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Atheist Parolee Gets $2M Settlement for Religious Rehab

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By Daniel Taylor, Esq. on October 16, 2014 10:53 AM

A California atheist who sued after being jailed for complaining about being forced to participate in a faith-based drug rehab program has settled his case for nearly $2 million.

Barry A. Hazle Jr. was convicted of possession of narcotics and served a year in a California prison, reports The Sacramento Bee. He was released on parole but his parole was revoked after he complained to parole officials about having to participate in a recovery program that required him to acknowledge a 'higher power.'

After serving an additional three months in prison, Hazle sued the California Department of Corrections as well as the substance abuse firm contracted by the government to provide drug treatment for parolees.

Section 1983 Lawsuits

Section 1983 generally refers to a portion of the Civil Rights Act that prohibits government officials from depriving an individual of "any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution."

Although commonly seen in police brutality lawsuits, Section 1983 may apply to a wide range of conduct by government officials. In this instance, Hazle claimed in his Section 1983 lawsuit that his First Amendment religious freedoms were violated by being coerced by government authorities to attend a religion-based drug treatment program.

Originally Awarded No Damages

At the initial trial for Hazle's suit, the judge found that the government's action had violated his constitutional rights. However, the jury in that case refused to award Hazle damages. Hazle appealed to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which sent the case back for a new trial with the instructions that the jury award Hazle damages for his loss of freedom, leading to the settlement.

Under the terms of the reported settlement, the state will pay Hazle $1 million while WestCare, the rehabilitation contractor, will pay $925,000. In addition, following Hazle's initial complaint about the treatment program, the California Department of Corrections issued a directive that parolees who object to faith-based treatment programs should be referred to nonreligious treatment.

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