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 (1,514 Responses)
  1. Nance

    I LOVE the idea!!! it's not forced, and it could do some good! And to all those who say it is a violation of separation of church and state, get over itf! Our country was FOUNDED on the Gospel of Jesus Christ! It is the inmates CHOICE!!!

    September 30, 2011 at 8:52 am | Report abuse |
  2. Orange.Papers

    What if my favorite church is "Satanists For Sobriety"?
    Can I still attend the church of my choice?

    September 30, 2011 at 4:22 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Jared H

    There are two very major things wrong with this.
    1) While we're not yet REQUIRING you to be religious to be socially acceptable, we ARE undoubtedly IMPLYING that people who go to church have a higher moral standard. They're more pure; they couldn't do anything wrong; they're good people. This is one of many indirect ways that society in America has been highly pushing religion in a (supposedly) secular nation.
    2) I'm almost guaranteeing you must be going to a CHRISTIAN church to participate. I'm darned near positive that they would never allow you to go to a mosque for a year and be cleared.

    Being a 15 year old Atheist in America is difficult when you're able to pick up subtle hints. People usually don't directly tell me "you're a terrible person for denying God", but certain instances like this imply that you must be a good citizen if you attend church regularly.

    October 2, 2011 at 3:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • angelic

      because u don't get brainwashed in churches to kill others as they do in mosques, but yet again we're talking about america here: anything's possible…

      November 6, 2011 at 4:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • Minneapolis guy

      That other guy is wrong. there most certainly christian churches that brainwash their members to kill people. how else do you explain abortion clinic bombings and other christian terrorism?

      March 4, 2014 at 8:09 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Susan Mulford

    That is a wonderful program. I pray that it will be implemented in all 52 states.

    October 2, 2011 at 6:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • desultoryphilippic

      Seriously? You really want that? What would happen if you got your wish, and all of a sudden, the majority religion in America became Islam? Would you be all for it then?

      I doubt it. If you are one of those people claiming to love this country and the freedom for which it stands, that makes you a hypocrite.

      October 5, 2011 at 11:49 am | Report abuse |
    • Griff

      52 states? Wow

      October 5, 2011 at 3:21 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Nancy

    This is so wrong, and no, offering someone a choice between Jail, or fine, with a permanent criminal record, or attend a CHRISTIAN church only and have the criminal record dismissed is not really an option, it is discrimination against non-Christians. (the article specifically says there are Mosques or Synagogues) Why not offer community service as an option. Our court system should not be giving special priviledges to people based on their religion (the special priviledge being having no criminal record, whereas those who pay a fine or go to jail end up with a permanent criminal record. This program also promotes bigotry by implying ONLY Christians can become law abiding citizens, as I see no option to attend a secular or non-Christian base rehab program. So the message is very clear, if you are a Jew, or agnostic or Buddhist, you can't turn your life around, only Christians can become law abiding citizens.

    October 2, 2011 at 6:59 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Luna

    This is wrong whichever angle you look at it...

    October 15, 2011 at 11:10 pm | Report abuse |
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  12. dausuul

    "Offenders weren't being forced to attend church, they are just being given the option."

    So, if I threaten to lock you up or take your money unless you go someplace, that isn't "forcing" you?

    April 4, 2014 at 9:53 pm | Report abuse |
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