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. Raspite

    So, since I'm an atheist, does this mean I could spend time in a school instead? 🙂

    September 27, 2011 at 1:40 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Daniel in Pacifica Ca

    Going to a church no more makes you rightous than sitting in your garage makes you a NASCAR driver. ie. Jim Baker, Jimmy Swagart (sp?), Oral Roberts, David Koresh.... ETC.

    To all that would put God in Schools and Courts; I Agree AS LONG AS I AND I ALONE GET TO CHOOSE WHAT GOD!!!

    September 27, 2011 at 2:07 pm | Report abuse |
  3. tom

    no one's forcing them to do's just like an extra option, right? It's like option A) jail B) pay a fine or C) church for a year...i'm not religious but i'd definitely choose church for a year over jail or a fine

    September 27, 2011 at 2:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • Karg

      It's not so much that anyone is forcing them to do it, it's that having the option in the first place is a very blatant violation of the 1st Amendment.

      September 27, 2011 at 3:06 pm | Report abuse |
  4. WhyMeLord

    I can see a faith based (business) opportunity here.

    Someone say a Jimmy Swaggart or Robert Tilton starts an on line church. Congregations sends in a dollar a week (prepaid – by credit debit or bank draft) and each and every week they are sent a 'lesson' which they then certify that they've read and the on line pastor sends them a PDF file (in place of the traditional prayer cloth) to be printed out and presented to the judge.

    September 27, 2011 at 2:44 pm | Report abuse |
  5. clay

    Daisy: "For those who are anti-religion (of whatever kind) then by all means, let them go to jail and do their time like they deserve,"

    so....if two people (one religious and one not) commit the same crime, we should let the non-religious go to jail because "they deserve it" yet the religious one doesnt deserve jail and gets church instead? are you crazy or just stupid? If anything, religious people should be held accountable to a higher standard than non-religious people, considering you get your morals from the all knowing, god-written bible and all. Religious people who commit crimes should know better because they are religious, right? I mean Christians already think they are morally superior than non-religious people because of the bible, then they should be held more accountable for their actions, not given a free pass.

    September 27, 2011 at 2:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • Marisa

      Exactly! religious or not, they have to be treated the same.

      September 27, 2011 at 3:09 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Mathew

    Good idia,church is better option then Jail.who ever made this law GOOD JOB,

    September 27, 2011 at 2:49 pm | Report abuse |
  7. John

    Business idea:
    If they do not specify an exact deity to worship or designate the exact sub-cult to do it in... we could start a local chapter of the church of FSM. Spaghetti and beer every sunday sounds like a good plan, no?

    September 27, 2011 at 2:49 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Kim

    The article is simply stating that they have a choice as to whether they want to go to church for a year each sunday, pay a fine, or do the time. As simple as that! It doesn't say that anyone is religious if they choose to go to church on Sundays for a year and besides God can change their lives for the better! Church I would say would be the best option!

    September 27, 2011 at 2:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • Marisa

      Except it's absolutely insulting to me, an athiest, to sit through a sermon of things I don't believe in. Yet what if I can't afford the fine? Then I'm left with going to jail, or doing something that goes against my beliefs (or lack thereof). What if a Jewish person was given the choice of a ridiculously high fine, jail, or eating non-kosher food? It seems trivial, and I'm not Jewish or anything, but I'm sure it's personally taxing for that person to choose to eat the non-kosher food.

      September 27, 2011 at 3:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • Think before you speak

      @Marisa: Here's a thought then, don't do the crime in the first place. You seem to forget that prior to this, the ONLY options were going to jail or paying a fine. If you can't afford the fine and sitting through an hour long sermon is so insulting to you, then do what you would have had to do without this choice...go to jail. Stop being so sensitive and "insulted" over something that will probably never affect you.

      September 27, 2011 at 3:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • sigh

      sigh... Kim–you are what's wrong with America. How did you come to possibly believe the things you do?

      September 27, 2011 at 3:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • sigh

      @Think Before you Speak.

      You too are what's wrong with this country. Maybe if I get to choose which church. Hmm. Yeah, I'll go to the Church of Watching Football where our God is FOX NFL. Oh wait, that's not the GOD you were talking about? So it doesn't work?


      Oh yeah, I remember now. God doesn't exist.

      September 27, 2011 at 3:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • Hmm

      Would you being saying the same thing if criminals were required to go to a mosque?

      September 27, 2011 at 5:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • Steve

      "God can change their lives for the better!"

      Your imaginary friend can't do anything. People who convince themselves their imaginary friend wants them to change, however, can change.

      September 27, 2011 at 6:47 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Harry

    Going to church does not make you righteous or set you down the right path. I've gone to church where people show up because their dad and mom's mom dad's uncles cousin's dad have attended church. Not saying they don't believe however Church does not save you, Believing in God, reading the Bible and actually doing what the Bible tells us to do and heeding the teachings of Jesus is what saves us. I can see being a hit or miss approach, and it seems kind of onesided. What about other religions, so if you aren't christian you can't participate? The great part about this country is you have the freedom of religion, yet this seems kind of one sided and prejudice. Now that being said, having a support system set up to help is beneficial however it's what that individual puts in to it. Not to mention, doing what you want during the week and thinking everything is going to be forgiven on Sunday is hypocrisy. You have to live that life everyday.

    September 27, 2011 at 2:59 pm | Report abuse |
  10. XtianNation

    I love this idea!!! Instead of having people learn to be criminals in jail (as the statistics show), we teach them to be Godly people and turn them into paragons of virtue!!! Of course the American Communist Lawyers Union (ACLU) finds a problem with this, they're truly wicked people that are out to destroy Christianity!!!

    September 27, 2011 at 2:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • sigh

      Why can't they go to a Mosque?

      Or worship the Gods of Mt. Olympus?

      September 27, 2011 at 3:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • LivinginVA

      If there were a "52 hours of community service" option, it would bother me far less. I just am hostile to the idea that a Christian church is the only place for rehabilitation.

      If I lived there, I would strongly encourage people to spend a year trying out various world religions and drive people several hours so they could attend Hindu, Buddhist, Islamic, Pagan, etc. – but not Christian – services, just to annoy people like you.

      September 27, 2011 at 3:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lashay

      Soo...what do the following do?
      scientologists and Jedi's so forth

      All i believe are recognized religions....let me guess...only applicable to christian based religions?

      September 27, 2011 at 3:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • kburnach

      It doesn't say they have to go to a Christian church!!!

      September 27, 2011 at 5:15 pm | Report abuse |
  11. my420

    Its just one more example of the state not separating itself from religion and is discriminatory to people of different faiths. Not that I would not choose to sit in a church once a week instead of jail, however; maybe we should consider why we would incarcerate someone who really only deserves 1 hour of church a week. We don't have the highest incarceration rate in the world for nothing and it does not look like we do not consider this to be a problem, just the consequences of a free society. What a pitiful excuse for a broken system we refuse to fix.

    September 27, 2011 at 3:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • clay

      "maybe we should consider why we would incarcerate someone who really only deserves 1 hour of church a week."

      Short answer....MONEY

      September 27, 2011 at 3:45 pm | Report abuse |
  12. sigh

    we all realize there is no god, right?

    September 27, 2011 at 3:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • Joe Black


      September 27, 2011 at 3:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • A Dude

      Its bad enough to have religious groups imposing their beliefs on other people, but its really annoying when those who criticize them attempt to do the same thing.

      September 27, 2011 at 4:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Linzi

      No, but we all realize who here is going to Hell.

      September 27, 2011 at 5:07 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Joe Black

    $75 a day to house each inmate. I spend $75.00 a week for food. How can it cost that much money a day? They must eat good there. Church Or jail Hmm let me think. You should not force people to go to church. With some it may work and with others it could turn out to be bad.

    September 27, 2011 at 3:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • clay

      Joe, this $75/day includes, food, water, all utilities, the guards, everything. Its the cost of doing business as prison is big business...not just food.

      September 27, 2011 at 3:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • LivinginVA

      Because "housing an inmate" involves paying the electric bills, the guards, and so on – not just the food. Divide the total of all your monthly bills (including rent or mortage) by the number of days in the month and see what it comes up to. Then think about paying guards, too.

      September 27, 2011 at 3:47 pm | Report abuse |
  14. KJW

    How about this. If you CHOOSE to live in that area, or pass by that area, and that is the law of the land, then obey it, REGARDLESS of your religion! For all those who hate that idea, go to live in Somalia or Yemen, and practice those beliefs. This article was about giving a person who has violated the law and is given choice. I don't think that would apply in those countries. Think about what you have and the opportunities given.

    September 27, 2011 at 4:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • me

      How about this. If you CHOOSE to live in this country,or pass by that area, and that is the law of the land, then obey it. The law states the separation of church and state. So which law should a lawbreaker brake the law of this country or the law of some backward inbred county?

      September 27, 2011 at 4:45 pm | Report abuse |
  15. JF

    I guess this town assumes that most crimes are committed by people of faith?

    September 27, 2011 at 4:12 pm | Report abuse |
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