A Shasta County, California, atheist who charged that his civil rights were violated when he was sent back to prison for protesting a religious drug-treatment program while on parole was recently awarded nearly $2 million in a court settlement for his troubles.
According to a Record Searchlight report, the atheist, Barry Hazle Jr., 46, and his attorney, John G. Heller, announced the settlement during a press conference Tuesday morning.
The Sacramento Bee said the settlement came after Hazle sued the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation in Sacramento federal court six years ago.
Hazle, according to the Record Searchlight, had spent a year in prison on drug possession charges which were overturned by an appeals court.
While on parole, he took issue with a drug treatment program delivered by Westcare Foundation which focuses on submitting fate to a "higher power." It was explained that the Westcare 12-step program also included references to God as well as prayer.
Hazle requested another program without the religious program but was told the Westcare 12-step program was the only one available and was eventually sent back to prison.
Probation officials explained that Hazle was sent back to prison because he was being "disruptive, though in a congenial way, to the staff as well as other students ... sort of passive-aggressive," in the program.
"I'm thrilled to finally have this case settled," said Hazle, who's the son of Maline Hazle, the Record Searchlight's editorial page editor on Tuesday. "It sends a clear message to people in a position of authority, like my parole agent, for example, that they not mandate religious programming for their parolees, and for anyone else, for that matter."
The money, according to the report, is to pay for the legal costs of the lengthy court battle and "physical and emotional symptoms and injuries," Hazle suffered while he was imprisoned.
The state is expected to pay him $1 million while Westcare California will pay him $925,000 for offering only a religious rehabilitation program for parolees such as Hazle.