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. sand

    you can just troll the judge by telling him/her that you want to attend a mosque.

    September 27, 2011 at 2:53 am | Report abuse |
  2. Bob

    I haven't seen a gang banger that doesn't have a cross tattooed on him.
    I haven't seen a Mexican gang member who doesn't have a cross and "virgin" Mary tattooed on him.
    I haven't seen a skin head/Aryan gang member who doesn't have a cross tattooed on him.
    I know they all pray to Jesus....most do immediately after they committed a crime.
    I know over 95% of american prisoners are Christians.

    September 27, 2011 at 3:10 am | Report abuse |
    • Joshua

      Look up the word "nominal"

      September 27, 2011 at 3:12 am | Report abuse |
    • Charms

      BS

      September 27, 2011 at 3:21 am | Report abuse |
    • Glenn

      How do you know they all pray to Jesus? Source? There is a difference between using a cross and other religious images for decoration and actually practicing and being faithful to the teachings of a faith.

      September 27, 2011 at 4:39 am | Report abuse |
    • Salad Spinner

      on my knees servicing the cop!

      September 27, 2011 at 4:44 am | Report abuse |
  3. Steven

    jail, I would rather die on my feet then live on my knees.

    September 27, 2011 at 3:16 am | Report abuse |
    • SevenAndEleven

      Amen!

      September 27, 2011 at 3:53 am | Report abuse |
  4. Bob

    How did that guy get to become a judge???

    September 27, 2011 at 3:22 am | Report abuse |
    • Liutgard

      He's not. He's a police chief, and a dumb one at that. A smart one would have know to run this by counsel before doing it. They'd have told him it's as legal as a $3 bill.

      September 27, 2011 at 4:39 am | Report abuse |
  5. TheAP

    The Brits have Darwin on their money. We still have "In God We Trust" in the U.S. Instead of scientifically based rehabilitation (not through the prison system which has been shown over and over again to breed more crime) we are going to throw the bogus idea that we need anyone picked up with a couple of grams of pot or a series of unpaid parking tickets to 'find Jesus'. What happened to the separation of church and state? What happened to community advancement through education?

    September 27, 2011 at 3:25 am | Report abuse |
    • Max

      I want Dawin on our money, and Tesla.

      September 27, 2011 at 3:27 am | Report abuse |
    • bert

      There is really nothing legally binding about seperate of church and state it was a letter Jefferson wrote the ACLU just took the ball and ran with it

      September 27, 2011 at 3:55 am | Report abuse |
    • Unbeliever

      Bert you couldn't be wore wrong. The framers were trying to avoid religious persecution and protect a person's right to worship or not as they pleased. They had seen what it was like when religion mixed with government in Europe and wanted to avoid that. That's why they wrote the establishment clause. We have the treaty of Tripoli which states that America is in no way a Christian Nation. We must remain secular to be fair to everyone of all religious backgrounds.

      September 27, 2011 at 4:38 am | Report abuse |
    • Liutgard

      Bert, the 1st Amendment says right off "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion",and offering religious service as civil penalty IS doing exactly that.

      September 27, 2011 at 4:44 am | Report abuse |
    • duh

      ah, bert. you should move to alabama. you'd do well there.

      September 27, 2011 at 5:04 am | Report abuse |
  6. KrisKatBar

    This is just wrong on so many levels. It IS a violation of separation of church and state. AND what if the offender is Jewish, Wiccan, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Zorastrian, Kemetic, Baha'i? There are no mosques or synagogues or other temples of worship for these religions. So if they can't afford to pay the fines or take the time off from work or family to go to jail, their only choice is to spend their Sundays at a church that is contrary to their beliefs? Excuse me but I'm from Colorado and I remember Columbine quite well. Students died because they wouldn't renounce their faith in Jesus. This is what the christian faith teaches isn't it? So what if other people of other religious beliefs feel the same about their deities? I'm a pagan. Should I renounce my faith in the goddess simply because I can't afford to go to jail. Should my good friend renounce his faith in Muhammad because he can't afford to pay a steep fine? No! I for one would be sick if I had to sit in a church that preached the very opposite of what I believe in.
    THIS is not just a church and state issue, THIS is a civil rights issue! SHAME ON THE JUDGES IN BAY MINETTE, ALABAMA!

    September 27, 2011 at 3:26 am | Report abuse |
    • Dude

      "Jewish, Wiccan, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Zorastrian, Kemetic, Baha'i?"

      They have the OPTION to convert to avoid being locked up. It's called freedom of religion.

      You are not forced into any one religion.
      You can accept Jesus Christ as your personal savior at a Baptist church.
      OR
      You can accept Jesus Christ as your personal savior at a Methodist church.
      OR
      You can accept Jesus Christ as your personal savior at a Catholic church.

      You're acting as if you don't have any choice.

      September 27, 2011 at 4:00 am | Report abuse |
    • JJohn

      What choice would you have if they didn't offer this program? You would then go to jail. No ifs ands or buts. Now, if they offer this program, and If you don't want to go to church, then you go to jail. Or you just keep yourself out of trouble or jail. Its that simple. I don't see your point.

      September 27, 2011 at 4:03 am | Report abuse |
    • jk

      I just donated $50 to ACLU to contribute and sue the crap out of these morons.

      September 27, 2011 at 4:28 am | Report abuse |
    • CelticHunter7

      You dumb a$$. You answered your own stupid question. If a person can't afford to pay a fine the only alternative is to go to jail or have a warrant of arrest out on them. You must stick your head back up your a$$.

      September 27, 2011 at 4:34 am | Report abuse |
  7. lianag

    This is ridiculous and just reinforces my opinion that Alabama is a regressive, inept and backward state. Check out the act scores and educational system for the state: terrible.

    September 27, 2011 at 3:38 am | Report abuse |
    • Liutgard

      Connection? Likely.

      September 27, 2011 at 4:46 am | Report abuse |
  8. Dani3l

    Bay Minnette is about 30 miles from Mobile, which has a more diverse religious landscape. Would the choice of church extend beyond the municipality, or does the statute require that the place of worship be in Bay Minnette?

    September 27, 2011 at 3:41 am | Report abuse |
    • bert

      I am from Pensacola Fl I love that area.....

      September 27, 2011 at 3:57 am | Report abuse |
  9. Bill

    Thats whats wrong with the world today, people have put their bibles away. Shame on all of you.

    September 27, 2011 at 3:52 am | Report abuse |
    • joe

      Shame on you, Bill, for having the hubris to think that we all should be following your primitive belief system.

      September 27, 2011 at 4:02 am | Report abuse |
    • Barfy Spewsalot

      Joe why do we need to genericalize everything for you idiots?

      September 27, 2011 at 4:18 am | Report abuse |
    • Sean

      When we all were, the world wasn't as bad of a place.

      September 27, 2011 at 4:22 am | Report abuse |
    • jean

      Sean,
      "when we all were the world wasn't as bad of a place". It only seemed that way because it wasn't as free of a place. We have harder challenges and choices with greater technology, greater understanding of other cultures, more rights for more people. Sure it was fine when women and people of color "knew their place", when the christian religion was pretty much forced upon everyone, when we couldn't see what was happening all over the world, 24/7, when all gay people were closeted, when parents could abuse children with no consequences, when wives were property. It really only seems like a great place if you were a straight, white, protestant male. For everyone else, appearances were deceptive.

      September 27, 2011 at 4:58 am | Report abuse |
    • duh

      yeah sean, there definitely hasn't always been a ridiculous amount of violence and lewd behavior in the world. humanity has had a track record of ware far, totalitarianism, and marauding armies hell bent of raping and pillaging for 1000s of years right?

      this is what happens when you're home schooled. keep doing what you're doing religious right. our country will just continue to slide down to a third world nation.

      September 27, 2011 at 5:09 am | Report abuse |
  10. SherylLynn

    I think community service – to the community or person they affected with their crime – is be a great idea. Stole from a elderly person? They have to do community service serving elderly people. Or, they have to paint that persons house; do their yard work for a period of time, etc. Harrassed or stole from a homeless person? Have to work at a homeless shelter for a period as community service. Something like that...giving back to what you took or damaged.

    September 27, 2011 at 4:08 am | Report abuse |
  11. Tim Riker

    What if I wanted to choose a religion which was not available locally. Does that mean I'll be forced to stay in jail while people of other religions get preferential treatment? Seventh Day Adventists go to church every Saturday rather than every Sunday. Does that count?

    September 27, 2011 at 4:27 am | Report abuse |
  12. Tim Riker

    There's going to be hell to pay.

    September 27, 2011 at 4:33 am | Report abuse |
  13. Schmoogalicious

    Letting criminals choose church for a year rather than jail actually might provide some benefit, albeit of a completely secular nature. The positive aspects of attending church regularly have nothing to do with imaginary beings in the sky granting special favors, but rather derive from the social benefits of a close-knit community: people to socialize with, keep you company, listen to your problems, provide emotional and physical support during hard times, etc.

    September 27, 2011 at 4:38 am | Report abuse |
  14. Cory

    How about "restore the community" with...Oh I don't know community services instead? Like offering real help to homeless shelters, or doing the side street trash pick up. Ya know...Something useful. I really don't see how making them attend church every Sunday is really gonna do them good....Especially if they don't follow Christian motto's. No, instead they get to spend time in jail for not "choosing" the Christian Belief system. Bias... at it's finest.

    September 27, 2011 at 4:42 am | Report abuse |
  15. amincan

    Got their own redneck version of sharia goin on in sweet home Alabama!

    September 27, 2011 at 4:54 am | Report abuse |
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