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. too much ,too much

    how 'bout the chuch of drunken NFL Sunday! judge?

    September 27, 2011 at 12:01 am | Report abuse |
  2. caeser

    Can I get out of a capital murder charge if I'm able to quote scripture?
    Whose going to stop the petty crook from stealing the collection plate,or some old lady's purse.

    September 27, 2011 at 12:01 am | Report abuse |
    • shutup

      what a joke, there is no such thing as god or jesus or allah or buddah or santa... wake up south!!

      September 27, 2011 at 12:08 am | Report abuse |
    • AlienShark

      says you 'shut up'. to you be your way and to me be mine.

      September 27, 2011 at 12:16 am | Report abuse |
    • Clint

      No, says common sense. Unfortunately you "blind faith" types are usually also "my way or the highway" typs, IE, you'll never be open minded enough to realise you might be wrong.

      I'm open minded enough to believe if somethign real ever shwos up to prove religon has any truth to it. Until then, i'll stick with what is in fact real, and it isn't religion.

      September 27, 2011 at 12:32 am | Report abuse |
    • Nonbeliever midwest

      While I don't believe in a higher power and think some motivation of this is indoctrination I expect it would be successful as you are integrating people into social circles and helping them be part of the community. I think the main determination of success is if the church members openly accept these people or if they are shunned/talked about behind their back. I may not agree with the chosen event but my hat is off to the town for attempting something constructive for non-violent offenders.

      September 27, 2011 at 12:50 am | Report abuse |
  3. JonWNC

    I don't consider myself a Christian, but I love this idea. I even carry an ACLU card in my wallet... and I still love this idea.

    September 27, 2011 at 12:06 am | Report abuse |
    • JKT

      If you don't tell us WHY you "love" the idea, it's unlikely you really do.

      September 27, 2011 at 12:10 am | Report abuse |
    • ben

      it's ok. we're all allowed to be raging hypocrites sometimes. QUustion though, since you have that ACLU card. "What if a jew or Muslim commits a crime in this county?" Do they have to go to church too, or do they HAVE to go to jail? See how this gets really bigoted?

      September 27, 2011 at 12:13 am | Report abuse |
    • Kathryn

      This is a good idea because if people choose the church route they could turn their life around and taxpayers wouldn't have to pay all that money each day for them to be in jail.

      September 27, 2011 at 12:21 am | Report abuse |
    • will

      If they commit a crime, they would go to jail anyway. This is an alternative.

      September 27, 2011 at 12:51 am | Report abuse |
    • Todd

      I might call myself a "militant" atheist - not in the sense that I would try to force my worldview on others, but definitely in the sense that I think belief in God is not just another opinion and can do a lot of damage in the world. Oddly, while I firmly believe that this law should not be allowed, I think that in this very specific situation, the people who choose to attend church every day for a year will indeed be better off. This is based on a few assumptions. For one, I expect that in that location non-believers are rare or non-existant - in other words, you're not converting anyone or being unfair by giving Christians an opportunity that non-Christians can't accept based on their own beliefs. Perhaps more importantly and as much as I dislike the teachings people receive in church, it's still better than keeping disconnected from others and your community. In some communities I would imagine that church service functions as the primary way to meet and interact with people. In fact, the law doesn't seem to be requiring you to profess believe or do anything except show up (though I suppose it would be unacceptable to stand while everyone kneels or do anything else disruptive).

      BUT not everything that helps someone helps everyone. My assumptions may be wrong; there may be those in that locale who are not being given a fair choice because they hold beliefs incompatible with those taught at the church. Barring that, what is the effect on those of us watching from the outside? If the law stands, where else may this law show up? What if it's in places that actually have Muslims and Jews and Atheists? What variations might there be? If you can make a law that gives law-breakers a choice between church and jail time, could you make one that simply requires everyone to go to church regardless of whether they've broken the law? In what other ways will a local, state, or national government be allowed to endorse a religion, or religion in general? I don't think it works to make one exception to the separation of church and state based on the idea that it's probably ok in a given situation. The rest of the country shouldn't be made to wonder how far it can go. We deserve some kind of peace of mind and consistency.

      HOWEVER, I think the idea is actually great with only one slight modification; require that they attend some social event or program that occurs once a week. It could be church, but it could be town hall meetings, or something else. It can't be the bar. We could all stop holding our breath and rest assured that nobody can legislate our beliefs. I for one would never want to force someone to choose between jail time and a weekly gathering of atheists. It's not fair.

      September 27, 2011 at 1:22 am | Report abuse |
  4. Crystal

    Do I have to believe, or can I just take a nap in the back of the church? Can I mst3k the sermons?

    September 27, 2011 at 12:07 am | Report abuse |
  5. keith

    that's forcing religion upon someone that may be an atheist....sorry I can see this one being pushed off

    September 27, 2011 at 12:09 am | Report abuse |
    • AlienShark

      it isn't forcing them if they are given a choice...you would figure that this should make people happy that their fellow humans would be spared being tortured by the state, but some people can't get over heir own politics long enough to see a gift horse.

      September 27, 2011 at 12:12 am | Report abuse |
    • Clint

      Actually, I can see a law suit coming due to some people being given preferential treatment by the court (ie, jonny jesus freak gets to skip jail, but a common sense guy that doens't have any reason to visit a church does not really have that choice)

      This won't last long.

      September 27, 2011 at 12:35 am | Report abuse |
  6. AlienShark

    this is cool...it's better than sticking non-violent people in the justice system, in which there is no doubt, destroys every single life it touches, as well as the families. My only question is, what about Muslims and Jews? Do they get stuck having to go to Christian church or can they pray where they want? I can't see a self respecting Muslim or Jew bowing down in a state of polytheism to stay out of prison.

    September 27, 2011 at 12:10 am | Report abuse |
    • Chimo

      You bring up a good point, If say a Muslim or jew commits a misdemeanor and says to the Judge" hey judge, i don't believe in Christianity, can i work off my sentence by going to Synogogue once a week for a year? Now if the Judge says no, then i believe a lawsuit cvould be filed against the town or the judge

      September 27, 2011 at 12:45 am | Report abuse |
  7. Centurion

    I'm a devout Roman Catholic and I am absolutely opposed to this. Freedom of religion or to not practice any faith is a basic founding principal of this nation.

    September 27, 2011 at 12:11 am | Report abuse |
  8. Super-D

    Does it have to be a Christian church, or can I stay home and read the Gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster? All faiths should be equal under the law.

    September 27, 2011 at 12:18 am | Report abuse |
    • Clint

      It's the south, they don't believe in teh flying spaghetti monster down there. ou know what that means....NO NOODLES FOR THEM!!!!!! ETERNAL STARCHLESS FOOD!!!!!!!! THEY WILL NEVER KNWO THE SECRET OF THE SAUCE!!!!! (WELL, MAYBE SOME OF THE CATHOLICS WILL......)

      I'm just joshin, but yeah, I'm fairly certian they want to you attend a christian church.....I'd rather die in jail first.

      September 27, 2011 at 12:39 am | Report abuse |
  9. K

    so a minister is now a judge?

    September 27, 2011 at 12:20 am | Report abuse |
  10. Dr.K.

    Ahh yes, send them to those sweet peace-loving Alabama churches. Isn't that where the Klan used to meet? Wanna bet they still do in some of them?

    September 27, 2011 at 12:20 am | Report abuse |
  11. Atheist

    Ever notice that the Baptists scream about freedom of religion all the time-and take every chance they get to cram THEIR religion down everybody else's throat ? This is just another attempt to make their religion the national religion.

    September 27, 2011 at 12:21 am | Report abuse |
  12. PHANIEL DAJUSTE

    NEGATIVE THINKING!! ""CHURCH PEOPLE ARE WORST DEVIL, CRIMINAL THAN PEOPLE OUTSIDE OF CHURCH"" . CHURCH IS ONLY A "COVER" SOCIAL

    September 27, 2011 at 12:22 am | Report abuse |
  13. Love this idea

    This is a great idea. Requiring someone to go to church is not requiring them to become a Christian. There is definitely a difference.

    September 27, 2011 at 12:26 am | Report abuse |
    • Clint

      Yeah, great idea, make a person hate the church by forcing them to go there. Great idea, maybe next time they will do more than a misdemeaner and they'll do it in the church. Real smart.......

      September 27, 2011 at 12:41 am | Report abuse |
  14. CedarTree

    I love how the ACLU says "you shouldn't be forced to go to church..." They're not being forced. It's called a CHOICE. They can go to jail if they like. Or they can participate in something that has been shown to work in other contexts - accountability in a faith-based program. I though the ACLU was pro-choice?

    September 27, 2011 at 12:27 am | Report abuse |
    • Bruce

      How absurd to call it a 'choice." There's nothing voluntary about going to church if you will be put in jail if you refuse.

      September 27, 2011 at 12:35 am | Report abuse |
    • Clint

      Plus, for many that is just not a choice. I'd die in jail before being forced to go to church for a year. Any church.

      September 27, 2011 at 12:42 am | Report abuse |
    • Larry L

      The Taliban run a "faith-based" program...

      September 27, 2011 at 12:47 am | Report abuse |
    • Brandon

      I second Bruce`s opinion. It is silly to call it a choice if the only other option is to go to jail. If the government required you to either worship something you don't believe or lose all your freedoms, that is what you might call a tyranny. All that said, I love the idea of having a program to reintegrate misdemeanor felons with the community – it just needs a non-religious option.

      September 27, 2011 at 12:52 am | Report abuse |
  15. Colossus

    LMAO LMAO LMAO

    This is a JOKE, watch GANGLAND on the history channel. Many gang members identify with Christianity, especially Hispanics gangs and black gangs. Going to church is not going to change any criminal.

    September 27, 2011 at 12:27 am | Report abuse |
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