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)

    WHAT AN EXCELLENT IDEA!!! TO HAVE THE OPPORTUNITY TO REMAIN FREE as well as learn about the one who came to give his life for OUR NATURAL/ETERNAL FREEDOM; AND TO LET THEM KNOW THAT EVEN WHEN JESUS WAS FULFILLING HIS ASSIGNMENT THAT HE PAUSED TO EXTEND THIS FREEDOM/FORGIVENESS TO A THIEF WHO WAS GUILTY BUT HE FORGAVE AND WAS GIVEN ETERNAL FREEDOM AT THAT MOMENT;and that they too can have and experience this same freedom. wow thats like getting two for one what a great deal; keep up the good work.

    September 27, 2011 at 11:53 am | Report abuse |
    • LivinginVA

      If it were I, I would take the year to explore different religions – maybe 2 months going to a Hindu temple, 2 months to a Islamic mosque, etc....just to annoy people like you.

      I suspect that my mother – who was the best Christian I know, would have encouraged people to do the same.

      September 27, 2011 at 12:20 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Todd

    What will happen if the felon already attends church every week?

    September 27, 2011 at 11:57 am | Report abuse |
    • Punkass

      Time served? lol

      September 27, 2011 at 12:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • Someguy

      That's impossible. Everyone knows that no one who attends church ever commits a crime.

      September 27, 2011 at 12:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • LivinginVA

      It's only for misdemeanors, not felonies. But the answer is apparently, keep going to church and we'll give you a free pass.

      September 27, 2011 at 1:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • LBK

      This is for misdemeanor cases. For the love of god learn how to read.

      September 27, 2011 at 1:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • Aaron

      So much for being a secular nation.

      September 27, 2011 at 1:33 pm | Report abuse |
  3. LivinginVA

    An incredibly inequitable option.

    Option 1: Go to jail, lose pay, maybe your job & have a criminal record
    Option 2: Pay a fine & have a criminal record
    Option 3: Go to church and get off scot free

    Where is an option that allows someone who is not religious, or whose religion doesn't conform to "an hour a week" service, to spend that same 52 hours doing something useful for the community and get off scot free?

    September 27, 2011 at 11:59 am | Report abuse |
  4. Adam H

    This is terrible! Talk about slamming your religion down peoples throats. If you can't offer the same deal with every world religion in mind then how dare you offer church? This is just sick!

    September 27, 2011 at 12:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • chris n

      Greetings sensationalist, you clearly don't understand that this is a small town in Alabama.

      September 27, 2011 at 12:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jutta

      Nobody is slamming down anything anyone's throat, did you read the part where it says they are giving a choice, they can choose confinement over Jesus if they so want to...but here is one wise judge who understands the truth about going to hell which is way worse than going to he is trying to save someone from that...nothing wrong with that...

      September 27, 2011 at 12:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • KeyWestConch

      Seriously, Jutta are you kidding?

      September 27, 2011 at 1:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • Amused

      "but here is one wise judge who understands the truth about going to hell " REALLY????? If he were actually WISE, he would know that hell is a MYTH designed to frighten church followers into compliance with the church's agenda...

      September 27, 2011 at 2:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Think before you speak

      @Amused: You better hope you're right, because if not...

      September 27, 2011 at 3:05 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Rasberryrum

    " 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." And if the person is of a religion that doesn't meet on Sunday, but on some other day of the week?

    September 27, 2011 at 12:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • mike

      As quaint as it may seem, I'm pretty sure there AREN'T any other practicing religious groups in the town, otherwise they would have their own church. Though if you are a non-practicing citizen or any other religion, you are probably trying your best not to get lynched anyway...

      September 27, 2011 at 12:33 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Ron B

    Whoever came up with this violation of church-state separation should be in jail..... I hope they sue the krap out of these clowns

    September 27, 2011 at 12:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jutta

      There are no clowns here, only a wise judge who knows where the road will take them later once the go to jail...he wants to help them not so much out of jail, but to keep them out of hell...which is way worse than jail.

      September 27, 2011 at 12:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • KeyWestConch

      Jutta, stop the fanatical tunnel vision already. The solution by this judge is not acceptable under the law in this country. It is forcing people who belong to some other religion besides christianity or do not believe in any religion to go to a church. It's not legal and it won't many anybody better. You can't go to hell if you don't believe in it in the first place. Hell is being forced to attend religious services you don't believe in.

      September 27, 2011 at 1:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • becomesome1

      i guess i missed the part where it says they will be "forced" to go church... they have two other options if going to church on sunday is totaly against their beliefs.. they can simply pay a fine or go to jail... right? i mean when they go to jail they will probably be forced to do other things that dont quite fit within their normal religious practices right???? at least by only having to go to church every sunday they have 6 other days to themselves to "practice" their religion how ever they want to... 🙂 but being a Christian myself and knowing how much church could help people who are "troubled" i think its a great idea... and a good way to bring positive role models into the lives of people who may have never had them before... Not every church is a bad church or crooked church... there are churches out there that love people and that dont only teach strict religious doctrine but also teach good character and help build better communities and families.. and being that im from Bay Minette i can say there are a lot of them there...

      September 27, 2011 at 1:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • Cinnasue

      Key West Conch – I don't agree with this, but I do need to point out that it doesn't specifically say that if you choose the "church" route that you have to attend a christian religious service... it doesn't distinguish that at all. There is a good mix of religious choices here in the South... from Baptist, Nazarene, Catholic, Community Churches, etc. – even mosques and synagogues for those who are Muslim and Jewish. Just because people think that the South is backwoods and intolerant doesn't mean that they are. You also stated that it is forcing them to go to church... not true... they have a choice (if the edict were to remain in place) just as they have a choice not to break the law. The crux of the issue is that the judge is even making this an option because there is a separation of church and state... there should be no choice.

      September 27, 2011 at 1:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • LivinginVA

      besomeone: What if the choice was go to jail for 60 days, spend a month's pay on the fine or spend 52 hours going to, say, Hindu services? Would you consider those fair choices?

      September 27, 2011 at 1:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • becomesome1

      i would honestly pay the fine... because if there are options that means i have the ability to choose.... and if i did choose the hindu service because i didnt have the money and i most certainly dont want to go to jail... then so be it... it does not mean that it will change my belief in God.. just means i have an opportuinity to meet other people and learn of their beliefs... i have no problem being around people who dont believe like i do because Christianity to me isnt limited to "religious practices" its about showing the love of God to people all the time.... thats how people are drawn to God...through love not a service...

      September 27, 2011 at 1:40 pm | Report abuse |
  7. lamppost778

    Does the church have to be a Christian church? Can you elect to go to service at a synagogue, mosque, or any other sort of temple?

    September 27, 2011 at 12:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Andrew

      it seems implied by the article that the policy doesn't mandate a christian church, but there are no non-christian options in the area

      September 27, 2011 at 12:23 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Buddy Christ

    I think this will be very popular with the criminals themselves. No record and no jail time and all you have to do is pretend that you believe in iron age folklore about an imaginary father figure and his son. Lucky for Alabama, criminals never lie. 😉

    September 27, 2011 at 12:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • LivinginVA

      Hey, they don't even have to pretend! All they have to do is attend.

      September 27, 2011 at 12:32 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Jutta

    That's a fantastic idea, and knowing God, He will show out in this, so that other communities will follow suit and do the cannot go wrong with God...these people who choose to go and hear the Word will be changed forever and they will never go back to a life of crime again...HALLELUJAH

    September 27, 2011 at 12:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • Nicole

      I don't know whether you're being serious or making a joke here. Either way, it's a really comical irony.

      September 27, 2011 at 12:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • KeyWestConch

      I hope he or she is kidding because otherwise he or she is really scary.

      September 27, 2011 at 1:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • Brian

      You can't go wrong with God.. unless you're abusing altar boys or killing thousands of people who believe in a different imaginary friend. Funny that people think that religion makes people better when the evidence argues exactly the opposite.

      September 27, 2011 at 1:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • KeyWestConch

      Brian, near as I can tell religion has caused more hypocrites than anything else.

      September 27, 2011 at 1:14 pm | Report abuse |
  10. LivinginVA

    Quick question: If you read about a tourist in an Islamic country arrested for jaywalking (which is a misdemeanor – the type of crime this law applies to) who was given a choice of 30 days in jail or going to the local Mosque (because there are no other churches handy), what would you think?

    September 27, 2011 at 12:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • KeyWestConch

      The same as I think about this idiocy in Alabama.

      September 27, 2011 at 1:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • becomesome1

      i think they should pay the fine ( which was also an option) and keep going...

      September 27, 2011 at 1:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • LivinginVA

      besome1: And if the money for the fine is more than the person has on hand?

      September 27, 2011 at 1:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • clay

      I wouldnt think anything of it considering it is not my country and their laws are different than mine. My first amendment right is my right here...not in any other country.

      September 27, 2011 at 2:40 pm | Report abuse |
  11. iLoveTheUSA

    II would have no problem with this if they also offered a secular option that wasn't the choice of going to jail or paying a fine. Seems unfair to give the religious criminals the option of going to church (which isn't punishment) but not giving the non-religious an equal alternative.

    September 27, 2011 at 12:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • LivinginVA

      exactly – 52 hours of community service should be another option.

      September 27, 2011 at 12:55 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Daisy

    Why are people all up in arms about criminals having the option to clear their record and hopefully change their future bad choices?? For those who are anti-religion (of whatever kind) then by all means, let them go to jail and do their time like they deserve, quit your whining. Its their choice to break the law, i think its almost too lenient that they have a choice of how to serve their time.

    September 27, 2011 at 1:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • LivinginVA

      How is a month or two in jail equal to 52 hours of sitting in a church? Why is going to a church a magical cure that, say, working in a soup kitchen isn't?

      September 27, 2011 at 1:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • clay

      Daisy: "For those who are anti-religion (of whatever kind) then by all means, let them go to jail and do their time like they deserve,"

      soooo....if two people (one religious and one not) commit the same crime, we should let the non-religious go to jail because "they deserve it" yet the religious one doesnt deserve jail and gets church instead? are you crazy or just stupid? If anything, religious people should be held accountable to a higher standard than non-religious people, considering you get your morals from the all knowing, god-written bible and all. Religious people who commit crimes should know better because they are religious, right? I mean Christians already think they are morally superior than non-religious people because of the bible, then they should be held more accountable for their actions, not given a free pass.

      September 27, 2011 at 2:46 pm | Report abuse |
  13. turkey

    a choice between 2 prisons? Illusions

    September 27, 2011 at 1:09 pm | Report abuse |
  14. BX

    Nota a bad idea

    September 27, 2011 at 1:11 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Britt

    I think this is a great idea, I am sorry but I know people who have had misdemeanors and go to jail, come right back out and do it again. And I am sorry I don't think you have to go to church to be religious. It is about community,
    I would rather send a troubled individual to church to be around (atleast) a positive community rather than sending them to spend time with even more troubled individuals.

    I think the comments being made here about this being wrong is about people protesting religious freedom, or lack thereof. I am sorry but I don't think this should be judged atleast they're trying something new, maybe it will work... maybe it won't but really something has to be done because jail-time doesn't seem to be doing much for these people.

    And just because this is an option it does'nt mean there is no criminal record, or choices for community service, I just think everyone needs to chill out about it, let's just see what happens.

    September 27, 2011 at 1:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • LivinginVA

      "And just because this is an option it does'nt mean there is no criminal record, or choices for community service"
      According to the article, the charge is dismissed (which means no criminal record) IF you go to church. It did not say there was a community service option.

      September 27, 2011 at 1:43 pm | Report abuse |
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