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.
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