Here is some great news on the legal front for atheists. A judge in Northern California sided with an atheist who was forced, as part of his parole from prison, to attend the heavily religious Alcoholics Anonymous program. Barry Hazle kept complaining to his parole officer that he wanted a non-religious drug-rehab program, but the parole officer ignored his requests.
But Hazle was persistent, though consistently polite and non-confrontational. He continued to go to AA, but also continued to bug his parole officer. In frustration his parole officer finally arrested him and sent him back to prison for three more months.
The judge's ruling was perfect, saying the parole officer's behavior ran "afoul of the prohibition against the state's favoring religion in general over non-religion." Hazle is now suing the state for damages related to the extra three months of incarceration he had to server merely for being an atheist.
Hazle's case also prompted the state parole board to clarify their rules. They now state emphatically that the parole board cannot compel anyone to take part in any religious activity.
My hat is off to Hazle. He ran afoul of the law and served his time for it, but then he had the courage to stand up for his rights. Like so many great activists, he was polite and congenial, yet he didn't back down. He was willing to take the risk, and in doing so, he helped end one more bit of state-sponsored discrimination in the State of California.
And by the way, I have huge admiration for Alcoholics Anonymous. Their twelve-step program is a lifesaver for millions, and the dedication of their volunteer counselors is incredible. Keep up the good work, AA!