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. Cody

    I hope there's a non-religious alternative to this.

    September 26, 2011 at 8:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • steve c

      Yes moron- pay the fine or go to jail. DO YOU PROGRESSIVE GOD HATERS KNOW HOW TO READ?

      September 26, 2011 at 8:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • byteme

      How about a progressive town implementing a law where you either serve your jail time, pay the fine, or practice Aetheism for a year. You cannot go to church, you must burn your bible, and you have to proclaim that God does not exist. Now that would cause these thumpers to go insane with hatred and aggitation.

      September 26, 2011 at 8:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • steve c

      bytime- then you go to jail and pay the fine. For you- you can burn whatever you want.

      September 26, 2011 at 8:55 pm | Report abuse |
  2. karan

    This is just ridiculous, there are no synagogs or temples or mosques. As much as I dislike muslims, this doesn't mean that a person has to choose a church per say. This is just stupid crazy racists idiots at it again.

    September 26, 2011 at 8:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • LP

      Ever been to Bay Minette? Didn't think so. There aren't any non-Christians there. It's a tiny little backwater on the Gulf that has a very strong church presence. As a non-Christian I would ordinarily be irritated at what could be construed as a church-and-state merger, but in this case it might actually work. Churches in towns like that are highly social. Being around the rest of the community so often might give law breakers extra incentive to act right- they'll likely make friends and know that they will have to see them at least once a week for the rest of the year. Not a great idea to then break the laws of the community. think about it instead of just kneejerking about it.

      September 26, 2011 at 8:38 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Cheryl

    And people wonder what is wrong with society as a whole today? Sounds like just about everyone who has made comments need to attend church (mosque, synagogue, whatever is your preference) if only once and learn about how to get your life on the right path. Just because we believe in God as the Almighty and Jesus is our personal saviour does not make us backwoods hicks. From some of the comments I have read, I am glad I don't live in your neighborhood.

    September 26, 2011 at 8:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ryan

      Sorry lady, I am a law abiding citizen that contributes to society and has served my country four times in two wars, and I'm a proud atheist. I've seen enough hatred and bigotry from the likes of the Taliban to know religious idiocy when I see it, and this is one of the most Taliban-esque things that I've ever seen happen in my country. That, and teaching creationism in public schools alongside evolution, and comparing the two ideas as if they could even possibly be comparable.

      September 26, 2011 at 8:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ben

      Yes, actually it does. You believe in childish fantasies. What is there to respect in that?

      September 26, 2011 at 8:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • Thomas

      Ryan might be sorry (BTW I appreciate all that you have done to serve our country) but I am NOT sorry at all - I think it is people like you "Cheryl" who are the problem with society. When a person decides to decide their fate of not only themselves but other also on the wisdom issued from a burning bush then yes I have a problem with that. Sorry but I prefer very practical and equitable solutions to problems and quite frankly what science has done has made us much better than religion. If you question that please go to the countries on earth that have religious based governments - oh but wait in most cases you can not go or you might be beheaded ... but I am sure you "know' your religion would be much different.

      September 26, 2011 at 8:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • Max

      @Ryan – *high five* You rock! On all accounts.
      @Ben – What? There's no sky wizard going to make me thin and give me love everlasting? I bet you don't believe in Santa Claus either! 🙂
      @Thomas – Gosh... until recently I couldn't have even imagined people trying to bring a Christian version of the Taliban here. It's frightening.
      @Cheryl – There are plenty of places that are run by religion. Perhaps you'd like to visit one and see how lovely that kind of government is.

      September 26, 2011 at 8:58 pm | Report abuse |
  4. blessedgeek

    It is better that a mill stone be tied around the neck of those who came out with and approved this idea.

    September 26, 2011 at 8:32 pm | Report abuse |
  5. steve c

    The people on this site are so venomous against religion. It's really sad. Sure- they will argue it causes war and the christians are really evil people.. so how does one even start into this discussion when the godless are so wrong and so lost in the first place. From a civics perspective- they are free to believe what they want as long as I'm free to believe what I want. In this case, the judge is presenting an option- if there is a mosque, temple etc.. I am sure they will be allowed. As far as you 10% god haters out there.. we are coming for you.

    September 26, 2011 at 8:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • Laughing hard

      God made me an atheist.... Who are you to question his wisdom....

      September 26, 2011 at 8:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • Thomas

      Most of us Godless are not 'Godless" we just do not think we have the necessity to force our beliefs on other people. Let me explain it you as best I can. When making laws for myself or others to follow it is not wise to base fair laws on wisdoms issued from stone tablets that were issued by God to a man who went alone up the mountain to get them. Nor is it wise to limit the ability of half the population, woman, to have less rights because they are supposed to be "submissive' to me. Most people like myself consider religion a personal choice which one hopes challenges me to "rise above the fray" an make the personal choice to live in a way that is what I believe is a better way. To codify that 'way' into domestic law more or less takes the personal commitment out of it and does not seem to make the choice a choice. As i said if you want a religious based government you have a few to chose from: put most middle east countries here.

      September 26, 2011 at 8:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • BucketDrop

      Steve C, perhaps a more practical answer to your question is that it is only us rabid atheists who troll the belief blog of CNN. Really, most atheists couldn't care less about aggressively baiting believers into arguments...plus some of us are probably procrastinating on other things and there is nothing like getting into a good rousing debate to lengthen procrastination.

      September 26, 2011 at 8:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • Max

      Steve C – You're coming for me? Okay... You can have the Bible for your Pokemon and I'll have science, which gives us tazers... while your book offers unending misery and torment in hell, mine can give you just enough to make you a bit thoughtful – which isn't nearly as epic, but is a little more present in the real world.
      Laughing Hard – I like you!

      September 26, 2011 at 9:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • ...

      you should join the Taliban. you would fit right in. why are some of you jesus freaks so violent and hateful?

      September 27, 2011 at 9:14 am | Report abuse |
  6. layminister herman

    And I mean the choice is yours and I really hope for the area churchs that .If you are not interested in doing it and learning that ya take the jail or fine and dont waste the churchs time and resources

    September 26, 2011 at 8:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • Max

      Why shouldn't people take the path to having no criminal record? All they have to do is sit in the pew and doodle. It's not like anything useful is going to be said. It's not school.

      September 26, 2011 at 8:42 pm | Report abuse |
  7. BucketDrop

    I feel a little sorry for the ministers who have to deal with more people in the church who don't really want to be there. State-sponsored church attendance should not even be considered in this country for so many reasons (many of which have been outlined up and down this blog spot.)

    September 26, 2011 at 8:39 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Billy

    There's no room in our over crowded prison system but there are plenty of empty seats in our dead churches.

    September 26, 2011 at 8:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • thank you Billy

      Billy, I love what you said....you make so much sense...thank you for saying that and it made my day to hear that!

      September 26, 2011 at 8:49 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Jesse

    I can't wait for Jesus to come back, you know he is going to slap the crap out of the south.

    September 26, 2011 at 8:40 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Max

    And I have typos is my own preaching... *laughs* It's still good advice.

    September 26, 2011 at 8:40 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Rational

    I would rather go to jail!

    September 26, 2011 at 8:41 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Fox

    This is funny, what happens if they don't show up. Or from what others have said, what if they are not christian? What then, church time in a different fasion??

    September 26, 2011 at 8:41 pm | Report abuse |
  13. TruthAndBeauty

    And the difference between this and Sharia is??

    September 26, 2011 at 8:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tom

      Jesus

      September 26, 2011 at 8:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • BucketDrop

      Ooo ooo, I know the answer to this one...the language spoken by the authority figure!

      September 26, 2011 at 8:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • Max

      @Truth and Beauty – With this law, women still get to vote and can still go out of the house without a male keeper.
      @Tom – I don't think Jesus is all that helpful, really – besides, you get Jesus with Islam, just a little scaled back in his claims.
      @Bucket Drop – Well, it might be that they have lots of pigs in Alabama, but Islam doesn't allow pigs or pork.

      September 26, 2011 at 9:07 pm | Report abuse |
  14. rDS

    Wackos sentencing wacko's to do time with Wackos.

    September 26, 2011 at 8:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • Laughing hard

      Where's the 'Like' Button when you need one.

      September 26, 2011 at 8:49 pm | Report abuse |
  15. ed

    Those that would rather go to jail will probably be there nest week. lol

    September 26, 2011 at 8:46 pm | Report abuse |
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