Phoenix Gives Prostitutes a Choice: Church or Jail


The city of Phoenix is running a blatantly unconstitutional program in its police department, arresting sex workers and giving them a simple choice: Go to church or go to jail. The program is a joint operation between the city, the Catholic church and a local protestant church. Americans United for Separation of Church and State reports:

The “this” Gallagher referred to is Project ROSE, a program he started in 2011 along with Arizona State University Prof. Dominique Roe-Sepowitz, whose expertise is in social work. The goal is simple and, many would say, admirable: reduce the number of women on the streets by helping them turn their lives around instead of just throwing them in jail. The problem is the method, which consists of a partnership between Phoe­nix police, Catholic Charities and a local Christian church.

The women arrested in Phoenix’s twice-yearly sex-work stings are forcibly taken to Bethany Bible Church and escorted inside in handcuffs. They are then given the option to avoid criminal prosecution by participating in a sectarian program. Critics, including Americans United, have said that Project ROSE is a clear violation of the First Amendment…

The Phoenix program is among the most blatant for its religious ties. During a sting in October 2013, Phoenix police apprehended 54 women on suspicion of prostitution. Those women were as young as 18 and as old as 58, Al Jazeera reported. They were immediately coerced into joining Project ROSE, which gives suspects a choice: go to church or go to jail.

Under the program’s rules, women picked up by police must authorize Catholic Charities to enroll them in its Prostitution Diversion Program (PDP) located in a section of Bethany Bible Church marked by a sign with a Latin cross, the Project ROSE logo and the words “Prosecutor’s Office.” There, a city prosecutor informs them that if they wish to keep their arrest off the books, they must complete Catholic Charities’ program.

On its website, Catholic Charities describes the PDP as “36 hours of self-exploration and education to develop self-esteem and give hope. Participants also receive rehabilitation services including support, education, and treatment to help them escape prostitution. Job placement assistance is also provided. Those who complete the program have their charges dismissed.”

If the suspects don’t agree to enter that sectarian program, a police report is submitted to the Phoenix Prosecutor’s Office, and they are charged with prostitution. A conviction carries a mandatory sentence of 15 days to six months’ imprisonment, in addition to a fine of up to $2,500.

The ultimate solution to this is to legalize sex work entirely and regulate it to protect those who engage in it. But this program is blatantly unconstitutional and needs to stop. I hope they can find one of the people arrested in these stings to agree to challenge it in court.

Comments

  1. sh3baproject says

    naybe the police and their friends just want to fuck the hookers and not get called on it.

  2. Trebuchet says

    Hmm, got a “502” error when I posted just now. Probably just an aberration.

    The jail they’ll wind up in is, of course, run by Sheriff Joe Arapaio and is notorious for prisoner abuse.

  3. moarscienceplz says

    Modusoperandi #3
    Your post seems to imply that you think being a minister is different from being a prostitute.

  4. Reginald Selkirk says

    This could be another opportunity for the Satanists to demand equal treatment with other religions.

  5. parasiteboy says

    Besides the clear violation of the 1st amendment, wouldn’t this also violate due process by taking them directly to these churches and making them make a decision before they are convicted? Or would this be looked at more as a plea deal

  6. anbheal says

    @5 mosarscienceplz — you can’t upvote here, but sometimes a good line needs to get the applause. Modusoperandi’s was an excellent start, but yours was topping on the cake!

  7. says

    moarscienceplz “Modusoperandi #3 Your post seems to imply that you think being a minister is different from being a prostitute.”
    They are different. One provides the lonely with pleasing fantasies, exploiting the the weaknesses of Man for profit, and the other is a hooker.

  8. howardhershey says

    What do they ask the Johns to do? As I understand, prostitution requires both a seller and buyer.

  9. eric says

    On its website, Catholic Charities describes the PDP as “36 hours of self-exploration and education to develop self-esteem and give hope. Participants also receive rehabilitation services including support, education, and treatment to help them escape prostitution. Job placement assistance is also provided. Those who complete the program have their charges dismissed.”

    AU should first request that the organization provide the non-theological services (such as job placement) without the religion. I.e., using accredited non-church staff, and so on. When they refuse, then you can not only sue them but you can point out how little they actually care about helping these women.

  10. magistramarla says

    This seems very similar to the AA programs that are run by churches.
    Some judges have required people to complete those programs as part of a plea deal, and some non-believers have been objecting. I could see that same thing happening with this program.

  11. ianeymeaney says

    At least the prostitutes are all over 18, so the priests will not want to rape them.

  12. steve78b says

    So let me get this straight…… If you get caught hooking you can go to jail or work with an immensely more immoral organization such as the Catholic church?

    Not even trying to be funny, but I’d trust a prostitute more than a priest.

  13. laurentweppe says

    So: anyone wants to bet that sooner or later some ghoulish stories about Phoenix clerics forcing themselves of prostitutes will be made public?

  14. eric says

    Ah, but remember, if you go to jail and want probation, you increase your changes by saying showing the parole board you’ve found God. So this is really like the old “Fugu” joke. You get to pick church or jail…and if you pick jail, you get church in jail.

  15. briandavis says

    Your post seems to imply that you think being a minister is different from being a prostitute.

    I’m imagining a world where pimps force people to become street preachers, and take 75% of their donations.

  16. D. C. Sessions says

    Not even trying to be funny, but I’d trust a prostitute more than a priest.

    Why would that be surprising? Unlike priests, hookers have to actually deliver what they promise if they want to stay in business.

  17. says

    @ Modusoperandi

    They are different. One provides the lonely with pleasing fantasies, exploiting the the weaknesses of Man for profit, and the other is a hooker.

    I think I love you. In a purely platonic, acquaintance-on-the-web kind of way.

  18. StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return! says

    Not defending this idea at all – I think its wrong on many levels but why exactly is this unconstitutional?

    It isn’t establishing a state religion or violating freedom of speech is it? If so how?

    Its a Church run program but that doesn’t mean the sex workers – presumably mostly women but not all – have to believe in any set religion as part of the program do they? Nor do I see how they are forfeiting freedom of speech in this.

    Again, I’m not saying this church or jail thing is right just not unconstitutional.

  19. D. C. Sessions says

    I think its wrong on many levels but why exactly is this unconstitutional?

    If “you have to participate in this religious program and these rituals or you go to jail” isn’t an establishment of religion, I’m curious what you think would be.

  20. StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return! says

    @ ^ D. C. Sessions : Officially stating that state or country X is of this religion and that no other religions are allowed or that this religion has primacy and is the official established state religion.

    I don’t think the Church run program insists that people convert to the religion if they don’t want to does it? Merely that they have to complete the program provided by a religious group. I don’t think we really know enough from what what I’ve seen so far to say it demands they follow all the religious elements or they can’t pass it.

    I wonder if they make allowances for and adapt the program to suit people who aren’t Catholic or even religious? If they do, as I’d expect then is there still a problem?

  21. madgastronomer says

    Not only is it unconstitutional because it’s forcing people to take part in a religious program, but it’s unconstitutional because it’s a violation of due process — the people targeted by these stings are not permitted access to a lawyer before being forced into the program, and are threatened if they request one.

    They’re also targeting trans women. It’s good to see AU getting into this one. Some of us have been hearing about Project ROSE for quite a while now.

  22. DaveL says

    @27,

    That’s quite possibly the stupidest argument I’ve heard all week. The constitution does not allow the government to do through childish word games what they are prohibited from doing honestly. The establishment of a religion involves many things, quite aside from any official declaration of establishment, to wit:

    – The teaching and promotion of that religion’s tenets through public schools or other government educational initiatives.
    – The diversion of tax monies to the support of a church and its activities.
    The provision of civil and/or criminal penalties for non-adherence.

    You display a level of short-sightedness that is truly shocking. The state is literally marching handcuffed people, who have not been charged with a crime, into a church and telling them to enter into a religious program or else face the wrath of the criminal justice system. Not that the religious coercion of convicts is acceptable, but it should occur to anybody who gives it a moment’s thought that the threat of prosecution is a potent one in itself, even if that prosecution is based on nothing at all. As they say, you can beat the rap, but you can’t beat the ride. A government that can coerce people suspected of prostitution into a religious program can use that same power to coerce anybody at all.

    I suggest you read about the views of the Bill of Rights’ chief architect, James Madison, regarding the establishment of religion. He wrote a rather famous missive on the subject in response to a proposal to hire teachers of Christianity using public money in his state. It was called “A Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments”. I commend to you in particular the following passage:

    Because it is proper to take alarm at the first experiment on our liberties. We hold this prudent jealousy to be the first duty of Citizens, and one of the noblest characteristics of the late Revolution. The free men of America did not wait till usurped power had strengthened itself by exercise, and entangled the question in precedents. They saw all the consequences in the principle, and they avoided the consequences by denying the principle. We revere this lesson too much soon to forget it. Who does not see that the same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other Religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other Sects? that the same authority which can force a citizen to contribute three pence only of his property for the support of any one establishment, may force him to conform to any other establishment in all cases whatsoever?

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