A Shasta County atheist whose parole agent required him to participate in a religious-oriented drug treatment program has settled his lawsuit against the state and a rehabilitation contractor for nearly $2 million.
Barry A. Hazle Jr. did a year in prison on a narcotics conviction. His release on parole was revoked – and he was sent back to prison for more than three months – after he complained about mandated attendance at a drug treatment program where acknowledgment of a higher power is required.
Hazle, 46, sued officials of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation six years ago in Sacramento federal court. Six weeks later, the department issued a directive that parole agents may not compel a parolee to take part in religious-themed programs. A parolee who objects should be referred to nonreligious treatment, the directive said, citing federal case law.
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U.S. District Judge Garland E. Burrell Jr. found that compelling Hazle to attend the program ran “afoul of the prohibition against the state’s favoring religion in general over nonreligion,” and violated a constitutional right against government imposing religious beliefs on him.
But when the case went to trial on the issue of money, the jury refused to award damages for Hazle’s loss of freedom and emotional distress.
In August 2013, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals threw the jury’s verdict out, ruling that Hazle must be compensated for the violation of his constitutional right.
The three-judge circuit panel sent the case back to Burrell for a new trial and directed the judge to instruct the jury that Hazle is entitled to damages.