In the next few weeks, I am going to try address (read: bitch about ) the constant reminders of superstition in our culture, what I like to call the ‘god nods’. One never realizes how ubiquitous that is, until you become an atheist. Then, it seems the newly-self-aware atheist is being bombarded by all kinds of folderol, from ‘bless you’ when you sneeze, to reading about some tea-bagging idiot proclaiming ‘GAWD!’ from the podium while running for president. It just seems like it’s EVERYWHERE – a body can’t turn around in some states without being slapped in the face by a cultural anachronism from the last century.
Case in point:
This is something we may all have encountered (I certainly have, multiple times). I have had a lot of friends in AA – but the ‘higher power’ thing? If someone asks me (no, not in AA thankfully), I’d simply state that humanity would be my ‘higher power’, which likely Hazle didn’t come up with. This goes hand-in-hand with the question, ‘don’t you want to be part of something larger’? Already am. Humanity. This also applies to the concept fronted by the ‘divine command’ folks. You know who I mean – the idiots who try to take credit for human morality, and try weakly to argue that all their morality comes from their imaginary friend, and somehow everyone else is ‘borrowing’ their morality (reification fallacy – how can anyone ‘borrow’ an abstract? Is there interest charged? Batshit crazy, that is).
The Constitution doesn’t apply, apparently, when it comes to atheists. Barry Hazle, an avowed atheist from California, has had his parole revoked, and you’ll balk at why. According to Courthouse News Service, Hazle rightfully sued his parole officer, several corrections officials with the state of California, and Westcare Corp. for revoking his parole after his “congenial” refusal to acknowledge a higher power in a required 12- Step Program.
Hazle said that he had already expressed discomfort with participating in religiously based drug treatment programs after a plea of “no contest” to a methamphetamine possession charge. Despite the fact that everyone involved knew he was was an atheist, Hazle was released from prison into a 90-day treatment facility, where all of the programs available followed the 12 step method, which requires the acknowledgment of a higher power. When Hazle refused to participate, the staff reported him to his parole officer, and he went back to prison for 100 days.
Hazle filed a efderal civil rights suit seeking damages for false imprisonment and other civil rights violations. San Francisco U.S. District Judge Garland Burrell found the defendants in Hazle’s case liable for civil rights violations. However, when he turned the case over to a jury, they awarded Hazle zero damages.
Hazle appealed for a new trial, and was denied. Finally, a three- judge panel of the 9th Circuit found that Hazle was entitled to damages in his civil rights suit. From Judge Stephen Reinhardt:
The district judge’s finding of liability establishes that Hazle suffered actual injury when he was unconstitutionally incarcerated. Given this undisputed finding that Hazle’s constitutional rights were violated, and applying the rule that the award of compensatory damages is mandatory when the existence of actual injury is beyond dispute, we hold that the district judge erred in refusing to hold that Hazle was, as a matter of law, entitled to compensatory damages. We therefore reverse the district judge’s denial of Hazle’s motion for a new trial.
I’ll say he is entitled. And if the damages awarded are something insanely small, we’ll know where this nation stands with regards to the First Amendment: it only applies to some. Then again, we already knew that, didn’t we?
The “selective rights” thing is going to be a thing of the past – equal rights. What a concept.
Because yes, freedom OF religion requires freedom FROM religion. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
Till the next post then.