That Nudge From the Judge

In 2007, Barry Ansten Hazle, then 39 years old, was sentenced to one year in prison for methamphetamine-related charges in Shasta County, California. The chronic meth addict served his time and was released on parole. One of the terms of parole was that he attend a 90-day, residential drug treatment program. Hazle immediately responded that he was willing to do so, but that as a life-long atheist he desired a secular approach to drug treatment.

There wasn’t a secular program in Shasta County so Hazle entered a 12-step-based religious program, but while attending rehab, continued to voice his objection to its inherently religious doctrine. As a result, the computer network administrator was deemed non-compliant and sent back to prison for 100 days.

When Hazle was released in 2007 he sued the State of California, Shasta County, and the residential treatment center. This was the beginning of a seven-year legal battle which ended with Hazle being awarded $1.95 million dollars after the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that forced participation in a religious program (such as AA and NA) was unconstitutional.

There were legal twists and turns throughout the next five years that would change how the drug courts in California operated. This case, Hazle v. Crofoot, was watched closely by law enforcement, the judiciary, correctional authorities, and policy-making experts throughout the country. There are numerous court cases which have determined that it is unconstitutional to sentence someone to a faith-based program, but in terms of the impact on the substance abuse industry, none have been more influential than Hazle v. Crofoot. California spent years changing their systems to comply with Hazle and some other states, especially those in the 9th Circuit, copied California.

Some of the almost two-million-dollar award was for compensatory damages to Hazle, but the largest portion went to the legal firm that handled the case for several years.

Judge Stephen Reinhardt wrote the deciding opinion in August, 2013. Among his points:

  • In 2007 the 9th Circuit, citing “uncommonly well-settled case law,” determined that “the First Amendment is violated when the state coerces an individual to attend a religion-based drug or alcohol treatment program.
  • “Hereinafter, a 12-step program will always refer to a religion-based treatment program.”

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals covers Alaska, California, Hawaii, Washington, Oregon, Montana, Idaho, Nevada, Arizona and the U.S. Territories of Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands. Authorities in these areas have now been informed what sort of judicial response they can expect if they sentence anyone to a 12-step-based treatment center. And AA has been determined, as a matter of law, to be a religion-based organization.

At one point a jury determined that, yes, Hazle had been deprived of his civil rights when he was sent back to the penitentiary and it was “false imprisonment” but that he did not deserve any compensation from the state or the residential treatment center.

Judge Stephan Reinhardt of the 9th Circuit was very clear about that point. He wrote that loss of liberty, for any reason and at any time, for any reason entitles a person to compensatory damages as a matter of right. This was a precedential decision that has ramifications throughout American law; not just in the area of substance abuse or in the State of California. The three-judge circuit panel sent the case back to Burrell for a new trial and directed the judge to instruct the jury that Hazle is entitled to damages.

A federal court finally ruled last year that forced participation in a religious program had violated Hazle’s constitutional rights

“I’m thrilled to finally have this case settled,” Hazle told the Searchlight. “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.”

Hazle told the Sacramento Bee he plans to become active in local drug rehabilitation efforts.

Hazle is and will continue to be one of the fundamental law cases; the ones that attorneys, judges, and some regulators will reference. There are others. Inouye V Kenna (9th Cir. 2007) which held that AA is “… characterized by a strong evangelical, religious tone and references to God.”  A New York Court of Appeals held in a 1996 ruling, “Adherence to the AA fellowship entails engagement in religious activity and religious proselytization.”

Barry Hazle was a rock star at the 2014 LifeRing Conference in Santa Rosa, California. LifeRing is a fast-growing secular alternative to AA. He stated there that he intends to remain active in the recovery community and he plans to “build a home in the mountains.” In 2016 Hazle was farming the ten acre-plot his family owns in Redding. He said he has handled his drug problem on his own. “Everybody falters here and there, but I’m committed to recovery,” he said. “I’m no longer a user.”

And, “I have committed myself to a full and lasting secular recovery and complete abstinence from illegal drugs.”

On October 5, 2018, Hazle was arrested in Santa Clara County, California on an outstanding warrant.

From the August 15, 2018 issue of a Redding Newspaper, the Record Searchlight.     

Sheriff: Two arrested in Redding on drug charges after traffic stop

Two men were arrested on drug charges early Wednesday morning after running a red light at the intersection of South Bonnyview Road and Highway 273 in Redding, the Shasta County Sheriff’s Office said in a news release.

A deputy on patrol in the area saw a vehicle run the red light around 2:45 a.m. and made a traffic stop.

Driving the vehicle was Barry Ansten Hazle, 50, of Oak Run, and the passenger was Jim J. Goodfriend, 27, of Redding, the sheriff’s office said.

During a records check, the deputy discovered that Hazle had an outstanding felony warrant for drug-related charges out of Santa Clara County, the sheriff’s office said.

K-9 Fitz then walked around the exterior of the vehicle and allegedly detected a controlled substance from inside the vehicle.

Deputies searched the vehicle and found 4.3 grams of methamphetamine in two baggies and a Ruger .40 caliber handgun loaded with a 15-round magazine and another 15-round magazine nearby, the sheriff’s office said.

It was determined the gun was not registered, the sheriff’s office said.

Hazle was arrested on suspicion of a felon in possession of a firearm, a felon in possession of ammunition, carrying a concealed firearm in a vehicle, and carrying a large-capacity magazine.

It appears that Mr. Hazle has a problem with authority. When he didn’t appear in court to answer the above charges, a warrant for his arrest was issued. On October 5, 2018 he was arrested on the charge of that outstanding warrant. No news on what he might be growing on that ten-acre plot.


About the Author

Jerry is one of the founding members of We Agnostics in Tempe, AZ and was the instigator of the WAAFT-AZ Convention last November in Phoenix. He has served in many positions in his 27 years in AA and is currently treasurer of his traditional AA group, coffeemaker of his secular group, and is beginning a term as a board member of WAAFT-IAAC. He considers his greatest achievement as being responsible for a change to the Fourth Edition of the Big Book and his greatest asset as being relentlessly anal.

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  1. Jack B April 14, 2019 at 4:25 pm - Reply

    Of course AA art al are religious. Read the steps if you doubt that.

    In my area, AA continues to smash its head against the same brick wall and continues to decline in membership. After about ten years, I visited a group here whose membership used to be near 100 and whose newcomers group I headed for about six years. It was somewhat sad to see less than twenty bb thumpers there and the newcomers group had collapsed. I phoned some friends who used to be part of that group and was told that a small and blind religious core within that group had voted that any references to anything secular would not be allowed at their meeting. This event was and is the best example of what happens when dogma (of any kind) replaces our primary objective of providing a safe and especially open forum for those pursuing recovery from addiction.

    The slow demise of religion based recovery is not at all a celebration. It strikes me though, that a very important corner has been turned. One that allows the bright light of science and reason to spread its welcoming warmth of shared experience and genuine fellowship.

  2. John M. April 14, 2019 at 3:11 pm - Reply

    Thank you, Jerry. Another really interesting narration of an AA related event that is important enough to get reported in the media. As always, your story telling is lively and engaging.

  3. Bob K April 14, 2019 at 9:31 am - Reply

    WOW!!! Really interesting information at the end of the article—completely NEW to me!!

    The history of alcoholism and drug addiction is that they are incredibly resistant to treatment, and/or the most sincere of resolutions to abstain. The best laid plans of substituting less harmful substances generally ends badly as well.

    All that aside, in the same way that the Human Rights case against Toronto Intergroup has had a ripple effect throughout the broader AA world, the Hazle court victory is changing the treatment community. For better or worse, fewer and fewer treatment centers operate around the 12-Step model. At the least, other approaches are offered as options.

    The AA party line—“We’re spiritual, NOT religious” is just blown smoke in the eyes of the courts. Of course Alcoholics Anonymous is religious, or even a religion unto itself. Now, could we end this comment by circling up for the Lawd’s Pray-uh?

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