October 2013 Church & State | AU Bulletin


The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has found that a drug offender who is an atheist is entitled to compensation after he was jailed for refusing to participate in a religiously themed rehabilitation program.

As a condition of his parole, Barry A. Hazle Jr. was ordered to attend a 12-step program that acknowledges belief in a “higher power.” Hazle informed his parole officer that he would prefer a secular program, but he was told there wasn’t one available. 

Hazle continued to object to the program’s religious nature. The state deemed his objection to be a violation of his parole, and Hazle was sent back to jail for 100 days.

Hazle sued. A jury found that he had been wrongly imprisoned but awarded him no damages, a judgment he successfully appealed.

“The jury’s verdict, which awarded Hazle no compensatory damages at all for his loss of liberty, cannot be upheld,” Judge Stephen Reinhardt wrote in the Hazle v. Crofoot ruling. “The jury simply was not entitled to refuse to award any damages for Hazle’s undisputable – and undisputed – loss of liberty, and its verdict to the contrary must be rejected.”