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. EatYouAlive

    This is beyond offensive.

    September 27, 2011 at 12:35 am | Report abuse |
  2. tevii

    Is this even legal? This does not sound like a separation of church and state. Religious or not, this should not go unchallenged

    September 27, 2011 at 12:43 am | Report abuse |
    • Ben

      This is simply giving them an option of going to church or to jail. No one is being forced. Did you even read the original story?
      If you were found guilty and given the choice, I'm sure they'd be happy to accommodate you in their jails...

      September 27, 2011 at 12:46 am | Report abuse |
    • S1N

      The only thing churches are good for is firewood. Leave your magical man in the sky (who couldn't care less about you if he did exist) in your homes. It's a good thing I don't live in Alabama. If I ever got caught up in this one, I'd make sure I have an EXTREMELY violent offense involving the presiding judge.

      September 27, 2011 at 12:53 am | Report abuse |
    • FishOnTheMoon

      Ben, when one of the choice is "go to jail", it shouldn't be called a choice. Some people had the same "choice" during the Roman Inquisition.

      September 27, 2011 at 12:56 am | Report abuse |
    • Mike

      @ Ben,

      You're missing the point. What this "choice" essentially does is give Christians a get out of jail free card that it does not give to Jews, Muslims, or any other religious group. Oh yeah, and the fact even if it is a "choice," it is still mandated by and enforced by the state.

      September 27, 2011 at 1:02 am | Report abuse |
    • scrottie

      as a past member of the beautiful town of Bay MInette, I can attest that there are absolutely no muslims or jews there. I promise they have all been chased out. I don't miss that place.

      September 27, 2011 at 1:28 am | Report abuse |
    • watchandlearn

      Do everyone a favor and don't post any more, unless you have something worthwhile to contribute

      September 27, 2011 at 1:51 am | Report abuse |
  3. Clint

    Well, I guess it's like Forrest said "Stupid is as Stupid does". Plenty of not so informed people in the south, and this is proof of it.

    September 27, 2011 at 12:44 am | Report abuse |
  4. justin

    This wont last long since it is absolutely illegal. It favors Christians, and punishes those who aren't. These days a judge can't force you into AA because it forces you to accept a higher power as one of the steps. I can't wait until someone sues the town for millions and wins. Stupid backwoods rednecks think they are so smart. If you're so smart why are you living in Alabama?

    September 27, 2011 at 12:50 am | Report abuse |
  5. Fritz Hohenheim

    What if you chose the Church Of Satan?

    September 27, 2011 at 12:53 am | Report abuse |
  6. DaveX

    Good grief...what can we say here? Your REAL crime paid for by fantasy? Well...all i can say...is nothing. If you forgive CRIME by someone reenforcing your fantasy life...who is the real criminal? This town...you should have your children taken away...you should not be allowed to vote and you should be subject to mandatory theray, including medication and instutionalisism. (sp?) However you spell that – you're all F'in insane and unfit parents.

    September 27, 2011 at 12:53 am | Report abuse |
  7. Freddie

    If you aint no God fearing christian then sumthins wrong with you boy. If you is a God fearing christian then your allright.

    September 27, 2011 at 12:53 am | Report abuse |
  8. Guest

    Sounds like something they would do in the south.Probably forced on those caught with a gram of marijuana,or extremely petty offenses.

    September 27, 2011 at 12:53 am | Report abuse |
  9. steven hill

    so i am guessing you could
    attend a temple for another religion aswell?

    September 27, 2011 at 12:56 am | Report abuse |
  10. Jake

    If they included a choice of 'community service' each Saturday, like equal time spent cleaning litter or helping in an emergency room , then I would say it is OK. The only choices being Jail, Fines or church time will definitely be challenged if a non-religious person is subjected to this. I believe some religious guidance would probably benefit most, but some would just play along to keep from the harder sentence much like drug offenders in group programs just learn what the therapists want to hear with no intention of getting drug-free. Only an idiot would say "Nah Judge, I'll take the jail time or pay the fines!"

    September 27, 2011 at 12:57 am | Report abuse |
  11. tldixon

    I couldn't make this stuff up...we should've let the south cede from the union...it's just embarassing...

    September 27, 2011 at 12:58 am | Report abuse |
  12. TE

    So would all you people claiming this is no real choice: would you rather there be no choice at all?

    September 27, 2011 at 12:59 am | Report abuse |
    • Mike

      To a devout Muslim or Jew, there is no choice.

      September 27, 2011 at 1:04 am | Report abuse |
  13. 53246

    i'd rather go to jail

    September 27, 2011 at 1:01 am | Report abuse |
  14. 53246

    but then again there is no god so pretending to pray should be fine too

    September 27, 2011 at 1:01 am | Report abuse |
  15. CrestfallenKev

    I would take jail please, much preferable to some holier than thou types telling me fairy tales week after week

    September 27, 2011 at 1:01 am | Report abuse |
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