CHARLESTON, W. Va. — A federal judge in West Virginia has ruled that the state corrections agency can’t force an incarcerated atheist and secular humanist to participate in religiously-affiliated programming to be eligible for parole.
In a sweeping 60-page decision issued Tuesday, Charleston-based US District Court Judge Joseph Goodwin said Saint Marys Correctional Center inmate Andrew Miller “easily meets his threshold burden of showing an impingement on his rights.’’
The state’s “unmitigated actions force Mr. Miller to choose between two distinct but equally irreparable injuries,’’ the judge wrote. “He can either submit to government coercion and engage in religious exercise at odds with his own beliefs, or remain incarcerated until at least April 2025.’’
Goodwin issued a preliminary injunction requiring West Virginia Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation officials to remove completion of a state-run and federally funded residential substance abuse program from Miller’s parole eligibility requirements. The agency did not return a request for comment Thursday.
Miller filed suit in a federal district court in April, alleging the state is forcing Christianity on incarcerated people and has failed to accommodate repeated requests to honor his lack of belief in God.