Drunk-Driving Teen Sentenced to 10 Years of Church Attendance as Part of His Probation

Last year, 17-year-old Tyler Alred drank some alcohol, got behind the wheel, crashed his car, and killed his passenger. A tragedy all around and Alred undoubtedly deserves a punishment.

Tyler Alred

But Judge Mike Norman‘s ruling is simply ridiculous: He wants Alred to attend church for the next ten years as part of his probation. Already, legal analysts are cringing:

Randall Coyne, a professor of law at the University of Oklahoma, said the church-attendance condition probably wouldn’t withstand a legal challenge but that someone would have to file such a challenge.

“It raises legal issues because of (the separation of) church and state,” he said.

Coyne said defense lawyers in other cases have successfully challenged orders that their clients attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings because of AA’s spiritual component.

“This young man may feel like this is a just punishment as far as he’s concerned,” he said.

The problem arises in how to enforce it and what should be done if he were to fail to attend church, Coyne said.

No word on which brand of bullshit Alred has to listen to for the next decade.

Alred may not care about this at all — he doesn’t have to go to (a literal) prison, after all — but the principle behind this ruling is just begging to be changed. You can’t force someone to go to church as payback for a crime just as you can’t force someone not to go to church for the same reason.

What happens if Alred becomes an atheist sometime in the next few years and doesn’t want to attend church anymore?

Is there a “wrong” church to attend? What about Fred Phelps’ place or somewhere like that?

Would an open atheist have received the same “punishment”?

And how is the judge allowed to get away with this? (“It’s Oklahoma” is not an acceptable answer.)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • http://twitter.com/gdeichen Gavin Deichen

    Does that count as a cruel and unusual punishment?  Also, it’s not the best advert for church for it to be used as a form of punishment, really, is it…

  • Lijdare

    He could always attend a satanic church.

  • MrStray

    Obvious choice: http://www.venganza.org/

  • Isilzha

    I would just LOVE for a judge bent on adding religion to a sentence to actually make someone attend meditation practice at a Buddhist temple or to prayer at the local Mosque.

  • NickDB

    So after 10 years of church what if he comes out and says, “Well it sucks that I did what I did, but it’s all part of God’s master plan so I’m not really responsible?”

    Is that what we want people to learn? That they’re not ultimately responsible for their actions?

  • RobertoTheChi

    Re-fucking-diculous! So much for church/state separation…

  • NickDB

    From the article he seems remorseful, but let him put time in helping victims of similar incidents, it should drive the point home better than more time at church.

  • http://twitter.com/brian_carnell brian_carnell

    According to the article, the teen is a regular church goer who is not going to contest the probation requirement. You have to wonder if a Muslim defendant would have been give the same opportunity to avoid prison by simply continuing to engage in religious activities he was apparently already fairly committed to anyway.

    Aside from that, this kid seems to have extremely poor legal representation. According to the article, the lawyer allowed the defendant to plead guilty without a plea deal in place. And the lawyer seems to be fine going along with the church requirement, when he should really be advising the young man on why — even though it might sound like a good idea now — that he should contest it.

    This sounds like everyone involved is making decisions based on extremely short term interests without really considering how this is going to play out over the next decade.

  • Jim Palfreyman

    It’s America.

  • Dukes Srt

    The tragedy is that the focus has become his sentence and not the death he caused. The sentence is unconstitutional. So now if he appeals which I would be surprised if he did not, the case becomes about him as the victim of poor a judgement.
    While in some living room a family grieves the loss of a family member.

  • Zingarii

    I’m not saying it’s Oklahoma,  

    but yeah, It’s Oklahoma.

    Nothing more than good ol’ boy action at work. Bet his dad is in the same Kiwanis /Lions/Rotary group as the Judge.

  • Sparkstalker

     Isn’t it obvious? They’re deacons at the same church…

  • Sami Hawkins

    “This young man may feel like this is a just punishment as far as he’s concerned,” he said.

    Somehow I don’t see this kid rejecting his current ‘punishment’ of showing up at a building once a week which he would have been going to anyway in favor of jailtime.

  • machintelligence

    Please don’t throw me in the briar patch!

  • eonL5

    Good point. The judge obviously hates going to church… (if only!)

  • Plot Happens

    As an Oklahoman all I can say is that you’re right, it’s Oklahoma. It’s the answer that no one really wants to hear, but definitely the simplest possible answer you’ll get from Oklahoman atheists.

  • Baal

     Meditation practice promotes mental resiliency and comes packaged with compassion reminders (usually).  I could see that as a reasonable part of a sentence – though maybe not at a Buddhist temple, you can learn in secularly. 

  • Tulsan

     Probably true…

  • Tulsan

     Reminds me of the Oklahoma judge that denied a trans-gendered person a name change.  The judge stated his reasoning was religiously based.

  • Plot Happens

    I had actually heard about this yesterday and luckily did not get a concussion from the following  face/desk. The link to the Tulsa World article is already in the post, but I thought I would point out the pieces from the article that bothered me the most.

    “My client goes to church every Sunday,” Baker said. “That isn’t going to be a problem for him. We certainly want the probation for him.” 

    Assistant District Attorney Jim Carnagey said the judge has required church attendance with other defendants in the past. 
    I think that’s what I find most troubling is that the judge has been known to sentence people to church attendance before. Not only that, but the teen he has sentenced seems to already attend church regularly. It’s hard to make a comparison that doesn’t sound like a reductio ad absurdum argument. It would have been much better to have this kid doing something useful once a week.

  • Aureliano_Buendia

    I’m not on the up-and-up when it comes to appealing sentences; if his sentence is found to be illegal or unconstitutional or somehow invalid, is he assigned a new sentence? Or does he get off with only the other punishments:

    teenager must wear an ankle bracelet that monitors alcohol consumption;
    attend victim-impact panels and speak at events about the consequences
    of drinking and driving; graduate from high school and welding school;
    attend counseling; and undergo drug and alcohol assessments.”

  • CelticWhisper

     Alternatively, there’s always the Church of the SubGenius.

  • DougI

    Thank you Oklahoma for making Kansas look a bit more sensible.

  • Justin Miyundees


  • http://boldquestions.wordpress.com/ Ubi Dubium

    And services are often at the Olive Garden, so that’s a bonus too!

    I’m an ordained Pastor of the CoFSM, so if he spends an hour every Sunday morning reading my blog, would that count?

  • Mej

    Establishment Clause aside, that’s cruel and unusual punishment!

  • http://abb3w.livejournal.com/ abb3w

    “Public Catholic” is a Patheos blogger who’s an Oklahoma Democrat, which sometimes  leaves me wondering what the Republicans are like there.

  • Stev84

    I think this is exactly why conviction and sentencing are separate phases in a trial. It’s possible to challenge them independently.

  • http://twitter.com/eddieVroom eddieVroom

    He can become a Minister in the Church of the Subgenius for $35 lifetime ordination. Eternal Salvation or Triple Your Money Back…

    We even use real salve.

    Praise “Bob”!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=824814616 Toure Coffey

    He will be no more moral after this silly punishment is enforced. Silly.

  • Aureliano_Buendia

     I don’t mean his conviction though. He’d still be guilty. I was just wondering if one portion of his sentence is declared “cruel and unusual,” does he receive an entirely new sentence, or the sentence minus the part that was unusual?

  • Adyrainbow

    The religious really are the grandest asshats of all!

  • Marco Conti

    So wrong. 

    I guess at some level I agree this is a harsh punishment but not for the same reason the judge thought so. 
    I suppose attending church is better than going to the slammer, but we cannot stand for these type of sentencing. I agree the guy should be paying dearly for his crime. No doubt about that. But even from a christian standpoint this ruling is wrong. What about all the people that go to church voluntarily? What does it say about attending Church?I thunk this ruling should be challenged on principal. They guy may even think he dodged a bullet, but it is simply an abuse of power and the very essence of “cruel and unusual”. Imagine if an atheist is sentenced to attend church. What if he was a Muslim  Would attending mosque be accepted? If that was me, could I argue that I was a pagan and attend wicca services? Too bad this guy is probably a tool. Who else would get shitfaced behind the wheel? But if I were sentenced to attend church I would find a million way to make them regret their decision.

  • ruth

    If I was the mother of his passenger I would be appalled.  I would at a minimum want him to have to do something worthwhile.   

  • ruth

    Eh, he does have to do some things that have a point, like speak to groups on the consequences of drinking and driving.  

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/A37GL7VKR3W6ACSIZPH7EID3LI rlrose63

    Because he is already a church-goer, this “sentence” is not even a slap on the wrist.  It’s a “you’re sorry, I know, so just go on with your life” sentence.  What a crock.

  • kevs

    He should claim to be worshiper of Bacchus! :-)

  • drakvl

    So, wait. The real story is, “Teen who attends church every Sunday killed his passenger by driving drunk”?

    Edit: Every day, every Sunday; they can still be put in one-to-one correspondence!

  • Willy Occam

    Same sentiment here, from Texas. 

  • Gimmemysolo

    This is simultaneously morally and constitutionally unacceptable, it’s an insufficient punnishment for vehicular manslaughter. If he shrugs off the religion he’s basically only been forced to be somewhere dishwater dull on Sunday for ten years. He should face jail time. A person died, and the drunk driver needs to spend time in the hoosegow for it.

  • http://nilknarf.net Nilky

    I’m another Doug from Kansas, and OK does make us look a tad more sensible… damning us with faint praise.
    O’yeah, I was an Okie for years….

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1228845900 Lana Holbrook Barr

    Separation of Church and State applies here,doesn’t it?

  • ecull12

    Wow, this is a loaded issue.  One, it is too bad all the hard liners on both sides, church vs free/real thinking have to get so heated.
    What this young fella did was wrong, tragic and there are no words or punishments that fit this foolish crime.  I am never sure what is worse…living your life knowing you took another, or dying so tragically and young.  Life is a gamble, it is not fair, but it is precious.  Judgment is really for those who are in power and feel the need to be better than others.  We all make mistakes, but some pay a much higher price.  Long and short of it…There will never be an easy answer or a punishment to fit the crime.  Needless to say, living with such a crime is surely punishment, indeed.
    Thank You for reading (only my humble opinion)

  • Ba’al Zebul

    Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster

  • Andy Jarvis

    I’ve been calling my local pub “the church” for years and a bottle opener a “church key”. I wonder if ten years of “Sunday Fun-day” attendance could be considered for his punishment. As long as he doesn’t drive there!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Kenneth-Williams/100000104244858 Kenneth Williams

    The Judge is insane.

  • Bill Henry

    Hey ,if I tohught I would be forced to go to church for 10 years  might stop drinking entirely! However, if I did have to go, would it count if after the first few weeks they wouldn’t let me inside cuz I kepts singing at the top of my lungs I love the Flying Saphetti Monster.

  • Onamission5

    …because people who attend church never, ever get drunk and drive?

    Even were this perfectly legal, which it’s not, I fail to see the rationale behind such a sentence. If church attendance had any impact on human behavior then there’d be no religious folks in prison except ones who converted after incarceration. 

  • http://twitter.com/literatewench literatewench

    Solution: become a registered pastor, hold your own services where you have mandatory internet browsing on Reddit for 1 hour per day. Invite all your friends. 

  • LaurUI2016

    Why would an atheist want to attend a satanic church, it’s still organized religion. That is not what atheism is.

  • No

     It’s just Oklahoma.

  • Bbourgeois87

    Hell, I’m an atheist and I’d accept that in lieu of a real punishment…  I’d just sit in the back on my smartphone.  Or see how many people I could get squirming with inconvenient questions.

  • ennbonba

    Absolutely ridiculous. A punishment as light as church attendance for a person whose poor decisions resulted in a death is absurd.

  • Kyros

    Modern satanism is many things, but certainly not an organized religion. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a far cry from strict atheism, but there are plenty of Satanists who don’t believe in any great being.

  • Mac

    @Hemant…do u agree with the women who had to stand out side the store she stole from with a sign that says…”I’m a Thief?”

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Hemant Mehta

    It’s a form of humilation that appears effective, but I haven’t given much thought as to whether it’s ok or not.

  • Jiminy cranston

    Considering the number of church going people who are also convicted of drunk driving just exactly how is going to church supposed to do anything for the teenager?

    In fact, as one commenter points out, if you sin all you need to do is ask forgiveness in most Christian sects, and you are forgiven. Well no wonder so many people like Christianity. You don’t have to be responsible for your actions. You just have to say your sorry, and everything is OK.

    At one time many people murdered children and thought nothing of it because they asked for forgiveness from Jesus. They did this so they could commit suicide by judge and not go to hell.
    They didn’t care about the children at all.

    I don’t think hardly anyone who winds up in court charged with a crime doesn’t go to church regularly, or at least starts right after they are arrested.

    It’s funny how so many criminals find God when they get arrested.