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. buddget

    If that town wants to ram religion down everyone's throat they should all move to Iran or Saudi Arabia

    September 26, 2011 at 10:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • aaron

      nobodys make you believe in Jesus, you can always just go back to your soap loving friends in the hole like everybody else,, just an opporunity for those that want 1

      September 26, 2011 at 10:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • missLolitaTn

      I am agnostic. But this is a choice the offender makes when breaking the law, also it doesn't hurt to attend church services even just to have some positve energy while your healing from the pain of don't have to "buy" into the religion aspect...anyways it's not a bad thing. We don't need jails for drug offenses..we need them for violent crimainals. Stop the war on doesn't work. for as long as man has been able to alter his reality he will.

      September 26, 2011 at 10:33 pm | Report abuse |
  2. JT

    I hope someone monitors all this and ensures that fines and jail terms don't all the sudden become more severe and do not fit the crime.

    September 26, 2011 at 10:07 pm | Report abuse |
  3. keyser

    Do they still have crucifixion in Alabama?

    September 26, 2011 at 10:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • m1sterlurk

      No. We still have the electric chair and dragging people to death behind a pickup truck.

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

      Now THAT was funny m1sterlurk. You had me laughing out loud on that one. Best response in the whole blog!

      September 26, 2011 at 10:14 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Mmmmm

    that the crimminal has to get get some weekly dose of moral formation...knowing right from wrong...what is sooooo wrong about that mr aclu relativism? What if the judge says to kneel on rice for 2 hours on Sunday is that a violation...I think!

    September 26, 2011 at 10:10 pm | Report abuse |
  5. MarvMan

    The only possible way this can be legal would be for there to be a secular alternative such as a group discussion about right and wrong, but from a secular humanist rather than a spiritual perspective.

    September 26, 2011 at 10:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mmmmm

      Secular humanist is a belief system. Our laws are based on judeo christian principles so it is not far fetch to order such punishments. It is secular idealogy that permit such lawlessness and trangressions idealogy that each man thinks for himself and operates from his own accord.

      September 26, 2011 at 10:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • Possum Comitatus

      It cannot be legal at all no matter how you add other "choices". You cannot violate the law under color of law.

      If the law in Alabama is not being enforced, then I guess we'd better fire all those useless cops.
      Where are the Feds? What the FFFING hell is the DOJ doing sitting on their thumbs about this? They need to file charges against that judge and those cops who are abusing their authority. This is an OUTRAGE!

      September 26, 2011 at 10:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • JT

      I agree but I also suspect the judge will make the alternative to Christian indoctrination (fine or jail) so severe that the offender will choose for indoctrination.

      September 26, 2011 at 10:21 pm | Report abuse |
  6. M

    They can learn a lot more in church than they would in a jail cell

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

      The only people who are upset are God-hating atheists. If they want to spend time being Bubba's girlfriend, then we should respect their decision.

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

      God Hating atheists???

      How can you hate something that doesn't exist?
      It's the same as saying we hate the "Easter Bunny"

      September 26, 2011 at 10:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • Laughing hard

      An Atheist believes that a hospital should be built instead of a church. An Atheist believes that a deed must be done instead of a prayer said. An Atheist strives for involvement in life and not escape into death. He wants disease conquered, poverty vanished, war eliminated.

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

      ever notice how when the word religion is said people only center in on there choice of fairy tale and laugh at others for there choice of fairy tale. and look down at the people whom choose not to believe in any fairy tale.

      September 26, 2011 at 10:24 pm | Report abuse |
  7. rob

    I'll never understand why Rethuglican, conservative, right-wing, religious fanatics think they can force other normal people to accept their deviant views and lifestyle. They love to tell other people how to live their lives, while their own lives are in shambles. The Christian (esp. Catholic, Mormon, Evangelical, and Southern Baptist) Taliban in this country are going to face a violent wake up call soon if they keep trying to spread their hatred, intolerant views, and intolerant actions on normal Americans.

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

      You have no idea what you'rre talking about.

      September 26, 2011 at 10:28 pm | Report abuse |
  8. JC

    I always knew those folks from Alabama were WAY too closely related. The only thing this judge has pecked down for himself is a heap of trouble, and rightfully so. Just goes to show you that there's folks who still think they aren't part of the United States, and don't have to follow the law of the land.

    September 26, 2011 at 10:15 pm | Report abuse |
  9. mfx3

    I'd take that option, given they can provide me an Islamic mosque to worship at once a week. Or a Buddhist temple. Or maybe a Jewish Temple. Or does this option only apply to the local government's particular flavor of religion, Christianity?

    September 26, 2011 at 10:16 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Timothy

    Once again, I am ashamed to be an alabamian. This is a gorgeous place with many advantages unkown to outsiders, but the fanatical fringe continue to bring shame upon us. We really are the Christian version of Iran.

    September 26, 2011 at 10:17 pm | Report abuse |
  11. towertech

    What if I choose to Watch church on tv. Is that a option. or maybe just rent some veggietails cartoons would that count. Punishment should fit the crime. community service is the way to go....what there is no trash in the ditches of Alabama?

    September 26, 2011 at 10:18 pm | Report abuse |
  12. PH

    Where is the friggin' print button??

    September 26, 2011 at 10:19 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Debbie

    I think it's a great idea. It's not being forced on anyone. I stand behind this judge all the way.

    September 26, 2011 at 10:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • CosmicC

      How is this not being forced on them: Choice – go to jail or subscribe to something you don't believe in. Sound familiar? The Office of the Holy Inquisition did this for centuries.

      September 26, 2011 at 10:29 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Cassandra

    Yes, this is completely appropriate and fair. Interesting that these Christians have decided it's okay for criminals to sit next to their children in pews; that seems like something they would generally complain about.

    September 26, 2011 at 10:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • keyser

      What? You want critical thinking now? No way man.

      September 26, 2011 at 10:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • badryvr

      They may have the offender wear a sign like a t-shirt with a marihuana leaf on it for example so they can all sit far away from him/her. Hope it's not a crime in Alabama to be gay ... those triangles on the shirts sure would reek of Nazism. Couldn't have that in the pews. 😉

      September 26, 2011 at 10:59 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Sandy

    Going to church causes mental illness. So that would be the real jail.

    September 26, 2011 at 10:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • ThinkHarder

      If church is the real jail, but you only have to be there for 2 hours a week, that'd be fine.

      September 26, 2011 at 10:37 pm | Report abuse |
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