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. EuphoriCrest

    Just google "Pastafarianism" (a legally recognized religion) buy yourself a certificate of ordination ($20), declare yourself a church and you're home free. RAmen!

    September 26, 2011 at 6:52 pm | Report abuse |
  2. jimmyd

    what about attending a Hindu temple or a Muslim Mosque? Seems like the state is taking a decidedly biased view toward religion.

    September 26, 2011 at 6:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • Logic Trumps Religion

      Biased toward a certain religion? In Alabama? Shocking...

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

      There are only churches in the town. They still probably wouldn't be given the choice.

      September 26, 2011 at 7:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tony

      The article specifically states "there are no mosques or synagogues in the area".

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

    I guess all these arrogant Alabama Bible thumpers are gonna love it when I move there to start a Wiccan church and the paroles become part of a Coven once a week. Ha! Ha! Ha! They will sure be blowing a different tune out of their stinking backsides when that happens! Just wait 'til Beltane and Samhain comes around! Ha! Ha!

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

      So mote it be!!

      September 26, 2011 at 7:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rachel

      Ain't nobody afraid of the Devil? Who are you kidding? Jesus Christ is involved here. You know the one who holds all the power to life and death. OLLLLDDDDD NEWWWWSSSS....

      September 26, 2011 at 7:16 pm | Report abuse |
  4. MashaSobaka

    So wrong. In so many ways. How they were ever stupid enough to think they could get away with this is just beyond me.

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

      it's the "Bible Belt" - that's the problem....

      September 26, 2011 at 7:01 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Peoepleugh

    The best part about this is that they are essentially admitting that attending church is a punishment. Well done.

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

      That's how I thought of it when I was a kid. ;)

      September 26, 2011 at 7:02 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Rodie

    I am so torn between separation of church and state which this is CLEALY going up against but also I understand how the pwer of a community of people can cause change to a person and how maybe in such a "positive" environment one might be able to change themselves... the biggest problem comes is what if i don't believe in god or what if i am not even christian

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

      If you don't believe in god, if you're not a Christian, you get a criminal record. Read the article again. Church for a year, charge dismissed; otherwise, jail or fine and a criminal record for the rest of your life.

      September 26, 2011 at 7:49 pm | Report abuse |
  7. us1776

    Ok, there's a Satanic circle where I can attend for a year. After all Satanism is a religion.

    And what about Atheists? They need to have some other second choice. You wouldn't want to discriminate would you?

    .

    September 26, 2011 at 6:58 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Iconoclast

    Something somewhere is censoring my posts!

    September 26, 2011 at 6:58 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Ancient Brit

    It also violates the equal treatment clause. Those who can attend church without compromising their beliefs get to have their case dismissed, others do not. This is another nasty example of trying to force religion into a system from which it should be separated.

    September 26, 2011 at 6:59 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Kevin

    The ACLU is SOOOOO coming after this with a lawsuit.

    September 26, 2011 at 6:59 pm | Report abuse |
  11. abby

    I am a Christian but find this a violation of the 1st amendment. one cannot force religion upon another person....

    September 26, 2011 at 7:01 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Jeff

    I'll take jail

    September 26, 2011 at 7:01 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Mike

    So if the offender already attends church every Sunday, they just get a pass? Maybe they should be forced to attend a different church than the one they already go to.

    September 26, 2011 at 7:01 pm | Report abuse |
  14. thedude

    I think everyone missed the part where they said it costs 75 bucks A DAY to keep em locked up. That could save tons of money. But who needs to save money that's crazy. Again people its only an OPTION. They never said mandatory, or that it had to be a christian church. There just happens to be only christian churches in that area. Its a good idea and that's coming from someone who's agnostic.

    September 26, 2011 at 7:02 pm | Report abuse |
  15. scary thought

    Attend church for a year, yikes....jail for sure.

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