million from the state and from the private company that administered the program. A press release from his attorneys says:
Under the settlement, Hazle will dismiss his civil rights claims under 42 U.S.C. section 1983 in return for payments of $1 million from the State and $925,000 on behalf of Westcare. The settlement compensates Hazle for the violation of his rights, and for litigation fees and costs in the lengthy trial and appellate proceedings.
The settlement follows a ruling issued in Hazle’s favor in August 2013 by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. In a published opinion, Hazle v. Crofoot, 727 F. 3d 983 (2013), the Ninth Circuit reversed the judgment entered by the district court, and confirmed that Hazle was entitled to mandatory compensatory damages for having been imprisoned for 100 days for opposing mandatory participation, imposed as a condition of parole, in a 12-step drug treatment program that required Hazle to acknowledge and release responsibility for his fate to a “higher power.”The Ninth Circuit also reversed the district court’s grant of summary judgment to Westcare, the private entity that contracts with the State of California to provide parole treatment facilities in Parole Region 1, and which had contracted solely with 12-step programs. Hazle claimed that because of this defective network, and the failure to accommodate Hazel when he objected, Westcare shared liability for the constitutional violation.
This is excellent news. Unfortunately, other judicial circuits have allowed mandatory religious rehabilitation to be required as a condition of a criminal sentence. This practice needs to be banned nationwide.