Quantcast

«

»

Sep 27 2011

Jail or Church in Alabama

This is clearly unconstitutional:

Non-violent offenders in Bay Minette now have a choice some would call simple: do time behind bars or work off the sentence in church.

Operation Restore Our Community or “ROC”…begins next week. The city judge will either let misdemenor offenders work off their sentences in jail and pay a fine or go to church every Sunday for a year.

If offenders elect church, they’re allowed to pick the place of worship, but must check in weekly with the pastor and the police department. If the one-year church attendance program is completed successfully, the offender’s case will be dismissed.


The police chief is absolutely clueless:

Bay Minette Police Chief Mike Rowland says it costs his department about 75 bucks per inmate per day. Rowland says the ROC program will be cost-effective and could change the lives of many people heading down the wrong path.

So far, 56 churches in North Baldwin County are participating in ROC.

Rowland says the program is legal and doesn’t violate separation of church and state issues because it allows the offender to choose church or jail…and the church of their choice.

Rowland needs to look up the word “coercion” in the dictionary. This is about as obviously unconstitutional as it gets.

30 comments

Skip to comment form

  1. 1
    Marcus Ranum

    Because nothing makes you a believer like a choice between professing belief and prison-time. I guess this is one way to get some “new blood” (and maybe a few crips, too) into the church.

    I do agree with the unstated premise that church is interchangeable with prison.

  2. 2
    Lorax

    It will be interesting to see who will fight this. If Im in Alabama and convicted of some crime, why not choose church over jail time. I can sit in a pew for an hour and read a book, take a nap, or watch porn on my laptop during the service. Why would someone challenge this clear constitutional violation, only to win and have to go to jail?

  3. 3
    eric

    Rowland says the program is legal and doesn’t violate separation of church and state issues because it allows the offender to choose church or jail…

    Hey, just like the Inquisition!

  4. 4
    Rob Monkey

    I suddenly see an opportunity to open an “Our Lady of the Flying Spaghetti Monster” church in ‘bama. There is a cover charge (we call it a tithe), but you can come in every Sunday to complete your service to the community. By “service” of course we mean consuming some combination of bacon and beer.

    Incidentally, the worst part to me is that if you go to church, your case is dismissed. Not even on your record or anything? How in the hell is that equivalent to going to jail/paying a fine?

  5. 5
    wscott

    They’re not even pretending this is any kind of community service; they just have to go sit in the pews? Unbelievable.

  6. 6
    Area Man

    Rowland says the program is legal and doesn’t violate separation of church and state issues because it allows the offender to choose church or jail.

    Likewise, a bank robber isn’t really forcing the bank to give him their money. They can always choose to be shot.

  7. 7
    DaveL

    I have yet to find a specific case in this same court circuit, but here’s how judges in the 9th circuit responded to a similar claim in Quillar v. CA Dept Corr:

    Defendants argue that plaintiff has not stated a claim under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment because plaintiff does not allege that he was ever forced to shave his beard. Defendants do not deny that plaintiff has alleged that he suffered consequences as a result of the exercise of his religion, but assert plaintiff was “never prevented from engaging in conduct mandated by his faith.” Mot. at 4:15-27. Defendants’ argument, in essence, is that the government should be free to impose any consequences it wishes on its citizens based on the manner in which they practice religion, while avoiding First Amendment liability, as long as those citizens “choose” to suffer the consequences by remaining true to the requirements of their religion. Defendants’ argument “flies in the face of Supreme Court and Ninth Circuit precedent.” See Warsoldier v. Woodford, 418 F.3d 989, 996 (9th Cir. 2005).

    Emphasis mine.

  8. 8
    eric

    Why would someone challenge this clear constitutional violation, only to win and have to go to jail?

    Just a guess, but if it’s challenge IMO the challenge will come from one of two sources:
    (1) Someone who wants to go to a place of worship which is not on the approved list.
    (2) Someone who has a trivial amount of jail time left. I.e., 8-16 hours. Remember, this is for misdemeanors, so there may be a lot of such people.

  9. 9
    DaveL

    Found one: Sherbert v. Verner

    It is too late in the day to doubt that the liberties of religion and expression may be infringed by the denial of or placing of conditions upon a benefit or privilege.

  10. 10
    unbound

    I could see a sharp increase in prostitution in the state if this is allowed. Misdemeanor crime -> go to church weekly for a year -> pick up a lot of new clients or prostitutes (works for both sides of the equation) -> misdemeanor crime -> …

    And no record to boot!!

    At least it might keep the priests off the children… (yeah, I went there)

  11. 11
    Chris from Europe

    Isn’t anyone who cannot choose a non-church jail alternative harmed by that? There’s no valid reason to restrict such alternative betterment options to church-going.

    If the police included various non-religious and equally onerous options, the program would be safe. But I guess that would defeat the purpose.

  12. 12
    tacitus

    I could see a sharp increase in prostitution in the state if this is allowed.

    The flaw in this is that sex-related crimes will undoubtedly not be included in this scheme since crimes that have anything to do with sex are especially icky and don’t deserve to be treated leniently.

  13. 13
    MikeMa

    I suppose the inmates could choose a mosque or a synagogue if one existed in the county, right?

  14. 14
    eric

    I suppose the inmates could choose a mosque or a synagogue if one existed in the county, right?

    Wrong. Participating places have to be approved by the prison, and no mosques or synagogues have been approved.

    This is a relatively minor additional infringement when compared to the overall unconstitutionality of the rule, but you can see how this also entangles the state in religion because it requires the state to decide what counts as a legitimate ‘church.’

  15. 15
    Abby Normal

    So far, 56 churches in North Baldwin County are participating in ROC… it allows the offender to choose church or jail… and the church of their choice.

    One thing Ed didn’t mention, all 56 participating churches are Christian denominations. There are no synagogues, mosques, humanist societies or anything but Jesus available. The Sheriff is even says, “You show me somebody who falls in love with Jesus, and I’ll show you a person who won’t be a problem to society.” Yet somehow this isn’t government endorsement of Christianity.

    Teaching the facts about evolution, that’s endorsement of atheism. Mentioning to that gays exist without spitting, that’s promoting homosexuality. Providing information on safe sex, that promote promiscuity. Allowing adults to enterer into voluntary binding arbitration promotes Sharia. But this, this is just community restoration.

    Fucking liars. Here’s a clue, if you want to promote strong morals, start behaving morally. As it is, learning morality from these guys is like learning how to earn an honest day’s pay from the guy running Three-card Monte down the street.

  16. 16
    Abby Normal

    Sorry, first paragraph was supposed to be a quote.

  17. 17
    tacitus

    There are no synagogues or mosques in North Baldwin County, and I guess it’s possible there aren’t any other types of places of worship there at all.

  18. 18
    ianken

    They are welcome to worship at my First Church of the Holy Xbox. Add soon add I get it established.

    Yea verily, and He disabled reaction control on Forza and it was good. Amen.

  19. 19
    ianken

    Damn autocorrect.

  20. 20
    Abby Normal

    @tacitus

    I can just see Jake and Elwood (The Blues Brothers) standing before a Bay Minette city judge as he enthusiastically proclaims, “We have both types of churches, Baptist and Methodist!”

  21. 21
    Eamon Knight

    The Sheriff is even says, “You show me somebody who falls in love with Jesus, and I’ll show you a person who won’t be a problem to society.”

    My lasting image from the Rodney King riots: woman standing in front of a looted record store, showing off all the great Christian music she’s just boosted, ending with “I sure do love Jesus!”.

  22. 22
    Daniel Kolle

    Bay Minette is on the gulf coast of Alabama, and is included in the Mobile metro area. The gulf coast of Alabama has been having a tough time of it lately, with the oil spill and the continual recession. Tourism is down, and thus, so is tax revenue. Yeah, the beaches are gorgeous, but the region has very little else going for it.

    You do not get to violate the Constitution just because your agency is broke, Chief. Indeed, you better watch yourself — it just may end up costing you even more. An even more innovative solution to your problems would to be, y’know, not to jail low level offenders. But fuck like that will happen.

    If I hear one more person scream “BUT DA LAW IS DA LAW” or “DEY HAVE A CHOICE NOT TO BREAK DA LAW,” I may just break da law myself when I beat the shit out of them.

  23. 23
    bananacat

    Why would someone challenge this clear constitutional violation, only to win and have to go to jail?

    I think a lot of church members won’t be so welcoming to the criminals who choose their church. Oh, at first they’ll love the holier-than-thou high they get from judging these newcomers, and the brownie points they’ll get for trying to convert them. But eventually they’ll realize that it’s really not that easy to make someone convert even if they sit in the pews, and they’ll get sick of having the “undesirables” around. I think the UCLA is already challenging this law, but if they don’t then the protests will probably come from horrified church members.

  24. 24
    monimonika

    bananacat @23:

    “I think the UCLA is already challenging this law,”

    What’s a university in California got to do with this?

  25. 25
    Foster Disbelief

    Program Delayed

    The ACLU sent a cease-and-desist letter.

    Chief Rowland seems to feel the program will be approved within a few weeks. I feel that while the city may approve the program due to poor legal advice, Chief Rowland is an idiot.

    Let the man speak for himself…..

    “Operation Restore Our Community is completely voluntary. It’s not an issue of ‘Go to church, or go to jail.’ It’s ‘Here’s another alternative to consider,’ and the offenders themselves get to make the decision.”

    What decision would that be? Go to church, or go to jail.
    What alternative would that be? Go to church, or go to jail.
    What is completely voluntary? Go to church, or go to jail.

    Chief Rowland is right. It is obviously not an issue of “Go to church, or go to jail.” I don’t know why the ACLU has a problem with this program.

  26. 26
    marymallone

    Would an offender be allowed to serve time in a mosque or a synogogue? I mean, obviously the sheriff’s idea is terrible, unconstitutional, etc., but it would be marginally less abhorrant were all religious denominations perceived as acceptable. The article doesn’t specify. I mean, “church” connotes Christianity to me, but the journalist could have simply used it to describe any religious institution.

  27. 27
    marymallone

    Ah, never mind! I should have read through the comments first. Thanks, tacitus.

  28. 28
    marymallone

    And thank you eric, too. And in regards to the Jesus-lovers not being a problem for society…well, the Crusades reference is getting old.

  29. 29
    erichoug

    Actually, this would work for me. I am a member in good standing and founding father of the Church of Sleeping Late and Naked Breakfast in Bed. I’m there every single god damned sunday.

  30. 30
    inflection

    Now see, if I got taken in for some kind of crime in Alabama, and the judge gave me this option, I would pick the church. And I would go. And I would show up every Sunday. And eventually, someone would ask me my opinion of a religious issue.

    And I would tell them.

Leave a Reply

Switch to our mobile site