California Judge backs atheist parolee

California Judge backs atheist parolee April 19, 2010

AN ATHEIST drug offender in California, who was returned to prison after complaining about a faith-based rehabilitation programme he was ordered to attend, has won an important legal victory.
Barry A Hazle Jr, 41, served a year in prison on a drug charge. As a condition of his release, he was ordered to attend a 90-day, in-patient drug treatment programme. He agreed to the programme, but even before his release told prison officials he wanted to be sent to:

A treatment facility that did not contain religious components.

Instead, he was assigned to the Empire Recovery Centre in Redding, to undergo a 12-step programme pioneered by Alcoholics Anonymous and featuring a strong religious element which included references to God and “a higher power.”
When Hazle asked to be moved to a programme that was not run by faith-heads, he was told – wrongly, as it turned out –  there were none in Northern California.
His parole agent, Mitch Crofoot, instructed him that “he should continue to participate in the Empire programme or he would be returned to prison.”
Hazle kept attending, but continued objecting to the arrangement. He presented Crofoot with a written appeal on April 3, 2007.
Three days later, according to court papers, Empire workers told the parole agent that Hazle had “been disruptive, though in a congenial way.”
He was then returned to prison for more than three months. In September 2008, he sued officials at the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. Six weeks later, the department issued a directive noting that parole agents “cannot compel a parolee” to take part in religiously-themed programmes if the parolee objects.
Instead, such parolees should be referred to non-religious programmes
Last week Hazel won his case from when US District Judge Garland E. Burrell Jr decided in his favour, and he now stands to collect damages for having his constitutional rights violated.
In a statement issued through his attorney, Hazle said:

This has been a long and painful process for me. The judge’s ruling can’t give me back my lost freedom, but it begins to restore my faith in our judicial system.

Judge Burrell found that Hazle’s forced participation in the programme ran:

Afoul of the prohibition against the state’s favouring religion in general over non-religion.

Monetary damages are to be determined, either by settlement or trial. A jury trial is scheduled to begin June 22.

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  • barriejohn

    “disruptive, though in a congenial way”: I can just picture it!

  • Har Davids

    I’m glad Barry managed to be congenial about the shitty way his rights were denied, after he was the face of atheism in the lair of the Empire.

  • Broadsword

    I bet he rocks with the tambourine now…..

  • barriejohn

    They have a website, but – surprise, surprise – I haven’t been able to access it all evening!
    “Representatives of Empire Recovery Center and WestCare did not return phone calls seeking comment Thursday afternoon.”

  • Anonymous

    This is a very important ruling. AA is seen as the holy grail of treatment in the US, the default method of rehab and corrections centers. Those who object to it are seen as being uncooperative and resistant – a totally unfair characterization. I would even posit that the idea of being helpless, and giving yourself over to a “higher power” (even in the most amorphous “secular” sense), is not psychologically healthy, though I’m no expert on the subject.
    A search on AA + cult shows a lot of conversation on the subject…

  • MrGronk

    Forcing crims to listen to religious nitwits could be very effective punishment indeed. Bit cruel and unusual, though.
    I know how the guy’s feeling, BTW. My British father-in-law is trapped here in New Zealand by vulcanism, and is a barking wingnut.

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  • AngieRS

    Nice bit of news. That just needs to spread along the prison system there and I’d imagine a lot of prisoners will opt out. Nice loss of earnings for the religionists. Just hope he doesn’t blow his damages on drugs, or he’ll likely be testing out what this new ruling will mean.

  • Pete H

    If you haven’t read it already, I can recommend a book called “Kingdom Coming” by Michelle Goldberg. It’s about the rise of christian nationalism in the US, and has a fair bit about the lengths Dubya Bush went to in favouring faith-based programs like these when funding was given out.
    Fascinating and infuriating read. Get the updated edition though. 😉

  • NeoWolfe

    Many years ago, I attended NA meetings, which is AA only narcotics. They read me the steps to recovery, the first of which was “admit that you are powerless over your addiction.” To which I said, “If I’m powerless aren’t I wasting my time?” Step 2 was, “turn your addiction over to your higher power.” To which I answered, “shit, I came here to get rid of a crutch, not buy a new one.” So I quit on my own.
    It is really common in the US for courts to mandate attendance at such religion laced support groups. Most commonly for drunk drivers. It has always pissed me off, but, actually those who attend can sleep on the floor during the meeting and still get their compliance papers signed. 🙂
    But there is a godless recovery support group right in Redding:
    It’s about time those little tin gods sitting at the bench got religion shoved up their tight asses.

  • William Harwood

    check out Secular Organizations for Sobriety (SOS) at

  • William Harwood

    Anyone who thinks that replacing the mindcrippling opiate of alcohol addiction with the even more mindcrippling opiate of god addiction is a step in the right direction, is probably a god addict.

  • barriejohn

    I was amazed when, some years ago, I found out that AA used these very dubious methods in the treatment of alcohol addiction. Like everyone else, I had assumed that it was a secular organization that was simply employing group therapy techniques. It just goes to show how carefully you need to check out all these seemingly innocuous organizations.

  • barriejohn

    Their website is still unavailable!

  • Penn & Teller, as usual, have a refreshing take on the subject:
    BTW, don’t you think people who don’t post the following part as a video response to the preceding are just, well, evil?

  • Angela_K

    The son of one of my closest friends was a heroin addict who was imprisoned and then subjected to the god squad. The son came out of prison a raving religious fundie for a while before going back to heroin.
    Only the religious could come up with the insidious plan of exchanging one damaging addiction for another.

  • barriejohn

    Thanks for that link, Tim. You may actually have saved my life (or at least what little sanity I have left now) with that, as I have just signed up to the Clutterers Anonymous Twelve Step Program (please note American spelling there!). I am now optimistically looking forward to a “cluttr-free” existence in absolutely no time at all. How can I ever thank you enough?
    Anyone want to join the group?
    Some members of CLA describe the inability to let go of objects as a consequence of spiritual emptiness.
    Unlike alcoholism, addiction, or depression, cluttering is rarely lethal (although serious injury or death can occur from clutter-related accidental trips, falls or fires).
    Clutterers Anonymous is not associated with Messies Anonymous, a support group founded by Sandra Felton, utilizing her copyrighted publications and not based upon the Twelve Steps of AA.

  • barriejohn

    These are the original Twelve Steps, according to Wikipedia:
    1.We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.
    2.Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
    3.Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
    4.Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
    5.Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
    6.Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
    7.Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
    8.Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
    9.Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
    10.Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
    11.Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
    12.Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.
    I wouldn’t be able to sign up to ANY of that gibberish!

  • shargraves

    Grief – that plan is like My Name is Earl.
    Which I used to enjoy, til I realised that they were all scientologists!

  • barriejohn

    It looks like brainwashing to me, Shargraves. I posted an earlier comment which seems to have gone AWOL again!

  • Stuart H

    The guy to read on debunking AA’s claims to be a reputable medical/psychological procedure is Stanton Peele. A book he co-wrote with L.A. Rollins is particularly incisive.
    By the way, as I recall the chancer making millions out of all these faith-based intervention programs in US prisons went to jail for offences connected to Watergate.

  • barriejohn

    I don’t know about that, Stuart, but AA came out of the 20thC Oxford Group of Frank Buchman: the “Salvation Army for snobs”!
    “The secret is God control. The only sane people in an insane world are those controlled by God. God-controlled personalities make God-controlled nationalities. This is the aim of the Oxford Group. The true patriot gives his life to bring his nation under God’s control. Those people who oppose that control are public enemies…. World peace will only come through nations which have achieved God-control. And everybody can listen to God. You can. I can. Everybody can have a part.

  • Don

    Some say the only way to ease the pain is gettin’ down to pray
    I’m with no guru, no teacher for me
    I got no faith in no fantasy

    Alabama 3. R.E.H.A.B.

  • Stonyground

    I am always puzzled by Americans that have such difficulty in understanding a really simple aspect of their constitution. The government is not allowed to endorse religion! How difficult is that to understand? Of course there are those that would prefer not to understand it but surely, as soon as this guy registered an objection those in charge must have known that they did not have a leg to stand on but they threw him back in jail anyway.

  • NeoWolfe

    Stony said:
    “The government is not allowed to endorse religion!”
    Courts have gotten away for years with requiring mandatory attendance at AA because it does not endorse a particular religion. An attendee is allowed to have any vision of god they wish. And the waters really get murky when you take into account that our money carries the the banner, “In god we trust.” The first amendment prevents government from establishing a state religion, but, does not prevent it from promoting religion in general. This court decision is an obvious step in the right direction.

  • barriejohn

    Sarah Palin doesn’t get it at all, Stonyground!
    [Sarah] Palin spoke Friday evening to 16,000 evangelical Christian women at the Women of Joy conference in Louisville, Ky. Speaking about the separation of church and state, Palin said that the founding fathers of the United States were “true believers” and that George Washington “saw faith in God as basic to life.” (20th April, 2010)
    There WAS a delicious video of the great woman in full flow, but I am very sorry to say that it has been removed, and I can’t find it on my beloved YouTube either – boo-hoo!!

  • Broadsword
  • barriejohn

    How about THIS for progress then?
    A watchdog group objected yesterday to an evangelist’s invitation to speak at the Pentagon next month, saying his past description of Islam as “evil” offended Muslims who work for the Department of Defense and the appearance should be canceled.
    Mikey Weinstein, president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, said inviting evangelist Franklin Graham to speak May 6, the National Day of Prayer, “would be like bringing someone in on national prayer day madly denigrating Christianity” or other religious groups.
    It would also endanger American troops by stirring up Muslim extremists, Weinstein said.
    Graham is the son of famed evangelist Billy Graham.

  • William Harwood

    Keith Olbermann’s description of Sarah Palin says it all: “The woman is an idiot.”
    Lamarck’s hypothesis that acquired characteristics can be passed on to the next generation was wrong. But Franklin Graham at least raises the possibility that a brain amputation can be genetically inherited.

  • NeoWolfe

    What Sarah Palin said has some truth to it. George Washington and Benjamin Franklin were both freemasons, along with several others of the founding fathers. Others were admirers and sympathizers. The truth about the freemasons is that you can be of any religion and be a member. They have their own generic idea of god that encompasses all religions in a universalist sort of way. Now you see, the idea of absolute religious tolerence is a freemason idea. Even Jim Jones, Marshall Applewhite, and Fred Phelps have basked under that umbrella.
    Nowadays, there are atheist freemasons, but, they are a fringe group, more like a self help groups than what freemasonry originally stood for. If one were looking for real freethinkers among that time, it was the Illuminati.

  • barriejohn

    George Washington was a deist, and nothing more. He attended church regularly, but always left before communion, and when prominent people were criticised for this habit he ceased to attend on days when communion was taken. He also took great pains not to be led regarding his beliefs, which would lend some weight to the view that he was NOT a christian believer.

  • barriejohn

    Dr Harwood: Even when a Christian, and a great admirer of Billy Graham’s oratorical skills, he never appeared to be that “bright” to me, so perhaps that is what has been inherited here! Pity, though, that his son doesn’t appear to have inherited his undoubtedly charming and witty personality!!

  • barriejohn

    Several sites are carrying this story this morning:
    Pentagon pulls Franklin Graham invitation

  • barriejohn

    More here. Evidently the “Task Force” are in a strop over it and are refusing to participate at all now! Quel dommmage!!
    Since Graham’s invitation was rescinded, the task force has decided not to participate in the military prayer service, Collins said.
    Graham said he regrets that the Army felt its decision was necessary. In a statement, Graham said he would continue to pray for the troops to “give them guidance, wisdom and protection as they serve this great country.”

    You can vote on the issue here:
    At the present moment over 60% of respondents believe that “He is entitled to his opinion”. Obviously, they don’t even understand the question!