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. 53246

    yo ho yo ho, pirates are matey tothee!

    September 27, 2011 at 1:04 am | Report abuse |
  2. Dink

    1 year of substance abuse treatment is cheaper than 1 month of incarceration. hello!

    September 27, 2011 at 1:07 am | Report abuse |
  3. Mike in Montana

    I must say.., a different approach. Since attendence at all churches are going down, this would be a interesting way to bring attendence back up. Wonder.., if you get to choose which church and how much money each week to give to the church. Interesting idea.. I hope it works.. Mike in Montana

    September 27, 2011 at 1:08 am | Report abuse |
    • Stu

      Except for it's not the governments job to get this religion's numbers up.

      September 27, 2011 at 1:10 am | Report abuse |
    • SB

      Mike, you don't see any ethical problem in that at all, do you? Sad.

      September 27, 2011 at 1:39 am | Report abuse |
    • Mike


      September 27, 2011 at 1:41 am | Report abuse |
    • endeavor43

      Mike, in the first place, why do you consider it a good thing per se to increase church attendance ?

      September 27, 2011 at 3:05 am | Report abuse |
  4. Mmmmm

    Well alabama judges can counter by having them kneel weekly in court with their noses against the wall the whole time while court is in session. Nose violators go straight to jail. They can reverence a real, non-denominational wall.

    September 27, 2011 at 1:09 am | Report abuse |
  5. Jason

    I'd personally opt for the fine or jail than be subjected to indoctrination to a fairy tale.

    September 27, 2011 at 1:12 am | Report abuse |
    • Gary

      Actually the bible is historically accurate. I wouldn't call it a fairy tale since it coincides with other texts than the bible. You should really look into it before you comment on something. It'll make you look less stupid.

      September 27, 2011 at 1:43 am | Report abuse |
    • ...

      Give it up Jason. We all grew up and realized there are no sky zombies waiting to save us.

      September 27, 2011 at 8:49 am | Report abuse |
  6. Mark

    Because it is for Christians only it will be deemed discriminatory anyway and its illegal; so typical of the south.

    September 27, 2011 at 1:12 am | Report abuse |
  7. Michael Lane

    It is inherently discriminatory as presently written, but the reality is that such options, based on the spiritual beliefs of the person being sentenced, do work. I think the intent can be maintained with a wording fix to include a secular option, with the reality being that the vast majority will choose the church option as it is part of the community fabric.

    September 27, 2011 at 1:13 am | Report abuse |
  8. Bill D

    Ok, this must be a hoax. I checked my calendar and it's not April Fools Day, so what gives? I suppose there's a chance that it's just Alabama Fools Day, but I thought that was every day.

    September 27, 2011 at 1:15 am | Report abuse |
  9. ryan cameron

    I'd choose "atheist church" .

    September 27, 2011 at 1:17 am | Report abuse |
  10. meh

    I am a Christain,but that does not make me morally superiour to anyone ! I just choose to live by faith. It is a result of free will. Giving a person an option for church as an alternative to jail time or financial hardship Is not really free will, especially, when there are no alternative faiths to choose from. To tell a person that he must go to church because the people there are so much better than he is and that by association he will become a model citizen is wrong. Now if a church family decides to invite and actively assist this person and all the while defending his right to choose, then I can see how this can be very benificial to all. Chuch and state should never be combined Why ? because the focus is on either the state or the Church and not God.Iran is a good example.

    September 27, 2011 at 1:23 am | Report abuse |
  11. WolfAk

    Separation of church and... um... what?! Oh, right... this is the One God Over the Nation crowd, isn't it.

    September 27, 2011 at 1:27 am | Report abuse |
  12. Justin Bieber's Colon

    Next week Alabama is going to burn a witch!

    September 27, 2011 at 1:33 am | Report abuse |
  13. SB

    Teaching us right from wrong is something religion does very poorly.

    September 27, 2011 at 1:36 am | Report abuse |
    • Gavinne

      This is screwed up... first off, not only does it 'encourage' people to be religious (I use the word encourage, not force, because they are 'given an option of JAIL TIME, PAYING A FINE, or going to church) but also it 'encourages' those same people to become christian, since 'there are no mosques or synagogues in the area'. So not only are they saying "give us money, go to jail, or go to church" but they're also saying "give us money, go to jail, or become christian". Majorly F'ed with a capital F.

      September 27, 2011 at 1:51 am | Report abuse |
  14. Kat Gordon

    Unbelievable!! Haven't Christians learned anything from history? Just like the so called rescue mission! For a bed and a meal, you must be subjected to their religious views, like it's wrong to have your own beliefs. Not believing in religion doesn't make you a bad person, nor does believing make you a good person. And to think... there are parole boards who hold it against a prisoner who isn't into religion. This is against the separation of church and state. Those boundaries are there for a reason, otherwise one day it will be off with your head for not believing, just like a thousand years ago.

    September 27, 2011 at 1:40 am | Report abuse |
  15. borisjimbo

    In how many ways was the Establishment Clause violated by this?

    September 27, 2011 at 1:41 am | Report abuse |
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