Criminals offered choice of time in pews or the pokey

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BAY MINETTE, Ala. (RNS) A new alternative sentencing program that offers first-time, nonviolent offenders a choice of a year in church or jail time and fines is drawing national attention, including fire from the American Civil Liberties Union. “This policy is blatantly unconstitutional,” said Olivia Turner, executive director for the ACLU of Alabama. “It violates […]

  • Oh, gosh … where to start?

    This reminds me of the choices offered youthful offenders when I was an adolescent: “Jail or the Army”.

    Same logic – let’s put those who have demonstrated a lack of respect for authority into a situation where they will be overwhelmed by authority. As a military officer dealing with some of this, I was less than pleased with the quality of some of our “volunteers” … especially when we gave them live ammunition:)

    I wonder what those pastors really think about this program?

    The problem is that just often enough, this type of immersion strategy works with an individual and gives those who think resolving problems can be simple reinforcement for a superficial solution such as this.

    For a far more intelligent and thoughtful response than mine, visit Timothy J. Carson’s blog “Vital Wholeness”. Tim provides a reasoned and articulate analysis of why this is not a good idea. Here’s the link:

    My final word on legal authorities who think that morality or ethical behavior can be forced on someone or that some type of miraculous conversion will occur based on physical proximity: If this logic worked, our school systems would be outstanding examples of education at its best:)


  • Grumpy

    Oh, and beside that, it’s blatantly unconstitutional.

  • GlennS

    This program confuses Law & Gospel. The church has no business in facilitating punishments of the civil law. It can only confuse the participants about the purpose of church and distract the church from the Gospel.

  • Good points and the blog post John links to raises even more doubts. Let me pile on with two more issues:

    Did you know that some churches have pay?for?performance incentives for clergy who grow their congregations? Cha-ching, baby!

    Then there’s the problem that just because somebody is a member of the clergy that doesn’t mean that they’re pure as driven snow. The Catholic church may be the one that’s been in the headlines the most for pedophiles in dog collars the last decade but by no means do they have a monopoly on morally corrupt people in positions of power. How would you like to have somebody like Bishop Eddie Long decide if you go to jail? Or George Rekers?

  • Jaslyn

    This is a completely inappropriate collision of church and state. I appreciate the goal of reducing crime through actual rehabilitation as opposed to jail time (which usually makes bad criminals worse), but this is completely the wrong way to go about such an aim. It would be wonderful if they established a foundation focused on rehabilitating non-violent first-time offenders through service and community work, but it absolutely can not be religious.

  • Randy

    I like this idea. For one it is obvious that attending the church of you choice is much different than military. I’ve attended 7 different churches in my lifetime and they have never told me to do push-ups. Speak only when spoken to, “Sir yes sir, or a forced 10-mile march with packs. They do lay-out the teachings of the Bible, and invitations to consider that we,(mankind) are prone to self-righteousness and pride,un-fathfullness, lying, etc., and an invitation to change through faith in Christ and empowerment by the Holy Spirit. Not to mention free food at carry-ins and friendship with folks who care. Why is this so insidious to most of the commentors here, is beyond my comprehension.

  • I’ll let others respond as they feel, but for me, it’s not about the content. I value my military experience and think most young people would benefit from the discipline and team skills that come from being part of the military (especially the U. S. Army:).

    I also believe strongly that developing a spiritual life based on some type of religion faith journey is essential to personal happiness and communal good works. Faith teaches us how to deal with the “ups and downs” of life.

    In my experience, neither happens when it is forced upon one.

    Now that I think about it, this is also like requiring people with alcohol-related offenses to attend self-help groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous. Every once in a great while, someone benefits from the experience, but more are dissuaded because of contact with people who are only present because they are being forced to be present.

    So, just to be clear, my concern is not with the activity, it’s with how it is being administered.


  • Randy

    Dear John, It is not administered by law it is an opt- out of civil punishment to try something different it is the choice of the offender. There is no establishment of a relifion by the government as stated in our U.S. Constitution. (1st amendment).Randy.