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. Mara

    so much for freedom of religion. "Either worship the sweet baby Jesus or go to jail..." par for the course for christians. Coercion and fear of retribution are their hallmarks. I suppose that makes sense to people who's entire belief system is based on the premise that you get to 'choose' between slavish obedience or torture for eternity...

    September 26, 2011 at 7:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • jsfraptor26

      Noone is forcing them into church. They can sit in jail if they chose.

      September 26, 2011 at 8:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • Engineer in Raleigh

      Usually "do this or go to jail" is considered a way of forcing someone to do something, genius.

      September 26, 2011 at 8:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dr.K.

      well stated, engineer.

      September 26, 2011 at 8:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • Think before you speak

      @Engineer: Interesting point. In that case "do not steal or go to jail" or "do not assault anyone or go to jail" or "insert your favorite law here or go to jail" should also be forcing people to abide...and yet, people do those things all the time. Hence the subject of this article.

      September 27, 2011 at 3:02 pm | Report abuse |
  2. b4bigbang

    Another choice for getting out of minor trouble w/law. Excellent idea, all enlightened Americans want choice, and this is a choice!

    September 26, 2011 at 7:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • JKT

      "Anyone who doesn't think like me isn't enlightened." Nice, real nice.

      September 27, 2011 at 12:12 am | Report abuse |
  3. Meki60

    Its a start, I like it. Jail does nothing, with the right counseling, this could really make a difference. Everyone needs to feel wanted. The couseling might be able to provide that need.

    September 26, 2011 at 7:52 pm | Report abuse |
  4. JFritz

    Am I wrong, or don't some of the "Goodfellas" go to mass on Sundays? Doesn't seem to work, does it? Are we to assume that every offender doesn't already go to church? Some do? Are the clergy in these churches going to target their sermons to the offenders' crimes? Establish rehabilitation programs? Or does the offender just get to sit there for an hour or so each week? Judge doesn't seem to have thought this one out well.

    September 26, 2011 at 7:53 pm | Report abuse |
  5. CJ

    I'd gladly pick jail. Oh, wait, I wouldn't commit a crime anyway because I'm a moral atheist.

    September 26, 2011 at 7:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • don welcome

      Speaking as an atheist thank you

      September 26, 2011 at 8:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • Leafonthewind

      CJ, thank you. Belief in god is not a requirement for moral behavior.

      September 26, 2011 at 8:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • goodwithoutgod

      I wish more people in this country embraced the concept of being "good without god". Non-religious individuals do not deserve the stigma we face.

      September 26, 2011 at 8:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • JKT

      Agree 100% with all your statements. I too would opt for jail. At least I'd be able to look myself in the mirror each day.

      September 27, 2011 at 12:14 am | Report abuse |
  6. Seth Hill

    Did anyone ask the local pastors / priests / ministers if they want convicted criminals reluctantly attending?

    September 26, 2011 at 7:53 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Anon

    Nice to see the option of community service thrown out the window and straight to church. Seriously now?

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

    Given our history, in which religion has been the driving force behind so many wars, I don't think putting someone in church will do much to decrease violence. The religious are the ones who are intolerant of others who are not like them. You don't hear much from atheists who go about their business. It's the religious who you see on street corners trying to convert everyone and that is taken to the extreme in countries (even in the US in the past and advocated so in recent years by the religious) who either put to death or advocat putting to death people who don't see things like they do.

    September 26, 2011 at 7:54 pm | Report abuse |
  9. khs31416

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

    September 26, 2011 at 7:55 pm | Report abuse |
  10. carlos alvarez

    you have got to be joking.

    September 26, 2011 at 7:58 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Crytek

    Looks like freedom of religion is gone, I'd pick Church but see if I can go to a mosque instead.

    September 26, 2011 at 8:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • JKT

      The article specifically said there are no synagogues or mosques in the area. Bummer, because I too would at least consider one of those. But Christian church? No way; jail it would be.

      September 27, 2011 at 12:16 am | Report abuse |
  12. cosmicsnoop

    This is a law suit waiting to happen and they will lose. So much for trying to save money since it's going to cost a fortune to defend this, then they will lose and have to pay the other attorney costs. How did this guy get to be a judge? Oh ya, Alabama.

    September 26, 2011 at 8:00 pm | Report abuse |
  13. 21k

    warren jeffs would love this. he could go back to "preaching" to underage girls and call it his penance.

    September 26, 2011 at 8:01 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Aerin

    *sigh* some parts of America are in the dark ages.

    September 26, 2011 at 8:01 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Ira

    I would happily pay a fine to avoid going to church.

    September 26, 2011 at 8:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • chas

      I'm hearing that

      September 27, 2011 at 6:29 am | Report abuse |
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