OK Judge Justifies Church Sentence


A couple new developments in the case in Oklahoma where a judge sentenced a 17 year old to 10 years of attending church as a condition of his probation. The judge in the case is offering some transparently invalid justifications for that sentence:

Mr. Alred and his family already attend a church, although Judge Norman said in an interview that he had not known that when he ruled.

The judge said he was surprised at the criticism. “I feel like church is important,” he said. “I sentenced him to go to church for 10 years because I thought I could do that.”

He added, “I am satisfied that both the families in this case think we’ve made the right decision,” and noted that the dead boy’s father had tearfully hugged Mr. Alred in the courtroom. If Mr. Alred stops attending church or violates any other terms of his probation, Judge Norman said, he will send him to prison.

As for the constitutionality of his ruling, Judge Norman said, “I think it would hold up, but I don’t know one way or another.”

Judge Norman did not specify which religious denomination Mr. Alred must follow. But he also said: “I think Jesus can help anybody. I know I need help from him every day.”

Apparently, Jesus’ “help” has been primarily for the purpose of violating the constitution. These Christian-centric declarations raise an obvious question: What if Alred went to mosque instead? Would that violate his probation? What if he went to a lot of different churches, synagogues and mosques? This is a judge using his power to coerce a defendant into following his religion and is blatantly unconstitutional.

Here’s the problem: Standing. No one has legal standing to challenge that other than the defendant. So the ACLU of Oklahoma is trying an interesting approach:

This week, the American Civil Liberties Union said it would file a complaint against Judge Norman with the Oklahoma Council on Judicial Complaints, an agency that investigates judicial misconduct, seeking an official reprimand or other sanctions.

“We see a judge who has shown disregard for the First Amendment of the Constitution in his rulings,” said Ryan Kiesel, executive director of the civil liberties union branch in Oklahoma.

It’s possible that this could generate standing for a future court case. Or it could result in a reprimand for the judge, though that’s doubtful given the likely makeup of the judicial council. But this will be interesting to watch.

Comments

  1. matty1 says

    Mr Aldred should test the limits of this by going to a range of places of worship as you suggest or even better founding his own ‘Church of sleeping in on Sundays’.

  2. baal says

    Did this judge get his law degree from Liberty College? His statements are fundamentally at odds with the usual basis of legal theory and jurisprudence in the U.S. (except maybe Louisiana). “Getting help from jesus” doesn’t show up in case law or Statute (or any reasonably well respected secondary source).

  3. Ben P says

    It’s sort of a weird situation because it creates both free exercise and establishment clause violations.

    I can imagine a hypothetical situation where an accused criminal voluntarily offers up his probation plan that, at least in part, involves religious activities, then the judge merely approves the plan. I think that *might* pass free exercise scrutiny so long as this truly is a choice of the accused, not something the judge is *suggesting.”

    And I can say from my own personal experience that sort of defendant created probation plan isn’t common, but isn’t uncommon either. Creative criminal defense lawyers often propose arrangements for clients who have a lot to lose even from a short jail sentence, but will do lots of other things.

    That’s not terribly different in kind from say, mandatory alcohol counseling where many voluntarily go to religious based programs, but it can be a violation to compel a religious based program.

    But that rapidly runs into establishment clause problems if that sort of option is say, only available to christians, and the judge wouldn’t allow any defendant other than a christian to include religious activity as part of a probation agreement.

  4. Taz says

    Mr. Aldred is either perfectly happy with this sentence, or at least doesn’t want to rock the boat. Hell, I’d take church over prison if those were my choices. That’s what’s so insidious about it.

    I wonder if a non-Christian sentenced by this judge without a non-prison option could sue for discrimination?

  5. eric says

    Judge Norman did not specify which religious denomination Mr. Alred must follow. But he also said: “I think Jesus can help anybody.

    Ah, I can see it now:

    Elwood: “Why kind of religious service can I go to?”
    Judge: “Both kinds – protestant AND catholic.”

  6. iknklast says

    robertbaden said exactly what I was thinking. According to the article, the family already attends church, so why should it help? Basically he’s sentencing him to go on living his life as he is already living it.

  7. says

    As for the constitutionality of his ruling, Judge Norman said, “I think it would hold up, but I don’t know one way or another.”

    As a judge, isn’t it your JOB to know this kind of shit?

  8. says

    How is this even going to be enforced? Is a court employee took going to pick him up and drive him to church every Sunday? Or will he just have to get the priest to sign an attendance card? If he falls asleep during the sermon, is that a parole violation?

  9. yoav says

    As for the constitutionality of his ruling, Judge Norman said, “I think it would hold up, but I don’t know one way or another.”

    Seriously, did anyone check whether his law degree is signed in crayon?
    I’m not a lawyer, hell I’m not even an american, and even I know the answer for this one.

  10. DaveL says

    I can imagine a hypothetical situation where an accused criminal voluntarily offers up his probation plan that, at least in part, involves religious activities, then the judge merely approves the plan. I think that *might* pass free exercise scrutiny so long as this truly is a choice of the accused, not something the judge is *suggesting.”

    What if the defendant has church attendance as part of his self-generated probation plan, and then stops going to church? Can the judge send him to jail for not going to church? I would think that would be problematic whether he had included it in his plan or not, seeing as how people do not lose the right to change their religious beliefs because they’re under the supervision of the justice system.

  11. timberwoof says

    Mandatory church attendance as punishment for a murder? We think this is an offense to the murderer’s freedom of religion … but he doesn’t think so. Since he already attends church and probably thinks it’s way better than attending chapel in a prison, I suspect he thinks he got off Scot free.

  12. F [disappearing] says

    As for the constitutionality of his ruling, Judge Norman said, “I think it would hold up, but I don’t know one way or another.”

    You are too ignorant to fly a bench, simply accustomed to religion having extensive privilege, and a very poor student of the law

    Judge Norman did not specify which religious denomination Mr. Alred must follow. But he also said: “I think Jesus can help anybody. I know I need help from him every day.”

    Don’t you have a fucking bailiff and maybe an assistant for that?

    Here’s the problem: Standing.

    I know, right? It seems that everyone should have standing when Constitutionality (or an incompetent judge) is involved.

  13. johw says

    I think the young man should get a mail order ordination and set up his own church at home. Then he could watch football on Sundays and tell the judge that was part of his “service”.

  14. bradleybetts says

    “A couple new developments in the case in Oklahoma where a judge sentenced a 17 year old to 10 years of attending church as a condition of his probation.”

    Quite apart from the unconstitutional nature, I’m pretty sure that counts as torture under the Geneva Convention ;)

    “As for the constitutionality of his ruling, Judge Norman said, “I think it would hold up, but I don’t know one way or another.””

    This guy’s a Judge and he doesn’t realise that’s unconsttutional?! I am not only a layman when it comes to the law, but I’m not even American and I know that’s unconstitutional!

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