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. Laughing hard

    Men never commit evil so fully and joyfully as when they do it for religious convictions

    September 26, 2011 at 6:29 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Nick C

    Well obviously people cannot understand that they're not forcing anything! You have the right to choose as with anything in this country (where the term FREE) comes from. You can choice is: Time, Pay fine, Attend Church. If you lived in most any part of the Arab world, you couldn't chose to be aithiest, attend synegog or a church, but in America you have the right to be a couch potatoe, athiest, live on welfare and so on. This is not options in other countries, so be glad you have them!

    I'm not one to sit here and demand people go to church or follow christianity, but that is everyone's choice.

    You can Pay the fine if you have the money, but why not say well that's not fair to those whom can't pay. It should be free for the homeless!

    You can go to church if you would like and not pay or serve time, but that's not fair because so and so is aithiest (if you don't beleive, then there's nothing for you to worry about. It's just like going to school you don't like every subject, but you did them because it was part of the curriculim).

    You can serve time, but that's not fair because I'm a broke aithiest!

    If you look at everything in life as what is fair to you and what is good for you, then you should have no say. There are a lot of sacrifices I make so other are happy even though it doesn't make me so, but that's part of being American. We give and take equal parts. This is the greatest country because everyone is nice and helps eachother – maybe 50 years ago!

    Today everyone is in it for themselves. Well selfishness is the reason you probably ended up in jail now isn't it? You added a few extra dollars to your check because your son Jimmy was more important than the 2,000 other employees in the company whom need a little extra too, but only you got a raise!

    In a nut shell, you can pick 1 of 3 options. Jail, Money or Religion. They're not forcing you to pick, that's your choice!

    Grow up.

    September 26, 2011 at 6:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • Laughing hard

      If you pay the fine, you'll have a criminal record...
      If you go to jail you'll have a criminal record..
      If you attend church they drop the charges......... This is not fair!!!!!!!!

      September 26, 2011 at 6:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Baker!

      What if you're jewish?

      September 26, 2011 at 6:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tom

      Then they need to remove the you have one path to get your charges dismissed, and that is attend church" part of the deal.

      This still leaves the problem of regular church goers who get a free pass to commit misdemeanors without any inconvenience. Perhaps if we make church goers do community service every Saturday while forced to listen to Slayer, and the non church goers have to attend church on sunday we can get past this imbalanced discriminatory aspect of it.

      As it stands now one group essentially gets zero punishment and immunity with this scheme

      September 26, 2011 at 6:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • Amana

      Most of the Arab world? Not true.

      September 26, 2011 at 6:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • Nick C

      There's a difference between expunged and dismissed! You will have a record regardless.

      September 26, 2011 at 6:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dr.K.

      Sort of like the Inquisition, you had a choice – convert, condemn your loved ones, or die. Yeah, those people should also should have just "grown up" and enjoyed their freedom to choose.

      September 26, 2011 at 6:50 pm | Report abuse |
  3. tino

    AMEN! this should be done throughout the entire country. not only for the good of the people but especially for those who are heading in the wrong direction in this life. ACLU or BIBLE ? everyone has there own free will but it's ALWAYS the LORDS will. let every head bow and every knee bend to the LORD most high.

    September 26, 2011 at 6:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • Laughing hard

      If God`s plan incorporates all of his knowledge, then how do we have free will? God is a bigot.

      September 26, 2011 at 6:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • bravo2zero

      ...and if you don't worship our particular imaginary sky-god, then we'll punish you severely. It's a free choice, right?

      September 26, 2011 at 6:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • aMom


      September 26, 2011 at 6:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • Edwin

      Unfortunately, this is obvious coercion. It allows people to convert to avoid jail time. That is as simply illegal as anything in this country.

      What if the offer were this: regularly attend a MOSQUE every week, pray to Allah every week, to avoid jail time? No option for a christian church, just a mosque. Do you say AMEN to that option, too, or are you just happy your particular religion gets more converts?

      September 26, 2011 at 6:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lou

      Obviously your name is LORD. I will not bow to you!

      September 26, 2011 at 6:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • Alex D

      :O ....You're saying the holocaust was "The Lord's will"??

      September 26, 2011 at 6:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • Burbank

      Arrogance makes you stupid.

      September 26, 2011 at 6:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • Burbank

      I guess all these arrogant Alabama Bible thumpers are gonna love it when I move there to start a Wiccan church and the paroles become part of a Coven once a week. Ha! Ha! Ha! They will sure be blowing a different tune out of their backsides when that happens!

      September 26, 2011 at 6:51 pm | Report abuse |
  4. JJ

    No contest on my choice....jail, definitely jail.

    September 26, 2011 at 6:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • CSH

      You also have the choice of not to do the crime, then you don't have to worry about it.

      September 26, 2011 at 6:39 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Mike

    Only in the South. Trailer Park mentality.

    September 26, 2011 at 6:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lou

      Why are you picking on trailer parks? The residents are not all as bad as southerners, some of them live in the north and the west.

      September 26, 2011 at 6:44 pm | Report abuse |
  6. citizen

    I very good choice when you think that in other cultures your choice is Allah or death. But then again I wouldn't expect CNN to play a story against any religion other than Christianity.

    September 26, 2011 at 6:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • Edwin

      I bet you didn't realize that MOST muslim countries don't operate that way. Most of them allow other religions as freely as we do; some are more tolerant.

      The ones on the news do not represent Islam any more than they represent Christianity correctly. Remember that the next time you complain about the one and assume the other is factual.

      September 26, 2011 at 6:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lou

      In Saudi Arabia, it is a crime to attend a christian worship service. The punishment is a public whipping.

      September 26, 2011 at 6:45 pm | Report abuse |
  7. leeintulsa

    I just got a great idea.. Buy a small hotel or big house, and offer it as some kind of alternate to prison..

    Set up some kind of councilling program.. Non-faith, meaning all-faith – no one's perfect – all inclusive.. I bet there'd be money in it.. There's money in jails

    September 26, 2011 at 6:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • Nick C

      This is a great idea. A spin off from the start of somethig great. To be even greater. Would that not be a 1/2 way house in a way?

      September 26, 2011 at 6:45 pm | Report abuse |
  8. rob

    I'd rather serve time and pay the fine.

    September 26, 2011 at 6:35 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Edwin

    There is no way this can be legal. It will be challenged, and it will be overturned.

    If they really want to implement it, they need to remove the word church. Remove ANY reference to christianity. Make the requirement be that the person regularly attend a "recognized" program with certain (moral) properties. Then let various churches and OTHER organizations apply for the recognition.

    The net effect would be similar. The only groups that would sign up in this region would be churches and perhaps Alcoholics Anonymous. And quite honestly, if someone attended AA every week, their behavior would improve at least as much as if they attended church.

    September 26, 2011 at 6:37 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Pete Zaria

    I see this as a HUGE violation of church and state. How can a judicial branch official sentence you to believing in a religion? It's not only absurd, it's wishful thinking to assume that a year of church will fix anything or clean anything up. Religion has killed more people than cancer in the last two thousand years, abused countless children, and started numerable wars. So let's send our criminals to church... Makes perfect sense! VOTE THESE IDIOTS OUT! Separate church and state!

    September 26, 2011 at 6:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • Nick C

      Wow this Country wasn't founded on getting away from Christian Taliban (which wasn't around) thinking. This country was founded on the idea that people should be free from a tyrant king who takes more than he gives. The seperation of church and state is in effect because our president doesn't force us to believe in any particular religion and he is def. not in charge of our church, mosque, temple etc...

      The seperation was made to devide people from being in charge of the country and the religion. By giving you the option not to go to jail if you attend Church for doing something criminal is in no means forcing you to become Christian. If you don't want to, or can't believe in that, then you can pay a fine. I don't understand why this is such a big deal to some. What would you come up with different than this that is positive and would do good for people?

      "Render unto Caesar what are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's" (Mark 12:17) This is the seperation. Where politics are politics, and religion is religion. They're not forcing anything.

      Only because there's a Church and a guided way of life is there even a debate. Someone decided this is a great place to help those that are going down the wrong path (not talking aithiest, just saying the path of crime) to find a guidance of something positive. Church people aren't evil as aithiest aren't evil. Evil is that of the person, not a culture or religion. I know that there are radical muslims, but that doesn't speak for them all!

      September 26, 2011 at 7:11 pm | Report abuse |
  11. JoJo

    How about either the rack or Jesus? The Spaniards tried that a few centuries ago, and it produced a lot of born again Christians. If the ACLU complains, then we'll make it waterboarding or Jesus. Waterboarding isn't torture according to Chickenhawk Cheney.

    September 26, 2011 at 6:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • bravo2zero

      Well said. A good analogy.
      They offer the imposition of their faith or some other horrible alternative, and then characterize it as a free choice. Perhaps these people are unaware of the term "coercion".

      September 26, 2011 at 6:49 pm | Report abuse |
  12. sybaris

    It's a scarey thing when a judge who supposedly dispenses justice based on facts offers you the choice of praying to a mythological character.

    September 26, 2011 at 6:38 pm | Report abuse |
  13. YaSure

    Jesus, protect us from your followers.

    September 26, 2011 at 6:38 pm | Report abuse |
  14. bravo2zero

    This is why America is sooooo scary. The American Taliban slyly injection their irrational, mystical, magical nonsense into the judicial system. Don't forget, the world religions (christianity and islam) are all about convert or be cast out.
    I wonder if they'll teach them the actual rules in their rule book, such as stoning to death for working on the sabbath? Or taking the "lord's" name in vain? Or coveting (ie/ thought crime)?

    September 26, 2011 at 6:38 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Burbank

    And whatever happened to separation of church and state? That's blatantly discriminating against non christians and atheists. People founded this country originally specifically to get away from this sort of Christian Taliban thing a.k.a controlling through religious rules. that are forced on others. Gives me the shivering, crawling creeps! The people that thought this up in the first place are the ones that belong in jail for a year!

    September 26, 2011 at 6:40 pm | Report abuse |
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