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. AusieSceptic1

    hmmmm, 12 months of weekend tedium in honour of an imaginary being .... I'll pay the fine, thanks.

    September 26, 2011 at 5:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • karl

      agreed church sounds like a mental prison

      September 26, 2011 at 5:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • pat carr

      Agreed. Thanks i will take jail or the fine. I'm an ex-christian and i will never set foot in a "church" again

      September 26, 2011 at 5:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • pr

      If one is already a church going person then is free to commit a minor crime. Great Alabama, you make a lot of sense.

      September 26, 2011 at 5:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • liza

      I think it's jail time – no fine.

      September 26, 2011 at 8:49 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Johnny

    According to the yellow pages for Bay Minette, Alabama, there are 48 churches. The population is around 9,000. I guess there's not much else to do in Bay Minette other than commit crimes or go to church.

    September 26, 2011 at 5:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • Boater

      That way, they can all be SAVED and then everything's all hunky-dory.....

      September 26, 2011 at 7:50 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Mel Gibson

    Better than the old choice, Jesus or Death?

    September 26, 2011 at 5:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • Boater

      So, you're saying that society "evolved?" Can't be! I thought Christians were against the teachings of evolution!!!?!??!

      September 26, 2011 at 8:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • I cant believe its not butter!

      Boater your a fool to even say that, the stupidity of that remark makes me question if your logic even surpasses that of a satanist. Then again you believe everything in the world just appeared without reason matter just appeared, mass appeared just a whole bunch of it, a giant explosion started that but you dont who made the giant explosion (God) o and life just started without reason and just started with no purpose and no intention but to survive only to meet death. Even an agnostic is far beyond your type of logic. By being an aithiest you are fighting the fact that things actually exsist. Does that answer your Condescending question you arrogant fool.

      September 28, 2011 at 12:05 am | Report abuse |
    • PWND

      I cant believe its not butter!
      Insulting an Atheist's thought process shows how foolish you are. Just as you can't understand how an Atheist believes as he does, an Atheist can't understand how you have faith in the un-provable. Science is a way of thinking, not a belief system. That's the biggest mistake theists make. We don't believe in science or the theories that come out of it. We believe in the process and the system of checks and balances. The other thing that's important is that science allows for mistakes and is more than willing to correct them as new things are learned. Religion just doesn't. When something is finally accepted as fact in religion, they just chalk it up to a misinterpretation or say, "oh, that was meant to be symbolic." Keep your beliefs. I don't have a problem with that. But back off from people who don't agree with you.

      September 29, 2011 at 2:40 am | Report abuse |
  4. JasonInAtlanta

    I'd pick jail , Unless of course it's the Catholic church. Those fools get to sin all week as long as they "confess" to a man wearing a dress on Sunday.

    September 26, 2011 at 5:04 pm | Report abuse |
  5. yada

    What a great idea! AND they have 3 choices. Pay a fine, attend church or serve time. It will be interesting to see if it had a positive impact somewhere down the road. I don't know of any churches that make it mandatory to tythe, except the LDS. Some churches don't even pass the collection plate. And YES!, leave it to the ACLU to open their big mouths against anything to do with church. Anti-Christian Liberties Union!

    September 26, 2011 at 5:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • Johnny

      Why can't they be made to do community service instead? Seems to me that this is just slick effort at conversion.

      September 26, 2011 at 5:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • pat carr

      "anti christian liberties union" – LMAO. There goes the stupid christian "persecution complex" again.

      September 26, 2011 at 5:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • me

      The problem is that they seem to be giving a choice between jail or attending a christian church. Guess they don't think there are other religions. So the objectors aren't really anti christian, they don't want anyone FORCED to attend a christian church. Witch trails coming soon?

      September 26, 2011 at 5:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • leeintulsa

      The rub is that they don't all have a choice, only the christians. People can't be treated differently because of religion, race, or anything else. If *all* had the option, it wouldn't be illegal..

      September 26, 2011 at 5:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • KeepFearAlive

      I Imagine it would have to be a state approved church?? Which one?? A Christian church I'm sure... what if you wanted to go to a Unitarian church ?? or a Synagogue .. or a Bhuddist Temple ... Let me guess... Alabama would say no ... and all the Phony Christians parading around this blog with the assinine comments like " well, at least they're giving you a choice ~~! I wonder if they were givin the same choices but only could go to a Mosque or an Indian temple, they would be OUTRAGED that they were not offered THEIR KIND of brand of Religion.. this is why Christopher Hitchens remains correct .... Religion Poisons everything . . ....

      September 26, 2011 at 5:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • Boater

      Most "christian" churches are borderline cults anyways. CATHOLIC churches are at least a religion. A good deal of the Christian ones are just people who weren't happy with the rules–they rebelled against the religion, and many of their members have a knack for rebelling against "other" rules (aka LAWS), too. But, they are SAVED so everything is just fine....

      September 26, 2011 at 7:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • Boater

      Sounds to me like one of the "christian" churches' "ministers" wanted to go on a vacation and could not afford it, so he conveniently made some "tythings" to the local politicians to increase his income, er, uh, I mean, followers....

      September 26, 2011 at 7:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • mixplex

      did you people read the article? its one town with only christian churches in it. not the entire state. only that town is doing it for non violent crimes. besides being how it is a town ordinance it would mean that the town voted for it.

      September 26, 2011 at 11:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • KeyWestConch

      Mixplex, if it's a town ordinance, its an illegal town ordinance. Forcing a religion on someone. I can't wait for the CLU to weigh in on this one.

      September 27, 2011 at 1:24 pm | Report abuse |
  6. gaucho420

    Alabama??? NEVER! They are a bastion of modernity, I am SO SHOCKED!

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

    So if you are a member of the clergy, or already attend church every week you essentially get a get out of jail free card and a credit for a misdemeanor charge essentially free of consequence?

    I am sorry, but even if the "separation of church and state" was found to be "technically" not problematic because it was "voluntary", this is still discriminatory against those who are non religious.

    September 26, 2011 at 5:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • anw

      I'm going to have to agree with you, Tom. The "church attendance" choice would still be a form of punishment for non religious people. But a complete non-issue to someone who already goes regularly. Completely biased against non religious people.

      September 26, 2011 at 5:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • The Balance

      Separation of Church and State means no state religion NOT freedom FROM religion. If they don't want to do the program they don't have to, then go to jail pretty simple. And pi$$ on the ACLU (American Criminal Lovers Union)

      September 26, 2011 at 5:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • Johnny

      @The Balance: Go back and re-read what anw just posted. You must have misunderstood it the first time.

      September 26, 2011 at 5:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tom

      The Balance.. I think the point of my comment went completely over your head- or you were just blind to it because of your transparent loathing of the ACLU.

      I do not care about the separation of Church and State issue, I care about the unequal treatment and discrimination based on religious belief.

      September 26, 2011 at 5:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • anw

      But it's not the choice that's the problem, Balance. It's the fact that an offender who is a regular church-goer has an option that renders no punishment. Anyone who is not religious MUST choose a punishment.

      September 26, 2011 at 5:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • Melissa

      @The Balance The point you're missing is atheists (as well as non-christian religious folks) only have 2 choices. Why is there a no-punishment option for Christians only?

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

      Melissa, in their eyes, there is only one true "religion." Theirs.... Kinda' goes against the Christian teachings of tolerance.... Hmmmm....

      September 26, 2011 at 7:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • MYmaria

      Tolerance doesn't mean anything goes. You're not tolerating Christians' beliefs, are you? Why can you not tolerate my beliefs, but I have to tolerate yours??? Pot, meet kettle.

      September 26, 2011 at 9:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • wowsuchstupidity

      What you are neglecting to understand is that the people who came up with this ridiculous program wouldn't think that a Christian clergy member or church-goer would commit a crime. Using this tortured logic, only those who aren't already Christians would be given the choice to attend church, hence no get out of jail pass for anyone.

      September 26, 2011 at 11:26 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Ed W.


    September 26, 2011 at 5:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • Cricket

      More specifically, Bay Minette. Population of about 8,000.

      September 27, 2011 at 7:59 am | Report abuse |
  9. MS

    Well you can go to that place of crooks and liars where everybody is looking to take advantage of you, or you can go to jail. I'll take jail.

    September 26, 2011 at 5:07 pm | Report abuse |
  10. banasy©

    They kept you segregated from "the good people"?
    When you were doing RELIEF work after Andrew?


    How about just charging for their stay, like other states do?

    September 26, 2011 at 5:08 pm | Report abuse |
  11. CMFP

    wow... government mandated brain washing. Could I opt for a Buddhist Temple instead?

    September 26, 2011 at 5:08 pm | Report abuse |
  12. raven

    Can ya just imagine it : the prim and proper lady in her perfectly starched dress and every hair in place sittin next to the guy who looks and dresses like Jesus but whos beard smells like onions and beer...

    September 26, 2011 at 5:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • fuzzy

      That was Jesus.

      September 26, 2011 at 5:17 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Jesus

    I want you 2 get on your knees and feel my salvation all over your face.

    September 26, 2011 at 5:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • pat carr

      jesus wants to come in your heart

      September 26, 2011 at 5:11 pm | Report abuse |
  14. JJC

    This is just great. So if you already attend church every Sunday then you are basically exempt from misdemeanors. You can break the law at will (at least misdemeanors) and your life will not change one bit. Church goers are now expempt from some laws! Religion has to go if we are to have a stable humanity.

    September 26, 2011 at 5:09 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Clewd

    Hey if it saves taxpayers money, go for it. It may lower crime as well. Whatever works! Too much of the claim forcing religion on people. Christianity is not a religion it's a relationship.

    September 26, 2011 at 5:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • Johnny

      No, it's a religion.

      September 26, 2011 at 5:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • pat carr

      as the replyer said: it's a religion. look at any dictionary definition

      September 26, 2011 at 5:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • MS

      Spin it all you want. Christianity is a religion, and in all honesty I prefer jail.

      September 26, 2011 at 5:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • Oh Please

      OK, then I want all these "relationships" to start paying taxes.

      September 26, 2011 at 8:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Michael H.

      It's an abusive relationship.

      September 28, 2011 at 12:19 am | Report abuse |
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