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. leeintulsa

    @21k: I agree on the tax breaks.

    That said, i wouldn't appreciate being forced to believe what someone else believes. You are being no different than the worst of goddies.

    Can you not see that?

    It's the difference between a belief and a good idea. It's easy to change an idea.

    Freedom dictates they can believe whatever they want.

    September 26, 2011 at 7:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • 21k

      huh? i have no plans to stop anyone from believing what they want, on their own nickel. i know there is no god, so why do i have to support wealthy preachers who tell lies for money?

      September 26, 2011 at 7:34 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Pete

    Would attending an online church count?

    September 26, 2011 at 7:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • 21k

      they have church on tv. no buffering.

      September 26, 2011 at 7:37 pm | Report abuse |
  3. JFritz

    Just when you think things in the South can't get dumber . . .

    September 26, 2011 at 7:30 pm | Report abuse |
  4. duh

    If these ' ATHEIST' s are having a problem with this option, i suggest they choose jail.The fewer ungodly people running around, the better! and as for you "Truth" if you knew the truth you'd know God is not imaginary.
    Leafonthewind....you are nuts! it is an OPTION!!!!! they can CHOOSE church it is not mandatory...reread the article you idiot!

    September 26, 2011 at 7:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • JFritz

      You don't have to be an athiest to be offended by the brainwashing of the religious corporations. Ever take a good look at the golden chairs and lavish lifestyles of the religious tv folks? This should not be an option. Faith, or lack of it, shouldn't enter in to public affairs.

      September 26, 2011 at 7:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • 21k

      so when you say "church" you probably mean good ole' xtian ones, right? better not be a temple or a mosque, eh?

      September 26, 2011 at 7:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • kh31416

      Atheists may be "godless" or "ungodly", because they do not believe in an unproven deity. However, they are not automatically criminals or evil people. And somebody who does not agree with you is not automatically an IDIOT.
      This is a civilized discussion forum, not a bar.

      September 26, 2011 at 7:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • Heidi

      It's not really a choice when one option puts you in jail with a record and one allows you the freedom to continue life as you know it and gets the charges dropped. There should be a non-religious option to have the charges dropped.

      September 26, 2011 at 7:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • Leafonthewind

      Easy on the name-calling, duh.

      It isn't about jail or a fine, it's about having a criminal offense on your permanent record. Go to church, charge dismissed; pay the fine or do the time, and the charge stays on your record. That's not a choice at all. You should perhaps work on your reading comprehension skills before calling others idiots.

      September 26, 2011 at 8:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • JOS

      So would you feel the same if an nonreligious judge BANNED someone from going to church for a year as punishment? It's their choice, right? Stay out of church or go to jail? How'd you feel about that?

      September 26, 2011 at 8:17 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Ned

    And the evidence that this works is where...don't tell me...up on a mountain, or inside a hat?

    September 26, 2011 at 7:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • jp

      Why don't we just shoot all criminals...they wouldn't be repeat offenders and it would be a HUGE deterrant! Maybe China does have it right.

      September 26, 2011 at 8:08 pm | Report abuse |
  6. carla

    would a misdemeanor require a year in jail? Just wondering. Isn't a church a church with a certain number of congregates? I think 10? I'm sure they could get 10 friends together and start a "church". What if the churches that are available are not their religion?

    September 26, 2011 at 7:32 pm | Report abuse |
  7. really

    wow, so much for separation of church and state..

    September 26, 2011 at 7:32 pm | Report abuse |
  8. dacquesta1

    um...doesnt that violate seperation of church and state?

    September 26, 2011 at 7:33 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Godzilla Oswald

    So where should we put the Catholic priests? Isn't church where they got in trouble in the first place?

    September 26, 2011 at 7:34 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Observer

    Looks like a good option for those caught stealing from collection plates.

    September 26, 2011 at 7:34 pm | Report abuse |
  11. No g o d s!

    What a deal! I do not believe in any gods but I tell you if I was given the option to sit in church as opposed to sitting in jail I would definitely take it! Anyways, this is exactly what ipods are made for! Drowning out the incessant drone of idiots! Great Idea Alabama!

    September 26, 2011 at 7:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • Heidi

      Good point. Could I go to church and listen to my iPod, watch movies or read a good book?

      September 26, 2011 at 8:00 pm | Report abuse |
  12. jay zee

    guess i would be in jail being atheist i would not go to church!

    September 26, 2011 at 7:35 pm | Report abuse |
  13. WOT

    All of you, who said give me JAIL will have that choice, soon! Be careful what you ask for!!!

    September 26, 2011 at 7:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • jay zee

      you make no sense! you have to commit a crime in alerbammer to get this option. its a stupid idea and should be pulled. no amount of "god" will fix people if they dont want to be "fixed" its like trying to pray the gay away on someone when being gay is NOT a choice.

      September 26, 2011 at 7:53 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Cory Enderby

    nice. i would do it.

    September 26, 2011 at 7:35 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Observer

    A hypocrte in church?

    September 26, 2011 at 7:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dee415

      Please!! There are plenty of those without being "criminals"!! So they wouldn't stick out like sore thumbs. lol. Aside from that I think it's a good idea. I have to admit being raised going to church all my life kept me out of a lot of trouble when i was younger.

      September 26, 2011 at 7:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • Steve14

      @Dee...how do you know chuch kept you out of trouble? Do you think if you had been raised by 2 atheist parents that you would have been hell raising it up? Most of us don't need a book of fairy tales to keep us out of trouble.

      September 26, 2011 at 7:54 pm | Report abuse |
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