South Carolina Judge: I Sentence You to Read the Bible

Perhaps I should just start a regular feature called “My Dumb Home State”.  South Carolina is known basically for being an embarrassment, and we like to continue that tradition thoroughly and frequently.  You may or may not remember that the ACLU sued a prison in SC for only allowing the inmates access to one book, The Bible.

A woman was convicted of drunk driving and, among her other sentences, was also sentenced by the judge to read and write a book report on the Book of Job.  Aside from the arbitrariness of the sentence, it is also, at best, extremely borderline on that whole church/state separation issue.  According to the news report, the assignment was an attempt on the judge to be compassionate by showing that God could hurt people and then treat them well in the end — it was a way of communicating to the woman that, though her life had been difficult, it wouldn’t necessarily always be so.

I can see the compassion of the statement he was trying to convey, though I am not sure that Job is the best way to get that message across.  It is one of the stories that most demonstrates the capriciousness and chaotic neutral approach that God generally takes.  It is very easy to hate God in that story; it’s difficult not to.  I’m also sure that there are many other, better stories of people who were real who had difficult lives and went to jail but ended up being quite successful (Danny Trejo, Stephen Fry, etc.).

As compassionate as it is though, that is the job of her pastor, not of her judge.  He has no place trying to guide her spiritual life and certainly no place using the authority of the state to enforce it.  I don’t think he is a bad guy and, as mistakes go, I think this is one that doesn’t begin to measure up to not allowing prisoners to read anything but The Bible, but that doesn’t make it OK either.