SAN FRANCISCO -- California should compensate an atheist parolee for returning him to prison after he resisted participating in a religious-based drug treatment program, a federal appeals court decided unanimously Friday.
A three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals said a jury should award Barry A. Hazle Jr., a drug offender, compensatory damages for his loss of freedom and could consider possible punitive and emotional distress damages as well.
The appeals court also ordered a district judge in Sacramento to reconsider whether to issue an injunction to prevent California officials from requiring parolees to attend treatment programs that emphasize God or a “higher power.”
After Hazle served a prison term, California ordered him to spend 90 days in a residential 12-step program. Hazle said he was atheist and asked for a secular program instead. But state officials told him they had none to offer.