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California Rehab Patient Was Sent to Jail for Being an Atheist


Barry Hazle Jr. has been awarded $2 million after he sued the state and treatment center for violating his religious liberty when he refused to acknowledge a "higher power."

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Barry Hazle Jr. refused to "fake it." Photo via

Barry Hazle Jr. refused to “fake it.” Photo via

You can’t force a person to believe in God. You also can’t send them to jail for being an atheist. A Northern California rehab learned this lesson the hard way after sending a patient to jail for refusing to acknowledge the existence of a “higher power” as part of their treatment program, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. The atheist sued and has now agreed a settlement of $1.95 million after a court ruled that his right for religious freedom had been violated.

Back in 2007, after serving a year in jail for meth possession, Barry Hazle Jr. was ordered to inpatient treatment at Empire Recovery Center, in Redding, California. There, he was asked to participate in the center’s 12-step program, modeled on Alcoholics Anonymous, which involved submitting to a “higher power” through prayer. He reportedly asked for a secular rehab, but was told this was “the only option.”

“They told me, ‘anything can be your higher power. Fake it till you make it,’” says Hazle. But when he refused to “fake” a relationship with any kind of spiritual overlord, he was sent to jail for more than 100 days. Probation officials said he was allegedly being “disruptive, though in a congenial way, to the staff as well as other students…sort of passive-aggressive.” 

Turns out being a “congenial” and “sort of passive-aggressive” atheist in the USA does not constitute a criminal offense, this being a secular country and everything. Hazle sued the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) and WestCare California, a Fresno-based addiction treatment organization that coordinated his rehab stay.

“I’m thrilled to finally have this case settled,” Hazle says. “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.” Amen!