CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WBOY) — The West Virginia Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation (WVDCR) has changed its parole requirements after a judge ruled in favor of an atheist inmate who claimed that he was denied parole because he did not want to participate in a religious program.
Andrew Miller, who was incarcerated at Saint Marys Correctional Center for breaking and entering, filed a lawsuit against the WVDCR in April in the U.S. District Court of Southern West Virginia saying that the state would not accommodate his request for a non-religious substance abuse program. Although Miller was not in prison on a substance-related charge, Miller was enrolled in the program because he is in recovery from addiction and the program was a condition of his parole; the lawsuit said that Miller was denied parole multiple times because of his refusal to do the program.
In a release on Wednesday, the American Atheists, which represented Miller in the case alongside Mountain State Justice, said that it won the lawsuit and that the WVDCR removed its “requirement that participants attend religious 12-step meetings,” and the “religious components from its federally funded Residential Substance Abuse Treatment Program (RSAT) handbook.” The release also said the WVDCR agreed to pay $80,000 in legal fees.
“We’ve said it before, but no one should be forced to sacrifice their moral or religious beliefs in order to be released from incarceration,” Lesley Nash, an attorney with Mountain State Justice, who served as local counsel in this case, said in the release.
After a judge granted Miller a preliminary injunction in July, removing the RSAT program from his parole requirement, Miller was released in October under West Virginia’s Non-Violent Offender Parole Program, the release said.
“If the WVDCR had acted properly, Andrew may well have been released much sooner,” Geoffrey T. Blackwell, Litigation Counsel for American Atheists, said in the release.
RSAT is a program that is used as a treatment for substance use disorder in prisons and jails, but according to U.S. District Court Judge Joseph Goodwin’s 60-page July decision, the program relies heavily on “religious material,” including “‘the Lord’s Prayer, Twelve Promises, Twelve
Traditions, the Serenity Prayer, and the Twelve Steps.'”
According to the decision, Miller requested alternative secular programs but was not accommodated.