Jesus or jail? Alabama town offers options for serving time
September 26th, 2011
03:47 PM ET

Jesus or jail? Alabama town offers options for serving time

If you're charged with a nonviolent crime in one Alabama town, you might just have the chance to pray it all away.

Starting this week, under a new program called Operation ROC (Restore Our Community), local judges in Bay Minette, Alabama, will give those found guilty of misdemeanors the choice of serving out their time in jail, paying a fine or attending church each Sunday for a year.

The goal of the program is to help steer those who are not yet hardened criminals the chance to turn their lives around. Those who choose to go to church (there are no mosques or synagogues in the area) will have to check in with a pastor and the police department each week, CNN affiliate WKRG reported. Once you attend church every week for a year the case would be dismissed.

Police Chief Mike Rowland said the measure is one that would help save money and help direct people down the right path. Rowland told WKRG it costs $75 a day to house each inmate.

"Longevity is the key," he told WKRG.

He said he believes 30-day drug programs don't have the long-term capabilities to heal someone in the ways the ROC program might.

Police in the town said they think it is a simple choice, but others think it's a choice that shouldn't even be offered.

The ACLU in Alabama said the idea is "blatantly unconstitutional," according to the Alabama Press-Register.

"It violates one basic tenet of the Constitution, namely that government can’t force participation in religious activity," Olivia Turner, executive director for the ACLU of Alabama told the paper.

Rowland acknowledged there were concerns about separation of church and state complaints but said he didn't see it as too big of a problem because offenders weren't being forced to attend church, they are just being given the option.

The offenders who voluntarily choose church over jail get to pick the churches they attend. If they complete a year’s attendance, Rowland said, their criminal case would be dismissed.

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Filed under: Crime • Religion
soundoff (1,515 Responses)
  1. asrael

    And how would this be monitored? Would each minister be responsible for affirming that Johnny So-and-So attended the entire service?

    September 26, 2011 at 5:57 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Tom

      Donate generously to the minister on week one, and be free and clear to sit at home every Sunday for the rest of the year!

      September 26, 2011 at 6:02 pm | Report abuse |
  2. hodel

    Once again, I am ashamed to be an Alabamian.

    September 26, 2011 at 5:58 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Darth Vadik, CA

      Yeah, you should be, when you allow nonsense like this...

      September 26, 2011 at 6:06 pm | Report abuse |
  3. no

    Not just illegal this is EVIL but by force and by taking advantage of all they could is how Christianity has always been spread so it's nothing new. That's WHY most come to America and WHY we have sepeartion of CHURCH (the biggest evil) and STATE.

    September 26, 2011 at 5:59 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Jason

    If I was an unscrupulous individual, I could create my own church for the sake of this, pass of a pseudo mandatory collection plate, make my service 5 minutes long, and rack up.

    September 26, 2011 at 5:59 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • leeintulsa

      @jason: I do that once a month.. But people rarely come back again.. There's usually a homeless guy on the street givin' it away for free.. Leeism really never had a chance..

      September 26, 2011 at 6:03 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Chet

    What they don't tell you is that for violent crimes, you'll be "suggested" (read: forced) to go TWICE a week. :O

    September 26, 2011 at 6:00 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Rich

    We should have let the South secede when we had the chance. The South has never been anything but a drag on the progress of this country.

    September 26, 2011 at 6:00 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Laughing hard

    In dark ages people are best guided by religion, as in a pitch-black night a blind man is the best guide; he knows the roads and paths better than a man who can see. When daylight comes, however, it is foolish to use blind, old men as guides.

    September 26, 2011 at 6:00 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  8. mrPhillip

    I'll pay the fine please.

    September 26, 2011 at 6:02 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Laughing hard

      Then you'll have a criminal record.... They'll drop the charges if you attend church.. Which is why this is such a bad idea...

      September 26, 2011 at 6:04 pm | Report abuse |
  9. burn and rehabilitate.

    My god is the cannabis plant!!

    September 26, 2011 at 6:04 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  10. chrisg

    I am SURE this is illegal.

    September 26, 2011 at 6:04 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  11. D

    Amazing...in 3rd world nations they will give you food if you pray...now they will keep you out of jail if you pray.

    Nothing like bribing your congregations....

    September 26, 2011 at 6:04 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  12. JBHedgehog

    Separation of Church and...what was it again? I just can't recall.

    September 26, 2011 at 6:05 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Mark Williams

    I didn't even know people still lived in that back water state?

    September 26, 2011 at 6:06 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Tom in Santa Fe

    This is no different than when Judges would allow those found guilty to join the Military instead of going to jail. And alot who chose that route turned out being excellent and honorable soldiers. And by the way, it is not "Seperation of Church and State" – it is "Disestablishment of Church from State". Google "Antidisestablishmentarianism" – it will help you understand my comment and my opinion.

    September 26, 2011 at 6:07 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Laughing hard

    Can I start my own church? I don't believe in most of that religious mumbo jumbo....

    I was born a pagan snake handler and I'll die a pagan snake handler.

    September 26, 2011 at 6:08 pm | Report abuse | Reply
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