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. Johnny

    Yep, because the Church doesn't have a long history of producing criminals, psychopaths, rapists and general riffraff.

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

      LMAO Really!?

      September 27, 2011 at 1:46 am | Report abuse |
  2. TheBossSaid

    So get a bunch of your buddies together on the weekend and label it a "church". Oh, make sure to have a Bible next to the pool table just in case the police show up.

    September 27, 2011 at 1:47 am | Report abuse |
    • Qutubuddin

      September 27, 2011 at 3:06 am | Report abuse |
    • Qutubuddin

      September 27, 2011 at 3:08 am | Report abuse |
  3. watchandlearn

    Obviously the ACLU missed the point- they are not forcing anyone, going to church is an OPTION: someone can choose jail if they're so inclined. They can also pick their church. This is a great idea, one which should be employed everywhere. All those bleeding heart liberal who are screaming foul need some church too! Our founding fathers were obviously very religious, hence "In God We Trust" on our money- just because we are advancing technologically, doesn't me we abandon religion and past values. It's this atheistic view that is sending our country into the toilet.

    September 27, 2011 at 1:48 am | Report abuse |
    • Chance Gearheart, AAS, NREMT-P

      Really? Because the Jailhouses of America are full of Christians. I mean, it's made a point of at every Trial, Parole Hearing, and Appeal for Clemancy that the defendant is a Good Christian.

      This is an utterly flagrent violation of the Seperation of Church and State by officers of the United States Courts and Justice System.

      Oh, and religion and morality go together like eye color and visual acuity. That is to say, they're completely unrelated.

      September 27, 2011 at 1:56 am | Report abuse |
    • Chance Gearheart, AAS, NREMT-P

      Also, the phrase "In God We Trust" was not used in coinage until 1864, and not the official motto of the United States until the McCarthy era in 1956. The founding fathers were a mixture of Protestant Christians, Diests, and Agnostic/Atheists, and their writings explicitly warn AGAINST the foundation of a religious Government.

      September 27, 2011 at 1:58 am | Report abuse |
    • Ryan

      "In God We Trust" was officially added to American money in 1954. "Under God" was in the Pledge of Allegiance beginning in that year. However, Dwight D. Eisenhower was NOT a founding father. Read a book. You have clearly just perpetuated a stereotype that faith encourages people to not educate themselves. Thanks.

      September 27, 2011 at 1:59 am | Report abuse |
    • Voig Nederlander

      Yes. Accept Jesus or do jail time. Nothing sinister about that at all. Nope.

      September 27, 2011 at 2:01 am | Report abuse |
    • Wow

      In god we trust was not added until the 19th century. God there is something wrong with you right wingers it's like you cannot absorb any information.

      September 27, 2011 at 2:04 am | Report abuse |
    • Dude

      Yeah, go to church or we will jail you! That's total separation of church and state there.

      You're choice of church makes it all better too. Do they have a Mosque? A Synagogue? A Buddhist temple? Can I attend a Coven? Or is it just church?

      In the words of Steven Cobert, in America you have the right to choose how to accept Jesus Christ as your personal savior.

      September 27, 2011 at 2:11 am | Report abuse |
    • Dude

      The phrase "A wall between church and state", now used in derogatory manor by the religious right, was first used by that 1960's hippie, radical, America hating, left wing commie, Thomas Jefferson.

      September 27, 2011 at 2:14 am | Report abuse |
    • johan valles

      We are not the middle east. people here have the freedom to practice or not practice any religion they want.

      September 27, 2011 at 2:29 am | Report abuse |
  4. markjuliansmith

    Just what the earth needs hardened criminal zealots.

    September 27, 2011 at 1:49 am | Report abuse |
    • Qutubuddin

      September 27, 2011 at 3:07 am | Report abuse |
  5. Scott

    A lot of people seem to be missing the point. It's not a choice when practice of only one religion is offered. It's blatant proselytizing. To the Christians whose own bias prevents them from getting it, consider if the choice was between "Jail or a Mosque", or "Jail or Wiccan Sabbats". Not participating in those religions, you'd be complaining about the "choice" too, as well as questioning the legality just like the ACLU is. You wouldn't want the government being used to endorse and push other people's religions on you, so you shouldn't use government for that either.

    September 27, 2011 at 2:08 am | Report abuse |
  6. ANAYA


    September 27, 2011 at 2:09 am | Report abuse |
    • johan valles

      nothing that visiting one of an invisible guys houses every sunday wont fix.

      September 27, 2011 at 2:33 am | Report abuse |
  7. Tommy Mack

    I want to rob $124,588 from a neighbor (non-violent), then pray to Jesus if I got caught and go free.

    Yep. Sign me up!

    September 27, 2011 at 2:14 am | Report abuse |
    • Me

      Actually they stated this option is for misdemeanors. Stealing over $100k is a Felony not a misdemeanor.

      September 27, 2011 at 2:23 am | Report abuse |
  8. Tommy Mack

    FACT: There are more christians in American jails than anybody else.

    Yeah, there are more Christians in America than all other religions and non believers in fairy tales, but but definition... Christians are responsible for more crime, hatred, and intolerance in America.

    September 27, 2011 at 2:17 am | Report abuse |
  9. DunderChief

    Good deal for him, because he MUST be allowed to stay home and attend church through the internet. Crack and beer and chill out for an hour a week to the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Time served...

    September 27, 2011 at 2:25 am | Report abuse |
  10. billp

    If I am required to pray to the god of these hate-filled racist bigots, then jail is the way to go.

    September 27, 2011 at 2:31 am | Report abuse |
  11. jimmymax

    And is the same "option" offered to atheists, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, etc? The story says there are only churches in this town, so it's already discriminatory without even considering its basic foolishness. And if you choose =not= to go to church, and live in that community, what effect will that have on your life after release from jail? This is only a few steps away from forced attendance at church by everyone. I'm glad I am not an American.

    September 27, 2011 at 2:32 am | Report abuse |
  12. Zac

    if everyone has such a problem with this, then I guess we can just send them all to jail and the problem is solved. Whew! Disaster avoided.

    September 27, 2011 at 2:32 am | Report abuse |
  13. Raoul

    We all know churchies do not commit crime, says the alter boy. Some people have not EVOLVED towards a civilized race and rely on crutches like relegion as a pretense of superiority.

    September 27, 2011 at 2:34 am | Report abuse |
  14. johan valles

    Its a stupid idea but cheaper than paying taxes to keep inmates in jail. clearly not a separation of church and state(sarchasim). maybe some lashes instead of church. Yea the church idea sounds just as ridiculous.

    September 27, 2011 at 2:37 am | Report abuse |
  15. Someone

    To elevate what I said earlier – the choices here, to put it another way, is to have a foot cut off (say, pay the fine), have a hand cut off (jail time) or get your head shaved (chruch of our choosing). For all those who are saying this is a choice, you are blind to the obvious.

    Basically this is probation with a chruch requirement thrown in.

    To further the choice discussion – like most things, the system is discriminatory. If you're rich, you can pay a fine and be done or go to chruch. If you're poor – your choice is go into hock, do jail time or go to chruch.

    As some have noted – jails are full of Christians, becuse showing tis is one way to convince the parole board you are re-habilitated. Prisoners only care about one thing – getting out. Period.

    September 27, 2011 at 2:50 am | Report abuse |
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