Atheist Sues & is Awarded $2 Million for Going to Rehab?!

Atheist Sues & is Awarded $2 Million for Going to Rehab?!

California Atheist Sues & is Awarded Almost $2 Million from State & Treatment Organization

barry hazle jr

A California man recently settled out of court, with the state of California and a nonprofit treatment organization, for $1.95 million.

If you think that’s a pretty bizarre headline, well, it comes from an even stranger story. Barry Hazle Jr., the man who’s found himself suddenly in the limelight, isn’t your average rehab client. He isn’t your average convicted felon, either.

It all starts with his arrest for methamphetamine related charges.

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The Story Behind the Story

In 2006, Barry Hazle Jr. was sentenced to a year in prison for methamphetamine possession. He was released in 2007 and court mandated to attend a drug treatment program. This is where the controversy begins.

WestCare California is a treatment contractor that refers parolees to substance abuse programs. WestCare, at the urging of Hazle’s parolee officer, arranged for him to attend Empire Recovery Center. Empire is a twelve-step based, residential addiction treatment facility.

While at Empire, Hazle was introduced to the twelve-step model of recovery. This includes faith in a higher power, which Hazle balked at. According to, he was told, “anything can be your higher power. Fake it ‘till you make it.

Hazle, a lifelong atheist, took offense to this idea. He refused to participate in treatment and was told Empire Recovery Center was the only WestCare certified program in Shasta county. Because of Hazle’s refusal to participate, and his “passive-aggressive” behavior, he was eventually sent back to jail for over three months.

Upon his second release, Hazle sued both the state of California and WestCare. After a mere six weeks, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation banned parole agents and contractors from offering strictly religious treatment options.

Fast forward to 2010, a U.S. district court ruled that Hazle’s religious freedom was, in fact, violated. However, the jury of the case didn’t award him any compensation. A 2013 ruling from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals determined Hazle was entitled to compensation for the breach of his constitutional rights.

It’s worth noting that this ruling, from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, establishes the distinction between religious and non-religious treatment centers for the nine states and two Pacific island territories contained within the its bounds. To put it another way, residents of those states and territories now have a legal precedent for suing rehabs that infringe upon their religious freedoms.

That brings us to today. Hazle and his lawyer recently settled out of court with the state of California and WestCare. They agree to pay him the hefty sum of $1.95 million.

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Spirituality Isn’t Religion

While this is certainly an interesting story, why are we, a gender-specific treatment center far removed the 9th Circuit, writing about it? The answer’s simple – there’s been a fundamental misunderstanding on the part of the courts.

Spirituality isn’t religion! It never has been and it never will be. Incorporating twelve-step principals into comprehensive addiction treatment doesn’t violate anyone’s religious freedom.

Asking clients to have faith in a non-denominational and non-religious source of hope and strength isn’t the same as asking them to join a religion.

I’ve researched Empire Recovery Center. They’re your run of the mill treatment center. Unless their clinical modality is different than what they publicly project, they don’t require anyone to subscribe to a particular religion.

The court’s ruling that spirituality equals religion isn’t only misguided, it infringes upon my rights. It infringes upon my right to believe in a higher power. It infringes upon my right to recovery. It infringes upon my right to sobriety.

Further Reading

A Report of the Court’s Decision in Shasta County’s local paper

An interesting take on this case and inmate rights from Vice News

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