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.
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.
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.)