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. chrismangum

    hmmmm. I'm wondering what punishment the town lawmakers should face for attempting this overt breech of civil liberties? Could it be....SATAN????

    September 26, 2011 at 7:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • Daniel in Denver

      Beauty Church Lady reference. Nicely played.

      September 26, 2011 at 7:13 pm | Report abuse |
  2. God's sent angel

    I'm with tino. this should be done nationwide. Most of thos who do the crimes didn't have God anywhere in their home life. If they had they wouldn't have broken the law. I admire that judge for taking the initiative to introduce Jesus to those people! yes- they have to choose church first. But if they do its because Jesus wants them there.

    September 26, 2011 at 7:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • John John

      You know that Jesus is a myth right?

      September 26, 2011 at 7:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • The Pope

      OMG if that isn't asinine I don't know what is.

      September 26, 2011 at 7:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • Erik

      Thanks for the completely fact-free analysis.

      September 26, 2011 at 7:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • thedude

      Your an idiot john john. Christ was a real, physical living human being. You meant to say god is a myth right? Otherwise that wasn't a well thought comment on your part.

      September 26, 2011 at 7:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • God doesn't exist

      I grew up in a home without Jesus and I haven't committed a crime. I'm married, have a family, make plenty of money (legally) to support my family, and choose not to waste my time with an 'invisible man in the sky'. I think your comment is very naive,

      September 26, 2011 at 7:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rhonda

      A myth? Then who healed my spine?

      September 26, 2011 at 7:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • Al Gore


      September 26, 2011 at 7:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • Erik

      @ Rhonda: If you don't know, then how do we? Plus, absence of knowledge doesn't mean any god did it.

      September 26, 2011 at 7:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • Leafonthewind

      @God's sent angel, that has to be the most naive comment ever. Do you really believe that all Christians are innocent of committing crimes? Do you seriously believe that all atheists are criminals? Your ignorance is simply stunning.

      September 26, 2011 at 7:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • Joe

      I grew up in a home with religion forced upon me. I now push off any sort of religion. This is the stupidest idea ever.

      September 26, 2011 at 7:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • keyser

      Listen, I spoke to this Jesus and he said he didn't have anything to do with this. He said it was all Alabama nonsense. Honest.

      September 26, 2011 at 9:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • JT

      How old are you? If you're less than 10 years old then we'll just chock your ignorance up to youth and your parent's indoctrination. If you're over 9 then please do all you can to get an education and break free from Christianity.

      September 26, 2011 at 10:28 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Rachel

    That's ok, boehnersux, and I understand if it doesn't make sense to you, only God can make it make sense to you anyway. Just making sure we still have freedom of speech here in this great country as of course I respectfully accept your opinion!

    September 26, 2011 at 7:04 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Tony

    Actually the choice is simple. It says you have to ATTEND church, it says nothing about participating. Simply go to church each week and ignore everything going on around you. It's only 1 hour a week.

    September 26, 2011 at 7:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • Leafonthewind

      "It's only 1 hour a week." Right. That's 52 completely wasted hours. And what if you need to leave town for a couple of weeks?

      Do you really not get it? This is a Christian community FORCING their beliefs on others. Either go to church or have a criminal record for the rest of your life.

      September 26, 2011 at 7:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bob

      you have obviously never actually been to a church in the deep south... Also, how is this really a choice? Go to Church for a Year, OR Go to Jail... this is Church by Government Coercion...

      September 26, 2011 at 8:05 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Tom

    Why we yankees look down upon the South...

    September 26, 2011 at 7:06 pm | Report abuse |
  6. sparky91

    First of all, I'm sure in some way this violate separation of church and state. Secondly, if it doesn't violate church and state you will have to make available ALL religions!

    As a nation, we need to keep these self-righteous people out of any form of government. Believe in anything you want to, just stop using government means to further the word of any religion!

    September 26, 2011 at 7:06 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Dan

    So, if I'm a Christian I can choose church on Sundays and, presumably, keep any job I may have as well as any other social contracts. If I'm an Atheist, however, I lose my job because I have to go to jail or pay a large fine possibly endangering my other obligations like rent, car payment, etc...

    September 26, 2011 at 7:07 pm | Report abuse |
  8. thedude

    Read the second paragraph from the bottom. Says it all.

    September 26, 2011 at 7:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • Al Gore

      That's how it starts.

      September 26, 2011 at 7:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dan

      Yes. It says that if you're Christian not only will you be forgiven by God, but also by the legal system of Bay Minette, Alabama. If you're not Christian there's no forgiveness – which is fine if you're talking about some mythological being but I see no reason why people who believe in mythological beings should receive preferential treatment under any legal system.

      September 26, 2011 at 7:19 pm | Report abuse |
  9. leeintulsa

    @citizen: Oh, poor, persecuted christian.. You've been running everything since constantinople; get over yourself.

    What exactly do you want to teach the jews? About christ? I'm sure they've heard. *EVERYONE* has heard about your god, rest assured.

    And on the flip side, do you think your mother should have to navigate her way in her sunday finest through the dregs of society she smugly drives by (as do i), standing on the street with their signs..?

    Did you miss when they were going on about sharia law, like it was a thing? What about the islamic terrorists we read about *every* day..

    I try to remain civil, and i apologize to friends if this offends.. But they asked for it..

    Seems every time a goddie gets rolling, freedom flies out the window. You believe things that never happened. This handful of stories keeps getting passed down, with all the prejudice, hate, and violence every 5 year old child needs. And you're free to believe.

    The worst part is thinking it's no big deal to punish someone for not going to church. They can choose not to go, do their time, and have a criminal record, or go to church for a year and win legal indulgences. Crimes dismissed.

    Clearly, you think christians deserve a free pass. If i don't get one, they don't get one. That's what the const itution says.

    Live it. Love it.

    September 26, 2011 at 7:08 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Jamie

    This is severely messed up. I'm all for rehabilitation, but this is messing with one of the fundamental beliefs this nation was founded on. If they're going to implement a program like this, they must sanction ALL religions. Including, but not limited to, Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, Wicca, Pastafarianism (RAmen! My brothers), Unitarian Universalism, etc. Limiting it to Christian churches is NOT fair. Incoming ACLU lawsuit! Makes me tempted to move there and start a school and church of Wicca. I'd probably be burned at the stake. Some things never change in the South.

    September 26, 2011 at 7:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • Pumbaa

      Actually a lot of Jim Crow laws down South have been done away with. However with the Southern Baptists in charge of the small town South I am not surprised that they would come up with this idea. In the County jail house in the County that I live in a person can only have a Bible to read. No Koran, Buddhist teaching, etc. They might not even let a Tanakh in the place as most people would have NO idea what it was!

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

    Imagine that... In Alabama. I swear to you, those states down south should have been allowed to break off and form their own country. They're the reason the country is so backwards and stupid. All this jesus and god nonsense is whats holding Americans back while the rest of the world thrives in science and technology. I hope every single person involved in this gets removed from their respective offices. I hope Alabama gets a strong warning from federal government that this WILL NEVER happen again. Because thats exactly what I'd do if I were in charge of this mess. I'd make sure Alabama was made an example of. Separation of church and state is the issue here. hillbillies and rednecks want to cling to their right to have guns but they want to force religion on people and ignore peoples right to not have it in their life. What insanity.

    September 26, 2011 at 7:09 pm | Report abuse |
  12. The Pope

    Well, I've said it before, guilt is the opiate of the masses.

    September 26, 2011 at 7:09 pm | Report abuse |
  13. gary

    Bring back the Draft!

    September 26, 2011 at 7:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • The Pope

      What's on tap????????

      September 26, 2011 at 7:10 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Jack NYC

    Has anyone heard of separation of chrch and state??? This is B.S.

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

    Oh, for the love of @&#. Will someone please clue these religious people into the fact that morality and religion have nothing to do with each other!! I correct myself ... morality is separate from religion and religion is not inherently moral.

    September 26, 2011 at 7:12 pm | Report abuse |
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