Alabama Courts Give The Convicted The Choice Between Jail and Church

In Bay Minette, Alabama, felons are being given the opportunity to climb the wall. Not the prison wall, mind you. The Alabama court and local police are helping felons over the wall of separation of church and state by giving convicted citizens an opportunity to avoid jail if they volunteer — so long as it is with a church.

Non-violent offenders with misdemeanor convictions are given a list of local churches unless they want to wait in jail and pay a fine. The constitutional problems are magnified by the absence of anything other than churches as an alternative to jail.

Town police chief Mike Rowland insists that this will save the city $75 per day to jail citizens and is based on the consensus of “all the pastors that at the core of the crime problem was the erosion of family values and morals. We have children raising children and parents not instilling values in young people.”

To help Rowland make the case for an entanglement challenge, Rev. Robert Gates added 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.”

Of course, in addition to the absence of secular options, no mosques or synagogues are listed.

It will be interesting how much of that $75 per day savings will be spent on the litigation over this unconstitutional program.

In defense, Rowland insists that this is constitutional because there remains a choice between church and jail so that no one is being forced to serve the Lord. If that were the case, we could have extensive entanglement between church and state. Clearly, some judges and justices would agree. Justice Scalia in McCreary County v. American Civil Liberties Union, 545 U.S. 844 (2005), wrote a dissent that gave voice to this view of an accept monotheism in curtailing the scope of separation of church and state — virtually reducing the guarantee to the actual establishment of an official state religion:

Besides appealing to the demonstrably false principle that the government cannot favor religion over irreligion, today’s opinion suggests that the posting of the Ten Commandments violates the principle that the government cannot favor one religion over another. . . . That is indeed a valid principle where public aid or assistance to religion is concerned, . . . but it necessarily applies in a more limited sense to public acknowledgment of the Creator. If religion in the public forum had to be entirely nondenominational, there could be no religion in the public forum at all. One cannot say the word “God,” or “the Almighty,” one cannot offer public supplication or thanksgiving, without contradicting the beliefs of some people that there are many gods, or that God or the gods pay no attention to human affairs. With respect to public acknowledgment of religious belief, it is entirely clear from our Nation’s historical practices that the Establishment Clause permits this disregard of polytheists and believers in unconcerned deities, just as it permits the disregard of devout atheists.

Many fear that there is now a non-separation majority on the Court, though I count four justices who are reliable on such issues for the non-separation side. Nevertheless, there is clearly a shift on the courts toward greater accommodation of faith in government programs — a trend encouraged by President Obama who not only preserved George Bush’s faith-based programs but actually expanded on them.

Source: WKRG

Jonathan Turley

31 thoughts on “Alabama Courts Give The Convicted The Choice Between Jail and Church”

  1. Gyges:

    “Does this mean the judges think that going to church is punishment?”

    They should. Ever sat there in an un-airconditioned sanctuary on a hot summer afternoon listening to the endless droning on about this saint or that prophet and wondering what was going on in the Redskin game? That is punishment — at any age.

  2. I commend the State of Alabama for providing choice to its prisoners in terms of which form of control –mind or body — they prefer. Very democratic!

  3. Despite persistent lack of compelling evidence (and the existence of compelling counterevidence) people continue to think that religious belief is causally productive of moral behavior.

  4. Well … church membership across the board is falling off … guess they’re trying to inflate their numbers which makes the statement by Rev. Robert Gates, “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.” one of the funniest things I’ve read in a long time.

  5. Convicts aren’t forced to work for a church, but are given the choice to go to prison. Uh huh. And St. Olaf didn’t force the Scandinavians to convert to Christianity; he gave them the choice to have their hands cut off.

  6. Besides being unconstitutional it is irrational. Who’s to judge whether someone is doing it not out of belief, but out of their own selfish needs. The reliability of any religious leader, of any religion, to be a paragon of virtue is proven false almost daily.

  7. Well of course they would choose a church BUT they really should have secular options. Surely it’s constitutionally dodgy for the state to provide incentives to go to or support a church?

  8. I wonder if conducting a peaceful protest in consternation of the myth of the christian defined savior would gain freedom as an alternative to incarceration….

  9. There have been a number of cases holding that requiring mandatory attendance at AA meetings as a condition of probation violates the Establishment Clause because AA has “a substantial religious component.” In this instance, of course, the defendants are given the option of serving their sentences. However, that distinction should not make a difference. If the state is going to offer a prison alternative based upon supposed rehabilitative advantages, limiting that alternative to participation in the practices of a particular religion runs afoul of the Constitution.

  10. I would choose to go to the jail and I would spend all day and night in my cell hollering that “The virgin birth is a crock of shit!”

  11. I guess we should consider the source, but this judge is not only violating the Constitution, he is also setting up his town/county for an increase in crime when these religious felons fall from the church.

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