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. LivinginVA

    How is it worded? If I sit in the back and read a book, I've attended.

    September 27, 2011 at 7:31 am | Report abuse |
  2. GrammarPolice

    So much for the separation of church and state. On a separate note, why was I not surprised that mosques and synaogogues were not an option because there were none "in the area?"

    September 27, 2011 at 7:34 am | Report abuse |
    • Whizerd

      Absolutely! You took the words right off my fingertips..

      September 27, 2011 at 7:47 am | Report abuse |
    • EndALL-B-all

      Because there are no muslims or jews living in that area, stupid. Now is it so surprising that there are no mosques or synagouges there?

      September 27, 2011 at 7:58 am | Report abuse |
    • noteabags

      The US offers freedom of religion (as long as it's christianity).

      September 27, 2011 at 8:20 am | Report abuse |
    • cdrod

      Did you know that many of our founding fathers and first senators and congressmen were ministers? Did you know that the Supreme Court building in Washington DC is covered with religious symbols and depict the 10-Commandments repeatedly around the building. There is no such thing as Separation of Church & State! The First Amendment states that "CONGRESS shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion." It says nothing to limit state or city governments, and was meant to prohibit the establishment of a NATIONAL church. This ALabama town is not forcing religion on anyone. There are three choices mentioned in the CNN piece; jail time, pay a fine (both for a legitimate offense), or go to church and get a moral compass to straighten out your life before it's too late. Where is the coercion? If a convicted individual doesn't want to be religious, they can pay the fine or go to jail. It's about choices you make, everything in life comes down to that. This Alabama town has simply added an option that just might make a difference in someone's life before they make more bad choices.

      September 27, 2011 at 8:25 am | Report abuse |
    • AGeek

      cdrod: Why do I need a church, run by pedophile-protecting miscreants, to get a moral compass? Seems to me theirs is beyond broken.

      September 27, 2011 at 8:40 am | Report abuse |
    • jim

      @noteabags Too bad we aren't offered freedom FROM religion!

      September 27, 2011 at 8:44 am | Report abuse |
    • anonymous

      @ CDROD – Supreme court building built in 1935. Under God added to Pledge in 1954, In God we trust appear on paper money in 1957. Religious symbols used by US Gov are predominately a 20th century addition.

      September 27, 2011 at 8:48 am | Report abuse |
  3. Phillip

    All churches and the state governments are one and the same! They are created by the state governments in which they exist as a legal fiction to prey upon the people!

    September 27, 2011 at 7:42 am | Report abuse |
    • Whizerd


      September 27, 2011 at 7:49 am | Report abuse |
    • Starman

      That is so interesting Phillip. Thanks for sharing.

      September 27, 2011 at 8:13 am | Report abuse |
  4. DD

    What a great deal. Noone said you had to listen.

    September 27, 2011 at 7:54 am | Report abuse |
  5. joe

    This would be a win-win situation for those who DO have Faith.....

    September 27, 2011 at 7:56 am | Report abuse |
  6. Alexis

    That is a stupid idea. I saw if your going to offer going to church as an option also offer the ability to go to mosques and synagogues. Not just one denomination. Plus with this idea the separation of church and state just becomes smaller.

    September 27, 2011 at 7:58 am | Report abuse |
    • EndALL-B-all

      Alexis, please refer to the reply I made to GrammarPolice: The article stated that offenders who VOLUNTEER for this option also get TO ATTEND THE PLACE OF WORSHIP OF THEIR CHOICE. As I doubt that any Jews or Muslims live in that area then there shouldn't be an issue. Like wise with Coptic or Greek Orthodox- I doubt there are large communities of them in that area. Stupid. I can only see this as an issue for practicing Pagans or Atheists.

      September 27, 2011 at 8:04 am | Report abuse |
    • Cedar Rapids

      "TO ATTEND THE PLACE OF WORSHIP OF THEIR CHOICE. " long as that place of choice is a christian church. If someone moved there and set up a mosque, do you think the town would allow it as a choice? and be honest now in your answer.

      "I can only see this as an issue for practicing Pagans or Atheists"

      ...and as long as they are the ones having the issue and not you then it is acceptable right?

      September 27, 2011 at 9:04 am | Report abuse |

      Cedar Rapids- if a mosque or synagouge opened up in that area, then it would be included as a CHIOCE, stupid. I know most liberals need their hands held during a discussion.
      As for: "...and as long as they are the ones having the issue and not you then it is acceptable right?"
      I noted that it would be an issue for them becasue the option favors those who follow a religious faith- unless they are allowed some sort of public service option; which is there anyway so why not blanket offer that instead. You should actually think about the posts you read before you reply stupid.

      September 27, 2011 at 9:14 am | Report abuse |
    • Church of Suicidal

      Silly Cedar Rapids – allow it as a choice? That would imply they allowed them Jews or Muslims into town in the first place. A few flaming lawn ornaments ought to take care of that.

      September 27, 2011 at 10:51 am | Report abuse |
  7. Evan

    I'm surprised "Jesus or Jail" isn't the offer in that part of the country regardless of whether or not a crime has been committed or not.

    September 27, 2011 at 7:59 am | Report abuse |
  8. Anakaraya23

    if I am Muslim or Jewish or Buddhist and I commit a "non violent" crime, will I be able to have the choice? will I be forced to pray in a church? or will I just be sent to jail anyways, just because I am not christian, and thus, can't pray in the same place the christian criminals pray in?

    September 27, 2011 at 8:01 am | Report abuse |
    • Eloe

      I was thinking the same thing. Christians go to church all others go to jail? Whatever happened to religious freedom in the US?

      September 27, 2011 at 8:06 am | Report abuse |
    • noteabags

      It's the south. You are not permitted to be Jewish, Buddhist, or Muslim.

      September 27, 2011 at 8:22 am | Report abuse |
    • Confused

      @noteabags Try even being Catholic, some version of liberal Protestant or any other non-fundie or Pentecostal Christian in some parts of the South. It's not enough even to be Christian, only certain kinds of Christian are remotely acceptable. In some cases, even considered human. Is it everyone, everywhere? No. But I've lived there and experienced it. Also the harassment, vandalism and discrimination in employment and public services that comes about because of it. Let's just say I didn't stay long. No rational person who just wants to live in something approaching peace would.

      September 27, 2011 at 9:14 am | Report abuse |
  9. AhSnap!

    I find it amusing that people are getting bent out of shape over this.........SO WHAT if they have to attend church..who cares!!! ITs saving the state money....seriously get overyourselves!!! Atheist *and anti christians* are so focused on the church aspect here that they are overlooking the big picture!! Lets charge YOU for the jail time for these criminals...and see how long it takes for you to consider the other option 😀 havea great day!!

    September 27, 2011 at 8:01 am | Report abuse |
    • Atheist Prayers an Atheist looking down the barrell of a strech in county and a criminal record (and fines and court costs), OR going to a Church once a week and catch up on some reading AND getting my case dismissed......Um...OF COURSE I'M GOING TO TAKE CHURCH.
      I'm Atheist, not stupid.

      September 27, 2011 at 8:10 am | Report abuse |
    • AGeek

      So what? Perhaps you've forgotten about this little thing we have here called "separation of church and state"? You know, one of the founding tenets of this country?

      September 27, 2011 at 8:41 am | Report abuse |
    • Cedar Rapids

      Actually Ahsnap, they changed it so that you have to attend a mosque and not a church. so what if you have to attend a mosque, who cares?

      September 27, 2011 at 9:05 am | Report abuse |
  10. WOT

    This new generation is LOST (Brain Dead)! It is time to rewrite the laws of the land! ACLU-ALL Clowns Living Unholy !

    September 27, 2011 at 8:07 am | Report abuse |
  11. Joitou2

    Since there is a choice, the offender is not forced to go to church. States have a right to establish a state religion, if they want. Just think about an America where Alabama's state religion is Christianity and Illinois's religion is Islam and New Yorks's was Judism.

    September 27, 2011 at 8:12 am | Report abuse |
    • W Kruse, Esq.

      The First Ammendment was incorporated to the states through the fourteenth amendment. States are not free to set up state religions any more than the federal government is. The establishment clause applies to all levels of government equally.

      September 27, 2011 at 8:33 am | Report abuse |
    • ...


      September 27, 2011 at 8:44 am | Report abuse |
  12. DrJStrangepork

    Why not include church once a week for a year as a community service option? That would keep you out of the headlines... Ohh, I see what you did there.

    September 27, 2011 at 8:20 am | Report abuse |
    • LivinginVA

      Great minds think alike. If I hadn't gotten distracted, we would have posted at almost exactly the same time.

      September 27, 2011 at 8:27 am | Report abuse |
  13. LivinginVA

    I would have less of a problem with this if there were a 4th option of 52 hours (approximately the same as a years' worth of church services) of community service.

    Right now, you have three options, two of which hit you financially (jail – loss of pay, fine – outright loss of money) and one which doesn't. Hardly equal choices.

    September 27, 2011 at 8:25 am | Report abuse |
  14. Jonathan

    I am God!

    September 27, 2011 at 8:32 am | Report abuse |
  15. will

    I don't even see why the ACLU – the freedom removers, is even involved calling it church and states separation. Can they even read? Attending church is just one of the options offered by the county to the trouble makers. it should not even be a concern due to the fact that no one is being forced to attend church. I think that the ACLU is a threat to our freedom. One should keep his eyes on them. Apparently, they have an agenda to change the freedom structure of our country, disguising themselves as a group who stands for freedom when the opposite is true. Beware of that twisted group!

    September 27, 2011 at 8:36 am | Report abuse |
    • LivinginVA

      If your options were to lose several months pay (and possibly your job) or volunteer for a candidate you hated, you would be OK with that? Or would you think you should be allowed to choose who to volunteer to work for?

      September 27, 2011 at 8:39 am | Report abuse |
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