The Gavel of God: Oklahoma Judge Sentences Teen To Church Rather Than Jail in Manslaughter Case

We have another judge who has decided to create his own system of criminal punishment with novel sentencing. Oklahoma judge Mike Norman has magnified this increasingly common form of judicial abuse by adding compelled religious observance to sentence. Norman deferred a prison sentence for Tyler Alred, 17, in exchange for his agreement to attend church for 10 years. Norman observed “[t]he Lord works in many ways,” including it appears through him and his court. While many would view the imposition of religious observance in a criminal sentence as something akin to an American Taliban court, Norman insists that he has judicially ordered religious practices in the past.


Alred pleaded guilty to an August crash that killed his friend and passenger John Luke Dum. Alred had been drinking before the accident.

As in many of these cases, there is no one in the case to challenge the obvious constitutional violation since both the prosecutor and the family support the sentence. The agreement of the prosecutors shows an ethical and professional failure to protect the integrity of the legal system.

Norman admitted that “There are a lot of people who say I can’t do what I did. They’re telling me I can’t legally sentence someone to church.” Well, yes, that would be anyone who reads and believes in the Constitution.

Norman is a member of First Baptist Church in Muskogee and said that “I told my preacher I thought I led more people to Jesus than he had.” Of course, that is his preacher’s job.

I have written columns (here and here and here) and blogs articles (here and here and here and here and here) criticizing this worrisome trend, though the most serious such cases involve judges like Norman who try to bring “more people to Jesus” while carrying out his duties as a judicial officer. These judges make a mockery out of our court system and sit like little Caesars in meting out their own idiosyncratic forms of justice — often to the thrill of citizens. They degrade not just their courts in such novel sentencing but the legal system as a whole. This judge appears to relish his reputation as the gavel of God — sending felons to embrace faith.

In the meantime, other judges, prosecutors, and the state bar remain silent in the face of this judicial abuse. I can understand a judge ignoring the most fundamental principles of our Constitution and our profession. What I cannot understand is an entire bar that just stands by silently as he imposes religious-based sentences. I have often spoken to the Oklahoma bar members and I have previously stated my love for the state. I am saddened to see the lack of action taken against Norman in a bar with so many talented and respected lawyers.

Source: ABC as first seen on ABA Journal

45 thoughts on “The Gavel of God: Oklahoma Judge Sentences Teen To Church Rather Than Jail in Manslaughter Case

  1. Would it have been OK if he had sentenced him to Mosque weekly?

    I’m sure this will be great as no criminal ever went to church on a regular basis & no crimes have ever been committed by anyone who has received the word of the lord.

    He might just as well sentence the guy to sit in the corner for an hour every week

  2. Anyone dedicated to protecting the Constitution should be completely appalled by this “judge’s” actions. It’s so blatantly and ridiculously unconstitutional that when I read this story yesterday, my only reaction was “You’ve got to be kidding. This is surely a piece by The Onion once again misreported as news.” Sadly, not the case.

  3. It all depends on the church. Now if he wants a great party time, he can go to some of the more prominent Baptist Churches since they say one thing on Sunday, and party hearty the rest of the week. Jimmy Swagart comes to miind as a great place, though he is not Baptist, but with a little due diligence, I am sure he can find the local kind of church like his. Oral Roberts U would also be a good place, but he would have to get into the inner circle to get to the good stuff.

  4. “What I cannot understand is an entire bar that just stands by silently as he imposes religious-based sentences.”

    Do the churches understand they are part of the problem if they participate?

  5. Of course they know they are part of the problem, but if it brings in more cash and members, who cares? Getting money for the church is the name of the game. Just as is true in all religions.

  6. What counts as “attending?” Walking in and walking out? Once a month? Once a year? How is the judge going to verify this attendance? What assurance do we have this will discourage Adler’s future drunk driving in any way? If Adler claims he attended some church, how will that be proven false?

    This sounds like a miscarriage of justice, to me, a non-punishment imposed for a reckless killing.

  7. Unconstitutional, yes.

    “[It’s] part of a deferred prison sentence for manslaughter in a fatal car crash….. Norman also required Alred to finish high school and complete welding school.”

    Looks like the judge was trying to give the kid a break. Turn your mind off for an hour a week for 10 years or 10 years in jail? Of course, the jail option is open to early release.

    If the defendant is not already inclined to attend church, this just might remove him totally from religion. Inappropriate punishment creates resentment. And the judge sounds more than a little arrogant.

  8. I think the explanation here is the widespread persistence of a view that religious practice is strongly correlated with morally desirable behavior. Even after being presented with evidence that such a correlation is weak, at best (or even statistically non-existent), people continue to believe it because it just “makes sense” to them.

  9. “I think the explanation here is the widespread persistence of a view that religious practice is strongly correlated with morally desirable behavior.”

    I agree with Mfitch on this and carried out to its logical extent it is an example of self-serving arrogance on the Judges part, since he is presenting himself and his church as moral paragons. The sentence is terribly un-Constitutional but won’t be overturned. The venue is no doubt a religious one so who is to object and by using these illegal sentencing guidelines the Judge is likely to remain in office with public approval As for the Oklahoma bar, perhaps the climate in that State is such that one risks their careers by seeming to be Ati-God? Finally, cynic that I am, it is hard for me to believe that there is some sort of interrelationship that this Judge has for this young man as in “the fix was in”.

  10. “While the sentencing does indeed demand that Alred attends church every single week for ten years, the judge will allow Alred to choose which church to attend. Because he’s not forcing the 17-year-old to attend a specific religious institution, Norman’s sentencing for Alred is apparently legal.
    ……..

    In the courtroom this week, an emotional scene between the victim’s family and Alred played out after statements from Dum’s mother, father and two sisters were read during the sentencing. Dum’s father and Alred stood up in court, turned toward each other and embraced one another.

    “At that moment, it sure became a reality to me that I would sentence this boy to church” to help set him on the right path, Norman, a member of First Baptist Church in Muskogee, said. “There’s nothing I can do to make this up to the family.
    ….

    After completing the rest of the requirements in his sentence, Alred will have the charge removed from his record.

    http://www.examiner.com/article/judge-sentences-teen-to-attend-church-for-10-years-after-manslaughter-conviction

  11. Can we “sentence” the Judge to a class on constitutional law or maybe a day trip to Monticello? Or Afghanistan? I’d say Heaven too, but he apparently already has a ticket reserved.

  12. If the kid were black or chicano you can bet his young ass would be in jail. It’s stinks of one of those, “Oh, Little So-and-so’s from a ‘good family,'” things. It is classism and smalltown cronyism at its worst. The judge should be impeached and disbarred!

  13. I have no problem at all with probation and compulsory servitude in a church or secular place that might fashion a person into a better person. I myself might prefer four hours at the jail than four at the church, but that is one’s own preference. The judge dun right by the boy.
    For he was born in Oklahoma, his wife’s name is Betty Lou Thelma Liz, He’s not responsible for what he’s doin, his mother made him what he is.
    Its up against the wall Redneck Mothers, Mothers who have raised their sons so well…
    He’s 34 and drinking in honky tonks, kickin hippies asses and raisin hell.
    –Jerry Jeff Walker, Good Ol Boys

  14. The fact that the judge sees no problem with his sentence is clear evidence that he is unfit to sit on the bench. We have become a nation that allows our judges to ignore the Constitution with impunity. Even if in fact the judge has done it before without being overturned, it is still an unconstitutional sentence. I can understand but do not condon the bar’s silence on this matter; a judge who would do this would certainly punish the client of any lawyer who even questioned him.

  15. Sorry, but if the church in question isn’t located on an Amish farm, then the miscreant in question isn’t getting much of a punishment.

    Would Judge Norman send a pedophile priest to another church?

  16. The dust bowl of constitutional adherence.

    Criminals should form a church in this location and in the event they are caught in some felony, they can ask to be sentenced to attend the church, drink Mad Dog 20/20 for communion, and be forgiven by the church outlaw biker.

  17. I remember way back in 73′ myself and two buddys drove 30 miles outside of the city to see another buddy. We carried with us a freshly bought bag of “the weed” As we began our journey back home, two NYS troopers chose to stop us and ask of our intentions at 1am. Shortly after the JOP in this small town greeted us in his bathrobe in his living room (he was about 75!!).
    Which to us then 19 yr olds meant he was at least 110.
    Said troopers were most respectful,…and so were us three miscreants. (yes some roots of wisdom were sprouting in our heads even back then). After a pleasant evening in a sparsely furnished cell we were respectfully delivered into the hands of one of my buddys Father. He was not beaming with pride that morning.
    Anyways long story short, after a combined $1200 lawyer payment, we did not plead, were given “potential” youthful offender status, if we fulfilled a 6 month adherence to a set of probations. One of which was attending church on Sundays. Which we did the first two weeks. That’s how long it took us to figure out that attending did not necessarily mean staying. LOL. As a matter of fact the next 3 weeks we walked in then out, and we became even sloppier as the months passed. It devolved into meeting someplace at the appropriate time, in such places as the cathedral of the park, or the holy see of the beach. We survived got our records sealed and the 3 of us now, though gone our separate ways are all good eggs. Personally I do not think it was the attending church on Sunday probation that saved us from a life of moral turpitude.
    It could have been the recently instituted Rockefeller drug laws that caused our underwear to be stained prior to our appearance in court.
    PS. the troopers pulled us over because they were looking for a suspicious car that looked like ours. Uh Huh. :o)

  18. I’m sorry, that’s just wrong. Bad, wrong, sick, stupid, outrageous, hubristic, unconstitutional, ugly, tyrannical, dangerous, and many other words that either exist or do not exist and if they do not, they should.

    Not only does the judge need to be deprived of his gavel and his job, but also his law license, his First Amendment rights, and his Reproductive Rights. Just for starters. And then he needs to be ordered to go to an Ashram and to fast for 40 days and cleanse his liver and drop some acid. And then he needs to be beaten with sticks. And then God needs to tell him to straighten up or he’ll really catch Hell.

  19. There is absolutely nothing wrong with requiring schmucko to go to some clinic, remorse seance or rehabilitation, whether it is secular or catolic. He is not making a muslim go to a convent.

  20. Darren, I watched the Ken Burns doc, The Dust Bowl, the last couple days. One of his better ones. When people today sing, “Nobody Knows The Trouble I’ve Seen” they should watch what those folks endured.

  21. Malisha, You were asking about how to brine a turkey. Well, I went to Whole Foods yesterday and they have brined turkeys. I didn’t know any company did that. The meat guy says they’re just like brining it yourself. I bought one and I’ll give you a Spinelli Test Kitchen report.

  22. if the family of the dead passenger decides to take the law into their own hands and harm the driver/churchgoer will the judge be as lenient to them?

    somehow i doubt it.

    or if the driver/drunk was of a more melanin enhanced ancestry would the judge be as lenient?

    doubt that too.

  23. “Both the prosecutor(AND MORE IMPORTANTLY) the family supports this! The problem in America is that most of the Judges and Justices are immoral and sacriligious!”

    The problem with this statement is that the 1st Amendment clearly states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion” and the jurisprudence surrounding the Establishment clause states that laws touching upon religion or religious practices must have 1) a secular purpose, 2) must not have the primary effect of either advancing or inhibiting religion and 3) must not result in an “excessive government entanglement” with religion (this is known as the Lemon test after the case Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U.S. 602 (1971)). The judges actions in this instance are not serving a secular purpose – which is it actually punish those found guilty of manslaughter, it advances Christianity and it causes excessive entanglement between church and state. His action is plainly illegal in ruling thus no matter who supports him. If this were challenged in court, even if it went to the Supreme Court, the ruling would be overruled and the case remanded for sentencing in line with the actual legal sentencing guidelines of the state.

    Also, the declarative statement “The problem in America is that most of the Judges and Justices are immoral and sacriligious!”? Even if true, it is largely immaterial to the issue at hand.

    There are no religious tests for office allowed under the Constitution. Article VI states “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” Every single judge in America could be atheists or worship the Flying Spaghetti Monster and it would be irrelevant to their fitness for the job as judge.

    Immoral is slightly more rational a criticism, but there are ethical standards judges are held to – like they must uphold the Constitution, which is kind of funny considering your guy here just issued an unethical ruling in sentencing this kid to go to church. Maybe no one has standing who is interested in directly appealing this verdict, but a district judge is required to be a member of the bar in good standing in Oklahoma. As a member of the bar and as a judge, Norman took an oath to protect and uphold the Constitution. What may not get appealed because the family members in the case are satisfied with the judgement will still most likely and should result in the bar ethics complaint against “Judge” Norman. Any interested party can file such a complaint and any citizen has an interest in seeing the rule of law followed.

    You may be entitled to your own opinion and to express it under the 1st Amendment, but the judges actions here are clearly illegal and unethical. Just so, it is my 1st Amendment right to point out the flaws in your statements as I see fit.

  24. …and were in the season where we are going to listen to a bunch of music about MY SON being born. some are nice to listen to, others are Not. I am extremely egotistical, so I don’t tell clerics exactly who, and where I am. they only want to test GOD.

    God: Noah, I want you to check all those songs and make sure they are all correct!

    Noah: uh-oh!

    Bill: uh-oh!

    God: it is only weird if it doesn’t work. don’t you see the commercials. you have been guided for years, and did not know it. if it contains a cross, cross it out. the american express “x” with the 231 is not a cross.

    the shape of the cross was made (known) in the early 80’s and everyone on earth missed it just like TOUCH DOWN JESUS. ( exact date kept quiet.)

    so teach your children to give thanks to God in HEAVEN like JESUS said. the theologians changed everything. that is how you got stupid judges.

    but the judge did send the boy to hell.

    Noah, did you know that I had the bill board put up about “dyslexics untie” and scientology did not know the answer.

    Noah: ohhh crap! what’s a cubit?

  25. My libertarian instincts are kicking in–since everyone involved agrees with the probation terms, it doesn’t much bother me.

  26. This is special treatment only a Christian would get. You can bet a Jewish defendant or a Muslim would not get this special Christian dispensation.

    Mighty white of the judge to do this.

  27. If he had been Jewish, Muslim, Taoist etc would he have been sent to the ‘appropriate’ place of worship? What if, heaven forbid, he was an atheist?
    I was sentenced to synagogue when I was kid,: my parents made me go until confirmation at age 16 (they threatened cod liver oil everytime I said I had a stomach ache and couldnt go). Didn’t make me a better person, just made me hate synagogue.

  28. If I’m not mistaken, Merle Haggard was a convicted sneak thief when he recorded that hate anthem. I will smile when I learn he’s gone to meet his maker. As for the judge, send him to Sam Harris for FMRI testing. I think we’ve found a human operating with only a lizard’s brain.

  29. Nick S, thanks. I have a friend from India who is taking me to a Chinese buffet today. I’ll give you a report on the goji berry soup. :razz:

    But my real question had to do with preparing that twinkies recipe, calling for “brine.” I wanted to know how much salt goes into how much water to equal “brine.” :?:

  30. The judge used his God given position to make good out of a tragic situation. If all parties agree especially the victims family then what’s the problem? Criminal plead out of crimes they’ve committed all the time, drug addicts go to rehab rather then jail every day.

  31. The child is 17 years old. My God, some of you have done so much worst then having an auto accident and causing a death. Don’t be so quick to forget what you were doing from 17 years old until you finally grew up; perhaps at 40!!!! It took some of you that long. I commend the judge for having a mind to try to help a 17 year old. For some of you negative, judgemental people'; what if it was your child, brother or father? Would you be so quicki to judge?
    Leannie, Va.

Comments are closed.