Alabama Town Offers Criminal Offenders the Choice of Church or Jail

Bay Minette, Alabama clearly missed the memo about separation of church and state.

CNN reports:

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.

Does something smell a little fishy here with this scenario? Clearly it does forAmericans United for Separation of Church and State, which says the Alabama town has "crossed a constitutional line."

"I have just two words for this ill-considered scheme: blatantly unconstitutional," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. "Government simply can't put people in a position where their only choice is Jesus or jail."

And not surprisingly the ACLU of Alabama's executive director said, "It violates one basic tenet of the Constitution, namely that government can't force participation in religious activity," according to the Press-Register.

Communities that offer programs to help provide an alternative to jail and address issues like drug abuse can be effective, but a program that thinks that going to a Christian church (or any religious institution for that matter) is going to adequately address the needs of all offenders would be laughable if it weren't also so incredibly insulting. By all means, let's start reforming our criminal justice system -- but let's not put officials from Bay Minette in charge.


AlterNet / By Tara Lohan

Posted at September 26, 2011, 12:19pm

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