Here is what American Atheists said:
ATHEISTS HAIL DECISION -- NONBELIEVERS CANNOT BE SENTENCED TO FAITH-BASED REHAB PROGRAMS AS PAROLE CONDITION
An Atheist public policy group praised a U.S. District Court Judge in California for defending the constitutional rights of a prison inmate who was compelled to attend religion-based drug and alcohol rehab sessions in order to qualify for parole.
Judge Garland E. Burrell Jr. ruled that California officials erred when they forced 41-year-old Barry A. Hazel Jr. to enroll in Alcoholics Anonymous after serving a one-year sentence for drug possession. Hazel, a computer programmer, demanded that he be given access to an alternative secular program instead, and was mistakenly informed that one was not available. After refusing to participate in the faith-based 12-step regimen, Mr. Hazel was re-arrested and had to serve another three months in jail.
Dr. Ed Buckner, President of American Atheists, praised the court for its finding in this case. "It is outrageous that any citizen be coerced into attending religious services or programs that 'push' religion in any form."
Buckner noted that just weeks after Mr. Hazel protested the violation of his rights, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation issued an order to all parole agents pointing out that they "cannot compel" a parolee to participate in any religion-themed program.
Dave Silverman, Vice President and Communications Director for American Atheists said that "While Atheists and other non-believers make up a very small percentage of prison populations -- by some studies far less than one percent -- violating someone's religious liberty and freedom from religion is not some kind of a numbers game."
"There are secular programs for drug and alcohol rehabilitation that are available, and the government has an obligation to respect the rights of any incarcerated individual to refuse religious 'treatment'."
Atheists in Prison - 1997 Statistics:
* 1997, Federal Bureau of Prisons, 0.21% of inmates were atheist
The Federal Bureau of Prisons does have statistics on religious affiliations of inmates. The following are total number of inmates per religion category:
- Catholic 29267 39.164%
- Protestant 26162 35.008%
- Muslim 5435 7.273%
- American Indian 2408 3.222%
- Nation 1734 2.320%
- Rasta 1485 1.987%
- Jewish 1325 1.773%
- Church of Christ 1303 1.744%
- Pentecostal 1093 1.463%
- Moorish 1066 1.426%
- Buddhist 882 1.180%
- Jehovah Witness 665 0.890%
- Adventist 621 0.831%
- Orthodox 375 0.502%
- Mormon 298 0.399%
- Scientology 190 0.254%
- Atheist 156 0.209%
- Hindu 119 0.159%
- Santeria 117 0.157%
- Sikh 14 0.019%
- Bahai 9 0.012%
- Krishna 7 0.009%
And here is the report in the San Jose Mercury News through the AP:
SACRAMENTO, Calif.—A Sacramento federal court judge has ruled in favor of a Redding parolee who sued the state after he was sent back to prison because he refused to take part in an inpatient treatment program with a strong religious overtone.
The man, Barry Hazle Jr., 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 because he claims to be an atheist.
When Hazle asked to be transferred to a non-religious program, his parole agent arrested him on parole violation for failing to participate in the program to which he had been assigned.
After serving three more months, Hazle sued the state corrections department.
Last week, U.S. District Judge Garland Burrell Jr. ruled that forced participation in a religious program had violated Hazle's constitutional rights.