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. Robert O. Kan, MD

    This is a blatant attack on the separation of church and state. It should be taken to court immediately.
    Nobody should be forced to attend a church as an alternative to punishment.

    September 26, 2011 at 6:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • Laughing hard

      Pressing "like" button repeatedly

      September 26, 2011 at 6:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rob

      I absolutely agree! This is completely and utterly ridiculous. Forcing "Jesus" down someone's throat is a violation. They ought to be sued!

      September 26, 2011 at 6:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lanali Smith

      How can you be forced to take an alternative? An alternative is just another choice for the people, and therefore they are not being forced.

      September 26, 2011 at 6:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • thedude

      Nobody is forcing anything. Its a third OPTION. Before it was either jail or a fine. Now you can CHOOSE to go to church. It should be if you can hold a job for a year you get the case dismissed. I'm agnostic so faith isn't my thing. Its a good idea man. Any choice is better then none. Better then paying 75 bucks A DAY to lock em up.

      September 26, 2011 at 6:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • bob

      you, as well as every other poster on here, seem to forget that there's a difference between "alternative" and "requirement". It's a CHOICE, not a requirement, to attend a church service. The other TWO choices are jail and payment of a fine. You liberals need to realize that this is still in conjuncture with separation of church and state. No one is forcing anyone to go to church. Learn your laws before you post, please.

      September 26, 2011 at 6:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • Joseph Smith

      It's a choice, no one is being forced into attending church. Not like it will last anyway

      September 26, 2011 at 6:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dr.K.

      @thedude, yeah it's an option. Just like in the Spanish Inquisition you always had that "death" option if you didn't want to convert.

      September 26, 2011 at 6:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • aMom

      No one is being forced to do anything. People are being given an option. A real chance to make something that is wrong right. What if this were put into practice and some bad people actually got their lives back? It is a choice, folks.

      September 26, 2011 at 6:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • Iconoclast

      Super, so if you're jewish, you have a choice to go to jail, pay a fine, or attend church. If you're muslim, you have a choice between going to jail paying a fine, or going to church. Anyone else see a problem with this?

      September 26, 2011 at 6:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • Confused

      How much of a "choice" is it when only the church option does this?

      "If they complete a year’s attendance, Rowland said, their criminal case would be dismissed."

      Dismissed = GONE. Poof!

      Sit your butt in a pew and you don't just pay your debt to society with no loss of freedom or money, you get a clean record. Sit in jail or pay a fine....eh, I'm betting not so much.

      Preferential treatment for one choice is NOT just offering another option. It's Establishing a preference.

      September 26, 2011 at 7:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lanali Smith

      I believe that this happens now without this law in place all over the country. This is for a non-violent misdemeanor charge and in many states you will only have to serve community service time anyway. Many of these people seek churches to work off their time and some churches even give them time if they attend service.

      September 26, 2011 at 7:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • Matthew

      I generally support separation between church and state, but I'm not sure this qualifies. (1) Nobody is being forced to attend church at all. The traditional penalties of jail time and monetary fine are still available. (2) Choosing church attendance isn't, as you describe it, "an alternative to punishment," church attendance IS the punishment. I don't want to be forced to go to church every Sunday for a year, so I'd take the fine, personally. If somebody else wants to attend a church instead of paying a fine, that's ok with me.

      September 26, 2011 at 7:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dr.K.

      You are in legal trouble, but you can avoid punishment if you agree to participate in my religion. In what possible way is this not a black and white church and state issue?

      September 26, 2011 at 7:47 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Karina

    I would totally take the jail time.

    September 26, 2011 at 6:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • keyser

      This is the best response ever!

      September 26, 2011 at 6:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • someoneelse

      Free housing, food, and education. Hell yeah. We are only talking minimum security prison here, which 5 billion in the world would consider striking it rich. I'd take that over mind numbing ignorance every week for a year.

      September 26, 2011 at 6:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • infonomics

      You did realize that the jail is located in southern Alabama, right?

      September 26, 2011 at 6:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jakey

      Then again infonomics, so is the church.

      September 26, 2011 at 6:53 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Confused

    Whoa. The potential for abuse here is endless.

    Is there now going to be a rash of arrests for jaywalking and sidewalk spitting of all those either not Christian or not Christian "enough"? Attend church every week or rot in jail......sounds way too close to "Convert or die" to me.

    September 26, 2011 at 6:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rachel

      How's this one, convert or go to hell for your sins??? The choice is yours, but it is a choice. No one will force you to come to heaven, it is completely up to you if you want to burn in eternity for your sins. np 🙂 No sword necessary see?

      September 26, 2011 at 7:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • Iconoclast

      @Rachel, Stop sentencing people to eternal torture for not believing what you do. You have no right to judge.

      September 26, 2011 at 7:24 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Ron

    Any judge who imposes this sentence should be suspended immediately for an ethics violation.
    Thank GOD for the ACLU!

    September 26, 2011 at 6:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rachel

      I wholeheatedly disagree. The ACLU is a dangerous, conglomerate of people chasing their tails. They have no idea what they are doing, who they are defending nor what they stand for. I don't like them AT ALL!

      September 26, 2011 at 7:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • Iconoclast

      Is that because they oppose you oppressing people who don't believe what you do? Huh?

      September 26, 2011 at 7:25 pm | Report abuse |
  5. someoneelse

    America used to be the strongest, most progressive country in the world. Now, you're crap and almost to the event horizon where you will never pull back. Liberals, Moderates, and anyone not stupid, take your country back and stop caring what ignorant super poor/rich folks say.

    September 26, 2011 at 6:43 pm | Report abuse |
  6. dick

    I smell a lawsuit!

    September 26, 2011 at 6:44 pm | Report abuse |
  7. infonomics

    Note the number of people preferring jail over church. Hello, geniuses, the jail is in southern Alabama.

    September 26, 2011 at 6:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jakey

      So's the church, you do the math.

      September 26, 2011 at 6:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rob

      I don't give a %$^# where the jail is. I'd gladly strike up a romantic relationship with some tatted dude in jail before listening to that $%^# every week for a year. How YOU doin'?

      September 26, 2011 at 6:54 pm | Report abuse |
  8. sad dave

    "Law is often the tyrant's will, and always so when it violates the right of an individual." Thomas Jefferson

    I couldn't have said it better.

    September 26, 2011 at 6:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • Someone

      NICE!

      September 26, 2011 at 6:50 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Someone

    Frankly I don't agree with this one. It seems too much like a form of religion being forced on someone by its choices. You can have jail time, financial obligation or showing up in a church for a year and keeping your nose clean. Kind of like telling someone – you can choose to have a hand cut off, a foot cut off, or your head shaved. Some choice eh?

    Yes, there are religious groups in jails – but I have no idea how effective they are in reducing repeat offenders. This also seems like a one of those choices where the conclusion is forced on a person. Also , this is aimed at non-violent offenders.

    I can go with this IF it keeps them out of jail, not because it will purify the soul, but because these people may come out worse than when they came in.

    September 26, 2011 at 6:48 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Byrd

    What gives? Death isn't an option too?!

    September 26, 2011 at 6:48 pm | Report abuse |
  11. lchin

    What would Jesus do?

    September 26, 2011 at 6:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rob

      If there WERE such a person, I think he'd prefer jail.

      September 26, 2011 at 6:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rachel

      Rob, you obviously don't know Jesus. I can tell you exactly what he'd do, he'd die for you so that you could go to heaven and be saved from your perverse lips against him and all the other sins you've committed. Repent and live! Time is running out 😀

      September 26, 2011 at 7:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rob

      Rachel....you're a complete moron. Do you realize how stupid you sound? Wow. I've heard of needing a crutch to get through life...but this is ridiculous.

      September 26, 2011 at 7:02 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Rachel

    Hee, hee, hee. I love these debates, people calling Christians "trailer trash", others saying this isn't true, or what about this... we all love telling our opinion to others, don't we. Well, I've got one too. Jesus is coming for his bride very, very soon. Will you be found with him or against him? He doesn't care if you call him names, but he'd love to call you SAVED! So get saved from your sins, repent, and know that you have eternal life, then you will waste less time fighting and have more time to dedicate yourself to purpose, truth and love. Just sayin...

    September 26, 2011 at 6:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • The Logician

      Jesus Christ, you are freakin' brainwashed!

      September 26, 2011 at 7:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • allHailBOBDOBBS

      Christians have been shoving their opinions down our throats for 2000 years. The second coming? really? Any day now, right?
      Religion is a prision, so I suppose this option is reasonable. I for one would post bail and move somewhere respectable.

      September 26, 2011 at 7:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rachel

      Lol, no sir, I am HEART WASHED. It's a great experience, I invite you to participate. Just ask Jesus to save you from your sins, (like saying mean stuff to other people with ill intent) he will forgive you, and you can feel as awesome as I do!

      September 26, 2011 at 7:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • Karina

      People like this shouldn't be allowed to vote...

      September 26, 2011 at 7:27 pm | Report abuse |
  13. aMom

    Early Christians were given the choice to renounce Jesus or be burned alive as human torches to light the gladiator games. They chose to be burned alive. I suppose they were guilty of crimes against the state because they served another God beside Ceasar. Who would the ACLU defend in that case knowing that to defend a Christian would cost them their lives too?

    September 26, 2011 at 6:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jakey

      They would defend the Christian, of course. The ACLU defends religious people today from having their freedoms infringed upon; they don't discriminate based on whether or not they share the beliefs of the person.

      September 26, 2011 at 6:52 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Jakey

    I appreciate that the church attendance is an option and not mandatory, but this really makes me uneasy. Another commenter here points out that if you're an atheist, what the hell, just sit there and serve out your time. As an atheist myself (a gay one, no less) I'd find it very difficult to go to weekly service in Alabama for a year, but compared to jail I might choose it. And then...what? I wouldn't learn anything and I wouldn't be rehabilitated, I'd just be dodging jail time, a fine and a mark on my record. I can't see how this helps with anything except keeping costs down for the county (in the short run), and giving the devout more reason to pretend that Christianity is the answer to all of society's ills. Unless they have some sort of evidence that this program actually rehabilitates, I imagine it could do a lot of harm.

    September 26, 2011 at 6:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • aMom

      If you want evidence that the program would work, you will have to let it play out and measure the results. Also, you claim that if you attended church for a year you would gain nothing. That may be so but it could also happen that one Sunday you are sitting there and the Holy Spirit speaks to your heart and all of a sudden you know that it is all true. In fact, the Holy Spirit could speak to you at any time and in any place. So try as the ACLU might, they can not, repeat, can not overrule the Spirit of God. He is, He was, and He always shall be.

      September 26, 2011 at 7:07 pm | Report abuse |
  15. boehnersux

    Look if you have chosen to be a Christian, that's fine with me, but when you try to shove that stuff down my throat, I promise you I'll fight you. Don't take that lightly either.

    September 26, 2011 at 6:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rachel

      No "real" Christian is worried about dying for their faith today. We already know it's at that point, and we say if you kill our body it is only because our God allowed it. I serve the one who has power over this life and the next.

      September 26, 2011 at 6:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rachel

      PS And it's really not fair that everyone else gets to shove their opinion down everyone's throats except a Christian, this card is getting really, really old...

      September 26, 2011 at 6:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • boehnersux

      Rachel, sorry gal, you're not making sense. I'll try again, be a Christian if you wish, its OK, but I reject it as purely myth.

      September 26, 2011 at 6:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • The Logician

      I'm all for Christianity and enriching lives, blah blah blah, it's the Christians themselves that scare me.

      September 26, 2011 at 7:03 pm | Report abuse |
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