Appeals court: Calif. atheist parolee entitled to compensation for constitutional violations

A federal appeals court has ruled that a Northern California atheist parolee who went back to prison after refusing to participate in a religiously-tinged inpatient treatment program is entitled to monetary compensation.

U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Stephen Reinhardt wrote in an opinion Friday that a jury must award Barry Hazle Jr. of Redding compensatory damages.

A district court ruled in 2010 that Hazle's First Amendment rights had been violated. But a jury tasked with assessing monetary damages awarded Hazle nothing.

Hazle had served a year in prison on a drug charge. After being released in 2007, he was ordered to take part in the program but refused, saying he's an atheist.

He was arrested and jailed again. After serving three more months, Hazle sued state corrections officials.