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. jeff

    The threat of being forced to go to church every Sunday aught to scare everybody straight. Choice between church for a year or a short jail sentence, I think I might choose jail.

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

      You used "forced" in your first sentence and "choice" in your second. Which is it? Are they forced or do they have a choice on the front-end?

      September 26, 2011 at 8:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • john

      except no ones forcing anyone to do anything. any fool that chooses jail over sitting in church one hour a week has never been in jail.

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

    This is actually really scary stuff. Whatever happened to the Enlightenment, to valuing the separation of church and state?

    September 26, 2011 at 8:47 pm | Report abuse |
  3. WOT

    Most of you know nothing about the word of God! Those that are ignorant, let them be that way still! The blind(minded) is unable to see the truth of God's word!

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

      II spent years in a Alabama Southern Baptist Church. Now I think I might choose jail instead.

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

      lewto. they can pick what denomination

      September 26, 2011 at 8:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ryan

      I met a raving lunatic at Haight/Ashbury in San Francisco that was shouting nonsense like this during an acid flashback.

      September 26, 2011 at 9:40 pm | Report abuse |
  4. dtboy

    The ACLU is completely wrong here. 1st – no one is being forced. 2nd – the 1st amendment applies to the federal congress, not the State congress.

    September 26, 2011 at 8:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • Engineer in Raleigh

      Yes, Einstein. "Go to church or we will send you to jail" is in no way forcing someone to go to church... If it was "go to a mosque or we will send you to jail", you religious loons would be chitting a pink twinkie.

      September 26, 2011 at 8:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • dtboy

      @Engineer in Raleigh – Using your example, all of us are forced by the government then. Either choose to do the right thing and govern yourself under God's morality, virtues and principles or go to jail under the vices of men.

      September 26, 2011 at 8:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mark

      LOL Engineer in Raleigh nailed it...I doubt anyone could put it in better perspective. heh pink twinkie...that's rich

      September 26, 2011 at 8:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • john

      engineer. nice playground of semantics. go to church or go to jail? really? you make it sound like if one doesnt want to attend church they will be jailed.. you have a scary mindset

      September 26, 2011 at 8:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • john

      btw, thesers probably a better chance of one finding peace through God in jail anyway. church once a week is a cakewalk for a felon. you guys getting uptight about this arent recieving both fields of the picture. oh wait, were progressive scanning these days huh

      September 26, 2011 at 9:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ryan

      In 1802 Ben Franklin wrote about the separation of church and state and how it applied to the founding of our country. The US Federal Supreme Court has upheld his determination in every contest of combining or separating church and state, stating that THAT was the intent of our founding fathers anyway. Learn your history, boy. The US Supreme Court has roundly rejected the notion of a public sector endorsing a specific religion in any way, shape, or form. DONE AND DONE.

      September 26, 2011 at 9:44 pm | Report abuse |
  5. OhMyMy

    Well! if the majority of local people voted for it and are ok with it, then what's your problem? That's Good old democracy at work. If you don't like it go where there is dictatorship.

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

      and that's exactly why this country isn't a democracy.

      September 27, 2011 at 9:44 am | Report abuse |
  6. steve c

    Prediction: ACLU goes nuclear on this and the case ends up in the Supreme Ct. 5-4 decision against the Godless.

    Endgame: All counties in the US will have this option in 5 years.

    September 26, 2011 at 8:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • Max

      Steve C- if that turns out to be true... if all places go the way of the Tailban ... then Bin Laden did win.

      September 26, 2011 at 9:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • windrider2

      Given that the stated goal of the program establishes religion as an appropriate government remedy for criminal conduct, I doubt that even the current SCOTUS would uphold it.

      September 26, 2011 at 9:19 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Sandra

    I'd go to jail, or pay the fine.

    September 26, 2011 at 8:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • lewtwo

      Probably meet a better class of people in jail.

      September 26, 2011 at 8:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • john

      good for you lewtwo. stay out of jail. youd learn the truth real quick.

      September 26, 2011 at 9:02 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Hmmm...

    What would Jesus have done if Pontius Pilate had offered him a chance to escape crucifixion if he prayed to the Roman Gods?

    September 26, 2011 at 8:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mike Dywat

      SNAP!!!!!!! They won't get the point you are making tho.

      September 26, 2011 at 9:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • Hmmm...

      I wonder what would happen to anyone who stood up for the right of someone not to believe in god in this town?

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

    The main problem here is that this is making the assumption that one requires a religious path to be on the 'right' path. As if that's the only way to be a moral person. Morality does not equal religion. There's plenty of law-abiding atheists in the world, and this policy is a slap in the face to each one of them.

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

      umm- if you're a law abiding citizen it's a mute point right?

      September 26, 2011 at 8:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • Laughing hard

      Amen

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

      liza said: "umm- if you're a law abiding citizen it's a mute point right?"

      sanjosemike responds: No disrespect liza...but it's "moot" not mute.

      I think I will go mute if this is used improperly again, as you no doubt wish I would.

      sanjosemike

      September 26, 2011 at 9:01 pm | Report abuse |
  10. arth

    This would make a great "scared straight" episode. Force a bunch of juveniles to attend church and see what real fear is like. Wonder if they have any Catholic churches there. Nuns would make great prison guards.

    September 26, 2011 at 8:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • sanjosemike

      Nuns have been used as "prison guards" for centuries. Just ask any student from a Catholic school. But be grateful the nuns were not men, otherwise there would be at least twice the number of abused male children.

      sanjosemike

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

    I think Jesus was offered some kind of deal if he renounced his "blasphemy." If the point of Christianity is to follow the example of Jesus, I think a real Christian has to simply accept the punishment for their crime.

    September 26, 2011 at 8:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • Max

      None of the historical records... those written decades after Jesus's supposed life (the new testament) and the record left by Josephus ( a Roman collaborator who was out to embarrass the Jews) mention Jesus being offered any kind of deal. Many of his followers were offered such deals though because the Romans were deeply horrified by the early Christian's insistence on eating human flesh. Cannibalism was against the law, you see.

      September 26, 2011 at 9:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • Hmmm...

      Max, What do the historical records say about Jesus actually ever having existed?

      September 26, 2011 at 9:47 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Joe

    While I am not particularly religious, this does seem to have a lot of common sense.

    I hope this works!

    September 26, 2011 at 8:54 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Shawnteefa

    Jail certainly is better, while church is cruel and unusual

    September 26, 2011 at 8:54 pm | Report abuse |
  14. byteme

    And in the state of Ala-fukn-bama, you cannot purchase or own a dill doe or phallic toy of any kind. Inbreds keep that state populated, that's for sure, because who in their right mind would want to live in a facist state on purpose?

    September 26, 2011 at 8:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • steve c

      You need a hug you little abused puppy.

      September 26, 2011 at 8:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • Max

      You can't buy an object of personal recreation in Alabama? Seriously? What an utterly primitive place.

      September 26, 2011 at 9:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • ...

      steve c, i'm sick of your fascist ravings in these comments. get some help before you hurt someone.

      September 27, 2011 at 10:08 am | Report abuse |
  15. sanjosemike

    This will be thrown out once it goes to any court outside of the South. As an atheist I feel this is intolerable. On the same token, atheists don't often stand up and help their communities like religious organizations do.

    I donate to many charities and donate my time. But churches do this all the time and make a regular program out of helping their communities. Atheists don't.

    Even though I am an atheist, I don't believe that this philosophy is free of fault or criticism. It wouldn't kill atheists to give to their communities. As it stands now, most just criticize and complain. We can and should do more.

    September 26, 2011 at 8:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dan, TX

      You don't speak for anyone but yourself. You certainly don't speak for atheists, who are just as charitable as any other person, if not more.

      September 26, 2011 at 9:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chris

      Personally, I don't do much besides giving a dollar to the local bum (who ironically says "god bless you") or at the end of the eBay transaction but than again, I don't have a heck of a lot in the way of disposable income. I reckon once my finances improve I'll do a little more in the way of charitable donations.

      September 26, 2011 at 9:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • Brian Emmons

      It amazes me how most who read this article have no reading comphrehension skills. Did you flunk out of school in 2nd grade people?? If you read the article slowly, it reads that a person WILL BE OFFERED A CHOICE OUT OF 3 POSSIBLE OPTIONS. they are not being forced. IT IS AN OPTION. You are just upset that a little morality might actually change a person's life. And as far as seperation of church and State goes, the church aint ordering the state to do this, and the State is not ordering the churches to comply. Can you say hard hearts makes you all ignorant? Go back to school and quit embarrassing your high school teachers, you make it look like they slid you through just to move you along if you can't comphrhend the sentences in this informative, well written article.

      September 26, 2011 at 9:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chris

      @brian: Calm down there, hoss. We can all read. Let me put it to you a different way. Serve a month-long jail sentence, pay a hefty fine, or attend a mosque for a year. Now do you have a problem with it? The point is, the law cannot endorse any one particular sect of whack-jobs. Hence: outrage.

      September 26, 2011 at 9:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Max

      I wish we could make an atheist group get together on Sundays and sing and do community things 🙂

      September 26, 2011 at 9:45 pm | Report abuse |
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