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. layminister herman

    Mr buckdrop I believe in showing respect as it is shown .Now in response to your comment sir since you attend church dear sir youve probably have heard of one of the most famous atheist in the bible he had a great time to , So much so that he would have people put to death for being a christian Well now for me Im in my mid 50s and so was my dad when i was born,and sir he was a atheist so much that if he caught me reading a bible i got the belt and he would tell me that would be the only thing the bible would teach me and thats pain .So you see i have seen the other side

    September 26, 2011 at 9:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • Deej59

      And it's real, it exists and it's also wrong. It's thought police and oppression, and that's all that it is.

      September 26, 2011 at 9:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • Al Gore

      There's a reply button.

      September 26, 2011 at 9:23 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Joe, Louisville, KY

    Maybe I could do a deal where we cut out the middle man and I just rob the collection plate every week after attending service?

    September 26, 2011 at 9:07 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Sarah

    I'd choose jail AND the fine if it meant not having to set foot inside of a church! Christians are some of the most hypocritcal, judgemental people I've ever come across, they really don't seem to follow the teachings of the man whose name is right in their religion.

    September 26, 2011 at 9:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • Phil

      You obviously have no idea what a christian is madame.

      September 26, 2011 at 9:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ashrakay

      Well, it's really only trading one prison for another.

      September 26, 2011 at 9:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • Marie

      I agree with you Sarah. They are some of the most close minded people I have ever met – so stuck in their ways and stubborn to change and so judgmental! My parents made me go to church up until I went to college – then I could FINALLY decide on my own if I wanted to go or not – and I chose to stay home.

      September 26, 2011 at 9:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • Brian

      Yeah, those awful Christian people are so judgmental. I think when you want to talk about hypocrisy maybe you ought to start by looking in the mirror. Unless it's ok for you to judge them but not the other way around.

      September 26, 2011 at 9:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • santa

      It's not that bad. I mean i guess i would rather spend 1 day a week listening to someone tell me lies and read funny fictional stories than worry about shareing a cell with a priest.

      September 26, 2011 at 9:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • Al Gore

      Gonna get groped either way.

      September 26, 2011 at 9:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • arciel

      you are right Sarah...Phil is just another one of them. He thinks he is special...except when he is dying, them he will go to a science man to help him, like adoctor or something.

      September 26, 2011 at 9:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • santa

      Had a great laugh this weekend when someone tried to tell me that Noah's ark was a true story. How stupid do people have to be to believe this crap??

      September 26, 2011 at 9:38 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Phil

    Who cares guys, all you guys need to stop whining about every little issue.

    September 26, 2011 at 9:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • Al Gore

      Phil, why are you whining about people whining?

      September 26, 2011 at 9:24 pm | Report abuse |
  5. CSX

    Praise God. The perfect deal, turn or burn.

    September 26, 2011 at 9:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Fr33th1nk3r

      "Turn or burn?" And the religious always wonder why they are stuck believing in talking snakes and flat earths while the rest of us have moved on to the 21st century– they DO NOT LEARN FROM THEIR MISTAKES!!!! The Catholics already tried the "turn or burn" thing from about 500 A.D. until 1700 A.D.. The Inquisitions claimed the lives of some 11,000,000 non-Christians in Europe over that timespan and was easily one of thw worst long-term atrocities in human history. And you want to bring that back? Keep obviously need it more than we do.....

      September 26, 2011 at 9:32 pm | Report abuse |
  6. steve c

    What are you atheists so afraid of? With your strong belief system, intimate knowledge of science and logic- what's the big friggin deal... just pay the fine, sit in jail, or sit in a church and make fun of the sheep.

    I don't get you guys?

    September 26, 2011 at 9:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • Laughing hard

      I'm afraid that this is only a starting point.....
      If this law is legit we might as well through away the 1st amendment....
      Once that's gone they'll start throwing away the rest of the bill of rights....

      September 26, 2011 at 9:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • Fr33th1nk3r

      The concern is that Christian extremists are no better than Muslim extremists, and if a bunch of whacky, redneck Evangelists can white-wash the Bill of Rights and the 1st Ammendment out of existance that easily, it will be only a matter of time before we are either living under Shariah Law, or some Puritanized Christian Oligarchy. ALL Americans should be VERY concerned when one religious cult is able to exert more control over the government than all the other cults.

      September 26, 2011 at 9:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • steve c

      The slippery slope argument cuts both ways. It's entirely possible that Christians and Whites feel the same way about a lot of what the Federal Government mandates.

      September 26, 2011 at 9:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • Cedar Rapids

      Lets put it this way Steve, they change the options to be jail time or a year visiting a mosque.
      Now do you see the issue atheists have?

      September 26, 2011 at 9:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • keyser

      Because the Church is once again putting it's boot on our necks.

      September 26, 2011 at 9:52 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Ashrakay

    Sounds a bit like, choose allah or die.

    September 26, 2011 at 9:16 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Kevin Davis

    Praise the Lord; God is Good.

    September 26, 2011 at 9:17 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Vin, Milton WA

    Why church? Why not put an ankle bracelett on them and give them a schedule for community services they are to participate in....some of them religious, some not. Religion alone is not a cure for recidivism, but I do see a correlation with community service and reduction in recidivism.

    September 26, 2011 at 9:18 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Jim

    Must be Judge Torquemada presiding.

    You will confess your sins before god, and accept christ as your savior or you will be tortured and burned at the stake.

    You just gotta love how the south is stuck in the 16th century.

    September 26, 2011 at 9:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • Leslie

      Well said.

      September 26, 2011 at 9:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • Max

      Here, here!

      September 27, 2011 at 3:03 am | Report abuse |
  11. layminister herman


    September 26, 2011 at 9:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • Al Gore

      There's a capslock button

      September 26, 2011 at 9:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ryan

      Spoken like a true warrior of the Taliban! Are you posting from Pakistan?

      September 26, 2011 at 10:01 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Fr33th1nk3r

    Uh....separation fo church and state anybody.....? I wonder what would happen if some state passed a law giving criminals the option of attending American Atheist meetings instead of jail time? I bet you Christians and religious fanatics all over this country would suddenly become the hugest supporters of separation of church and state.....

    September 26, 2011 at 9:23 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Laughing hard

    What ever happen to 'community service' as an option. Have petty law breakers pick up trash in the town would be a much better choice than sending them to Church/jail for the community....

    September 26, 2011 at 9:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • Al Gore

      Once them lawbreakers get good with the Lawd, won't need so many jails.

      September 26, 2011 at 9:28 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Nick

    Better check the balance in those collection plates!

    September 26, 2011 at 9:24 pm | Report abuse |
  15. D

    I am a Christian preacher but a legitimate point has been made...if a person is already a church goer...going to church wouldn't be punishment.

    September 26, 2011 at 9:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • steve c

      Mr Preacher- I think the point is not to punish but to perhaps educate.... and that's freakin the atheists out- your INDOCTRINATION.

      September 26, 2011 at 9:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ted can be moral without the threat of hell. Grow up!

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

      And Alabama, It figures.

      September 26, 2011 at 9:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • Marc

      This is amazing. 100% support this. It doesn't violate church and state seperation, because the criminal has the free choice to deny church attendance. Brilliant.

      September 26, 2011 at 9:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • Marc

      If the person is already going to church and chose to serve their sentence in the church...then they willfully submit themselves to the church elders to work out their crime. I think it's exactly what we should strive for. Submit to each other when we wrong each other. This is absolutely within the domain of a deal with it's members when they stray.

      September 26, 2011 at 9:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chris

      Marc, they are not serving out their time since the case is dismissed if they attend church for a year. This is more like a plea bargain. To be fair, it should be time-served and the crime should still go on their record if they choose this option.

      September 26, 2011 at 10:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • JT

      If the offender is already a church goer then apparently going to church hasn't had the positive effect intended so the offender continues wasting his time sleeping off his hangover in church every Sunday morning. What a deal!

      September 26, 2011 at 10:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • Marc

      Chris, I understand your complaint. I believe the sentence should be probationary. If the person succesfully completes a full year of church attendance and manages to stay out of trouble, it is no different than any other second chance program that get's offered for minor offender or first time offenders. With this program, they submit to a different moral authority than the state...and to be's optional.

      September 26, 2011 at 10:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • Marc

      JT, that's like saying:" If the offender is already under state law then apparently being a secular atheist hasn't had the positive effect intended so the offender continues wasting his time sleeping off his hangover in jail every Sunday morning. What a deal!"

      September 26, 2011 at 10:20 pm | Report abuse |
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