An Atheist public policy group praised a U.S. District Court Judge in California for defending the constitutional rights of a prison inmate who was compelled to attend religion-based drug and alcohol rehab sessions in order to qualify for parole.
Judge Garland E. Burrell Jr. ruled that California officials erred when they forced 41-year-old Barry A. Hazel Jr. to enroll in Alcoholics Anonymous after serving a one-year sentence for drug possession. Hazel, a computer programmer, demanded that he be given access to an alternative secular program instead, and was mistakenly informed that one was not available. After refusing to participate in the faith-based 12-step regimen, Mr. Hazel was re-arrested and had to serve another three months in jail.
Dr. Ed Buckner, President of American Atheists, praised the court for its finding in this case. "It is outrageous that any citizen be coerced into attending religious services or programs that 'push' religion in any form."
Buckner noted that just weeks after Mr. Hazel protested the violation of his rights, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation issued an order to all parole agents pointing out that they "cannot compel" a parolee to participate in any religion-themed program.
Dave Silverman, Vice President and Communications Director for American Atheists said that while Atheists and other non-believers make up a very small percentage of prison populations -- by some studies far less than one percent (see: http://freethoughtpedia.com/wiki/Percentage_of_atheists#Atheists_In_Prison) -- "violating someone's religious liberty and freedom from religion is not some kind of a numbers game.
"There are secular programs for drug and alcohol rehabilitation that are available, and the government has an obligation to respect the rights of any incarcerated individual to refuse religious 'treatment'."