The Constitution doesn’t apply, apparently, when it comes to atheists. Barry Hazle, an avowed atheist from California, has had his parole revoked, and you’ll balk at why. According to Courthouse News Service, Hazle rightfully sued his parole officer, several corrections officials with the state of California, and Westcare Corp. for revoking his parole after his “congenial” refusal to acknowledge a higher power in a required 12- Step Program.
Hazle said that he had already expressed discomfort with participating in religiously based drug treatment programs after a plea of “no contest” to a methamphetamine possession charge. Despite the fact that everyone involved knew he was was an atheist, Hazle was released from prison into a 90-day treatment facility, where all of the programs available followed the 12 step method, which requires the acknowledgment of a higher power. When Hazle refused to participate, the staff reported him to his parole officer, and he went back to prison for 100 days.
Hazle filed a efderal civil rights suit seeking damages for false imprisonment and other civil rights violations. San Francisco U.S. District Judge Garland Burrell found the defendants in Hazle’s case liable for civil rights violations. However, when he turned the case over to a jury, they awarded Hazle zero damages.
Hazle appealed for a new trial, and was denied. Finally, a three- judge panel of the 9th Circuit found that Hazle was entitled to damages in his civil rights suit. From Judge Stephen Reinhardt:
The district judge’s finding of liability establishes that Hazle suffered actual injury when he was unconstitutionally incarcerated. Given this undisputed finding that Hazle’s constitutional rights were violated, and applying the rule that the award of compensatory damages is mandatory when the existence of actual injury is beyond dispute, we hold that the district judge erred in refusing to hold that Hazle was, as a matter of law, entitled to compensatory damages. We therefore reverse the district judge’s denial of Hazle’s motion for a new trial.
I’ll say he is entitled. And if the damages awarded are something insanely small, we’ll know where this nation stands with regards to the First Amendment: it only applies to some. Then again, we already knew that, didn’t we?