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. Linzi

    I personally believe there is nothing wrong with this. It's an option, which makes it legal. People may believe it will not change anything about the person attending, but I'm sure they will find some sort of faith along the way. Either way, it is purely a benefit. Church never hurt anyone.

    September 27, 2011 at 5:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • History Lesson

      The issue people have with it is that there is supposed to be separation between church and state, and church can hurt people. They did quite a few nasty things in the dark ages, and there was the Inquisition who tortured and killed people. All in the name of the lord.

      September 27, 2011 at 8:31 pm | Report abuse |
  2. William

    Who takes attendance? If I were a pastor in that town I would not want to be responsible for doing the reporting and possibly getting someone sent to jail. As long as an agent of the court is the one tracking attendance, it's no big deal. First Amendment issue? Hardly. Partiicipation is voluntary. If you don't like it, though, I'm sure the town will let you adopt a convict for $75/day, and probably even send you pictures and updates on his/her progress.

    September 27, 2011 at 5:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rabble

      So, if the state says "go to church or we send you to jail", there's no first amendment issue because its "voluntary"? I really wouldn't consider that particularly voluntary or optional, in fact I can't think of anything the government could do that is more coercive than threatening you with jail time. It's a bit like a mugger saying "give me your wallet or I shoot you"...its not really optional.

      September 27, 2011 at 5:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rabble

      So, if the state says "go to church or we send you to jail", there's no first amendment issue because its "voluntary"? I really wouldn't consider that particularly voluntary or optional, in fact I can't think of anything the government could do that is more coercive than threatening you with jail time. It's a bit like a mugger saying "give me your wallet or I shoot you"...its not really optional. Seriously, this first amendment question isn't even close.

      September 27, 2011 at 5:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • Beau

      Yes not required but if you just did a crime( non violent crime) and they said pray or get sent to jail. What would you choose? That is right going to church its pretty much is forcing people to pray and go to church and forcing religion upon them.

      September 27, 2011 at 6:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • B4Its2Late

      So Alabama is our first Taliban state. Send in the drones now!!!

      September 27, 2011 at 7:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rodney

      But what if i would like the choice of church, but I'm a Satanist, is there a church in the town available for myself to attend. What if i follow Scientology? Or I consider myself a Jedi? Or how about I don't believe in anything, as in Atheist?I would like a third choice like everyone else! Even though it is entirely voluntary, as an atheist, im offended that people could "get out of punishment" by listening to bullcrap all day long.

      September 27, 2011 at 7:58 pm | Report abuse |
  3. mb

    You can't do this. Its blatantly a violation of the first amendment as applied to the states through the 14th. This has red flags all over it.

    September 27, 2011 at 5:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • EDante

      i'm guessing you're referring to Due Process in the 14th? And why does the 1st Ammendment need to be applied through the fourteenth exactly? Does it not stand on its own?

      September 27, 2011 at 6:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rabble

      No, the First Amendment says that "congress shall make no law...", therefore without the fourteenth amendment it wouldn't apply to state action. It was only after the fourteenth amendment was adopted that the supreme court started to apply the bill of rights to state action through a doctrine called incorporation.

      September 28, 2011 at 9:55 am | Report abuse |
  4. Hans

    I can understand the rationale behind giving people a good alternative to jail and fines, but it's not right for them to monopolize it with the Christian churches. The article said there are no other options (no mosques or synagogues), but regardless of that there should be other options, like service organizations. There are plently of churches that don't do any tangible good in the community (unless you count scaring people with threats of Hell to keep them in line), and there are also plenty of service organizations that do tons of good without any religious motive at all. Those should be included, and people can do community service.

    September 27, 2011 at 5:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • LivinginVA

      Exactly what I said. Why is a church better than Habitat for Humanity?

      September 27, 2011 at 5:59 pm | Report abuse |
  5. paul mitchell

    dear alabama, you are so stupid. there is no such thing as god. if there were, we'd all know it. if people want to stop thinking and go to church, fine, let them.

    alabama, you are as dumb as a state can get.

    September 27, 2011 at 5:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • Proudly live in Alabama

      Dear Paul Mitchell you are the idiot, and so is everyone else who believes there is no God. Walk outside and take a look around, I guess you think we just formed from mud or bang we just showed up. There is so much that can't be explained away by science. You are the idiot for being so narrow minded and this judge's decision has nothing to do with the first amendment, the people aren't forced to go to church they have the option of going to jail.

      September 27, 2011 at 6:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • Blue Templar

      Mister Mitchell. Absense of proof is not proof of absense. THis statement was applied in regards to Darwins Missing Link, it applies to Religion as well.

      September 27, 2011 at 7:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • idiotchristians

      So the answer to the beauty of the world, which developed through EVOLUTION and NATURAL SELECTION, is "goddunnit"? My god (pun intended), I can't believe I live in the same country as you Southern folk.

      September 27, 2011 at 7:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • idiotchristians

      @Blue Templar and that guy above

      Next, you'll probably call for a return to slavery and stoning women because god advocates it in the Bible.

      September 27, 2011 at 7:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • LouisianaGuy

      Sorry, not all of us in the South are backwards. Please don't assume that we are all ignorant just because 75% of us are.

      September 27, 2011 at 7:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • Atheist telling atheist to lay off

      Look, I'm an atheist too, but you're making us look really stupid. I, for one, respect people of all faiths. If you believe in God, I'm not saying that you're wrong. So just back off, Paul, you're making a scene.

      As for the law itself, I can't say I really approve of it. I'll admit that I got a little worried upon seeing the words "JESUS OR JAIL" while I was browsing the news. The line between church and state is a real thing, folks, and this isn't really helping.

      September 27, 2011 at 9:14 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Ultra Liberal

    I must say these people have never been to jail, it sucks... Give me Church any day, and by the way I am an Atheist. At least you can learn more about the Bible, and use it to defend your Atheism.

    September 27, 2011 at 5:42 pm | Report abuse |
  7. wheeeeee

    Simple. I'm an atheist but I don't want to go to jail. So, every time I'm required to go, I just show up at the church and tell everyone why "the Bible" is nonsense, how Jews weren't even monotheists until they were forced to become so at the point of a sword by Josiah, and other fun stuff like how the oldest versions of the oldest gospel, Mark, don't include anything about the resurrection. That part was added later.

    Sounds like a good time to me!

    September 27, 2011 at 6:04 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Sam

    They don't HAVE to go to church. They have options just like in life-starting with the option to not have committed the crime in the first place. You guys are so anti-Christ that you're defending the 'rights" of known criminals.

    September 27, 2011 at 6:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • LivinginVA

      You do realize that this is for misdemeanors, right? People who have jaywalked, let their car insurance lapse, etc. Yes, they could have chosen not to do it, however, I'll lay you money that at some point you have committed a misdemeanor and just not gotten caught.

      September 27, 2011 at 7:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • LouisianaGuy

      First off, what does compassion for criminals have to do with being anti-Christ? Didn't Christ just forgive people on the spot if they were sincere? Second, a choice is not really a choice. Imagine if the options were to go to jail for a year, or go to a mosque for a year. Do you think that would be legal? No, of course not.

      September 27, 2011 at 7:59 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Lazar

    It's a personal choice offenders will make, if you don't want to go to church pay FINE.
    Until now there was no choice, offenders were obligated to PAY ONLY.
    I thik it's wonderful.

    September 27, 2011 at 6:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • LivinginVA

      What politician can't you stand? What would you think of being given a choice of listening to that person talk for 52 hours or going to jail? Would you say "oh, OK, I'll choose"? or would you say "it's not fair, can't I pick someone else"?

      Why isn't 52 hours of community service an option?

      September 27, 2011 at 7:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • JerfBot

      So, if you were a Christian and you go to church every sunday, this wouldn't be a sentance would it? Therefore there is No punishment for misdemeanors unless you are not a christian (they specifically stated no other religious establishments other than christian churches worked, as non were within the county.

      This is where the violation sits.

      September 28, 2011 at 9:36 am | Report abuse |
  10. betatrash

    so in effect, decriminalizing misdemeanors for already practicing catholics... great... just what we needed... no, really.

    September 27, 2011 at 6:19 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Stonysensei

    "I choose the church of Satan."

    September 27, 2011 at 6:57 pm | Report abuse |
  12. just me

    Who is being worshipped in churches and being sung hymns to other than God? Who has churches named after him such as Church of Christ, Church of Jesus Latter Day Saints, etc? Who claims that he is salvation rather than God? Look at the above picture with this article. See how this church has a cross (asherah pole) for a window? Think about who you are worshipping and exalting. God commands His people not to bow down to or serve other gods.

    2 Thessolonians 2:4 KJV Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God.

    September 27, 2011 at 7:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • LivinginVA

      That's fine for you to think, but you know that the majority of people on the planet don't worship your version of God, right?

      September 27, 2011 at 7:35 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Nick

    You can't rationalize it by saying it's still a choice and that they don't have to do it. The biggest issue I see with this is not how it effects people like me who choose to not be religious. It's with the people who ARE religious. If you already attend church every Sunday then it's a get out of jail free card for you. It's not a punishment for them. Why should someone who chooses to be religious get off with no punishment or anything that disrupts their life while someone such as myself have to face at least some kind of punishment..even if it's having to go to church?

    September 27, 2011 at 7:10 pm | Report abuse |
  14. TONY

    i dont see any point to this. god gave us free will to do as we please bad people go to jail and the people who wish to do good should continue being free. this is a way for this particular church to gain propaganda!!! WOW!! like always church are no longer a place for god's worship they aew business!! so sad!!

    September 27, 2011 at 7:24 pm | Report abuse |
  15. LivinginVA

    Actually, the statement "I'm a secular humanist, I'll do my services at the local soup kitchen" should be allowable.....

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