With friends like Caesar, the church doesn’t need enemies

Two red-state stories about the dismal state of church and state, both of which feature pious government officials “helping” the church by treating it as servant and subsidiary the state.

First up, a story from Oklahoma, where a judge has sentenced someone to church.

OK, so, I’m a big fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. If you haven’t seen it, I think you should. I want you to watch it and to enjoy it as much I have enjoyed it the many times I’ve seen it.

Because of that, I would be upset if some judge somewhere decided to make watching Buffy a punishment. That would ruin it. It’s a terrific bit of storytelling, but if you’re sentenced to watching that story, you’ll never experience it the way you should. Turning it from something voluntary into a mandatory punishment would change the experience and change the thing itself.

That’s one part of why I think Oklahoma district judge Mike Norman is an idiot for sentenced a 17-year-old to 10 years of church attendance.

I want everyone to attend church — to experience church and enjoy church just as much as I have enjoyed it. By making church a punishment for this kid, Judge Norman changes the meaning and the experience of church — twisting it into something mandatory, onerous and punitive.

That’s not what church is for. It is not a tool of the state or a tool of the courts.

Judge Norman’s abuse of church — the damage he is doing to church — is one half of why the separation of church and state is so important. It protects citizens from the government establishment of religion — a constitutional clause that Norman’s decision clearly violates. But it also protects the church from the kind of distortions that Norman is imposing on it.

I agree with the Rev. Prescott:

The Rev. Bruce Prescott, executive director of the Oklahoma chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said he is sure the sentence doesn’t pass constitutional muster, but he is equally worried about the spiritual ramifications.

“I’m a minister,” Prescott said. “I want people to go to church, but it’s not helpful for a judge to sentence someone to church. What will the judge do if the young man changes his affiliation in the next few years? Will he be allowed to switch to a mosque or become an atheist? Religion is not a tool of the state, and it’s certainly not for the state to use as a tool of rehabilitation.”

Which brings us to our second story, from Kentucky, where Democratic state Rep. Tom Riner says he’s a Baptist minister. Riner may be some kind of a minister, but he ain’t no Baptist:

The law and its sponsor, state representative Tom Riner, have been the subject of controversy since the law first surfaced in 2006, yet the Kentucky state Supreme Court has refused to review its constitutionality, despite clearly violating the First Amendment’s separation of church and state.

“The church-state divide is not a line I see,” the inquistor explains to Maria of Montjoie.

… The law states, “The safety and security of the Commonwealth cannot be achieved apart from reliance upon Almighty God as set forth in the public speeches and proclamations of American Presidents, including Abraham Lincoln’s historic March 30, 1863, presidential proclamation urging Americans to pray and fast during one of the most dangerous hours in American history, and the text of President John F. Kennedy’s November 22, 1963, national security speech which concluded: “For as was written long ago: ‘Except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain.'”

The law requires that plaques celebrating the power of the Almighty God be installed outside the state Homeland Security building — and carries a criminal penalty of up to 12 months in jail if one fails to comply. The plaque’s inscription begins with the assertion, “The safety and security of the Commonwealth cannot be achieved apart from reliance upon Almighty God.”

Tom Riner, a Baptist minister and the long-time Democratic state representative, sponsored the law.

“The church-state divide is not a line I see,” Riner told The New York Times shortly after the law was first challenged in court. “What I do see is an attempt to separate America from its history of perceiving itself as a nation under God.”

Look, it’s not easy to be a bad Baptist. We really only have one rule, and it’s embodied right there in the name: Baptists. We don’t baptize anybody who doesn’t choose it for themselves. We don’t baptize infants just because their parents are part of the church. And — more importantly — we don’t baptize infants believing that anyone born in the state belongs to the church (or that anyone born in the church belongs to the state).

The definition of the category “Baptist,” in other words, is an expression of a bold, dark, uncrossable line dividing church and state.

Tom Riner can call himself whatever he likes, but the word Baptist does not describe him.

 

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  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    I want everyone to attend church — to experience church and enjoy church just as much as I have enjoyed it. By making church a punishment for this kid, Judge Norman changes the meaning and the experience of church — twisting it into something mandatory, onerous and punitive.

    I suspect that most children of church-going families already see church this way – mandatory, onerous, and punitive.  

    When you have little interest in the stories and lectures given from the pulpit, and you have no choice in going from the beginning, well, it seems more like something you just suffer through.  I would not be surprised that a lot of young people leave the church.  They never had the chance to “come to Jesus”, as there was never any distance to cross in the first place.  

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

    It’s all about punishment with this lot. Punishing kids by forcing them to go to church. Punishing women by forcing them to become mothers. Punishing poor people for being poor. They do love punishment.

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    Well, in the “calculus of hell”, a little punishment now is worth sparing an eternity of punishment later.  

    Some people really do love their suffering.  

  • http://twitter.com/libraryguy09 Evan Tarlton

    Other people’s suffering, you mean.

  • Tricksterson

    Oh I’m willing to bet that more than a few of them have fantasies involving being caned by women dressed in leather.  But instead of indulging these fantasies in a healthy way they repress them and impose them on others.

  • stardreamer42

     Taken to its logical extreme, any amount of punishment now is worth sparing an eternity of punishment later. Which (1) shows a surprising understanding of the concept of infinity for a group whose members regularly display their almost complete lack of numeracy, and (2) provides a handy excuse for an awful lot of just plain meanness.

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    (2) provides a handy excuse for an awful lot of just plain meanness.

    That is part of the problem that I have with the doctrine of hell.  It makes it so easy to justify so much.  

  • Turcano

    Um, is this sentence even constitutional?  I understand that this took place in Oklahoma, but the Bill of Rights applies even there.

  • P J Evans

     They don’t seem to understand the concept. (Heck, there are people in Oklahoma who don’t seem to understand anything that doesn’t happen to them, personally.) And since I have a lot of relatives who were born and raised there,I know that not everyone from OK is like that.

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

    @Turcano:disqus : At certain levels, Judges have fairly broad powers to say “Under the law, I am empowered to sentence you to X. However, if you’ll agree to instead do (thing I am not legally empowered to force you to do), I will suspend your sentence so you do not have to do X.”  

    Unless it’s drugs, in which case judges are often legally forbidden from doing that sort of thing.

  • hidden_urchin

    I do wonder what happens if the kid’s religious views change in the future.  In the past ten years I have gone from convervative Christianity of the RTC variety, to liberal Christian, to Deist, to agnostic dystheist.

    I’ve got to wonder how someone like me would comply with those terms.

  • AngryWarthogBreath

    We could punish people by refusing to let them have any Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Then that doesn’t devalue the franchise, and it makes people interested in the show because it’s suddenly a privilege! …No, but that’s too cruel.

    Anyway, while thinking of ways not to just say “yeah, go to prison, going to prison always helps” normally gets my seal of approval, I think this judge has gotten a fairly stupid idea out of it, and my evidence is this: it’s really obviously a stupid idea. I mean, before you get into the reams of things that are wrong with it, Bruce Prescott shoots it down right there, with the “what if he converts”… or rather, to play back to Fred’s earlier columns, “Which sect, Newt?” Which would also come to the fore if Norman sentenced Alred to monthly E-Meter readings or to find a spot in his local Black Mass.

    It’s not quite the same, but I think it’s a careful analogy.

    I met an Allred once. He was a Mormon missionary, and looked EXACTLY like a Mormon missionary. We talked about the Salt Lake Temple and Battlestar Galactica. It was a nice way to meet an actual human representative of a faith that’s been marked by a shady leadership (as opposed to all those faiths with non-shady leaderships, of course) and Mitt Romney.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michael-Albright/100001047690991 Michael Albright

    Tell them they’re not allowed to watch Buffy, but only pretend to enforce it.  Shh!  The Buffy Detector Van is coming!  Whew, they’re gone.  Now we can watch Buffy!  I wasn’t going to in the first place, but now it’s subversive!

    As for the sentence, I’m pretty sure the judge in question has an answer in mind were you to ask him which sect.

  • Lori

    I’ve got to wonder how someone like me would comply with those terms.

    Are you under the impression that Judge Norman gives a crap what the kid believes or may believe in the future? Because I’m not.

    If you lived in Oklahoma you’d comply with those terms by having your butt in the pew of some fundie church every Sunday because A) depending on exactly where in the state you lived there likely wouldn’t be many other places to go B) it’s pretty clear that’s where the judge expects you to be and he can un-defer your sentence and send you to prison if he’s not satisfied with your level of obedience.

  • godlessveteran

    The judge may think he can do that, but all it will take is one pissed-off non-believer challenging such a sentence to get the sentence overturned and quite possibly get the judge dismissed for judicial malpractice.  It’s illegal, no matter how deep in redneck America you go.

  • Lori

    It sounds as if he only applies the sentence in the case where all involved parties agree and therefore won’t challenge it, and until someone with legal standing challenges it he can go right on doing it. I think the likelihood of him getting dismissed from the bench for this is really, really tiny.  The only way I can see that happening is if someone challenges it, it gets struck down due to the obvious Constitutional issue and he continues to sentence people to attend church.

    What I’m wondering is what happens to this kid when the ACLU or some similar group figures out a way to get standing and the sentence is struck down. Does he then end up going to prison? Would the same judge get to decide that?

  • MikeJ

    Does he then end up going to prison?

    Most likely, which is why nobody is going to challenge it. The judge can withdraw his offer of leniency at any time.  You would have to be willing to argue your case from in prison.

    As repulsive as this is, nobody is going to pick being locked up rather than spending an hour a week ignoring a boring person.

  • Jessica_R

    Yeah, I speak from experience that even if my family hadn’t had a traumatic break with the Jehovah’s Witness I doubt I’d be any kind of regular church goer now because meetings at the Kingdom Hall were so frickkin boring, and long, and drag, and colorless as bowl of cream of wheat. I felt more numinous twinges and flickers in the corner of my eyes watching movies and listening to music, still do. 

  • MikeJ

    Turning it from something voluntary into a mandatory punishment would change the experience and change the thing itself.

    When I was a teen a shrink learned that I liked to play D&D and engage in other such geeky pursuits.  Her idea for getting me to talk (something I refused, down to “hello”and “goodbye”) was for us to read The Hobbit and then talk about how Bilbo felt when these dwarves showed up and tried to force him into shit he had no interest in. It didn’t end well. And I still have no interest in Tolkien. Only made it halfway through the first movie before I was bored out of my mind.

  • arcseconds

    I think the judge really does have this guy’s interests at heart, but like a lot of church people has an overinflated view of what church is likely to do for people (and, obviously, where it’s appropriate for a civil authority to send a citizen).  I’m sure he thinks that church will be morally improving for the fellow. Which is a possibility, although I don’t think it as likely as the judge probably does.

    I do think that making some kind of significant change in an individual’s social circumstances is far more likely to result in the person getting their life together and not commit crime any more than prison,  which is obviously a better result for everyone (except for people hung up on exacting terrible retribution, I guess).  I think crime is largely a function of social circumstances, and if you want to stop the crime, then you change the social circumstances.

    So I’m kind of with the judge on that point.  Don’t think that church is the way to do it, nor do I have any great alternatives, but assuming that’s part of the intent I like the idea.

     This guy’s a kid who did something stupid and killed someone, and probably feels quite terrible already.  Prison just seems like an incredibly bad idea here, it’d wreck the guy’s life and runs a considerable risk of turning him from a teenager who did something stupid (news at 11!) into a career criminal.  So props to judge for not sending him to prison, too.

    Also, I think restorative justice is a good idea: it personalizes justice for both the victim and the offender, which makes the whole process a lot more meaningful than a faceless state exacting a penalty.  Obviously there are cases where it’s not a good idea, but this strikes me as being the sort of case where restorative justice would be quite appropriate.  Everyone just shrugging their shoulders and going “oh well” doesn’t really seem right, and it’s understandable for the victim (or the victim’s family) to want some kind of restitution.  I doubt this sentence is formally an outcome of a restorative justice process, but there sounds like there might be some degree of it, as the victim’s family have agreed to the sentence.

    If I had killed someone through stupidity, and the victim’s family wanted to see me in church for 10 years, that doesn’t seem all that unreasonable to me.

  • stardreamer42

     I do think that making some kind of significant change in an
    individual’s social circumstances is far more likely to result in the
    person getting their life together and not commit crime any more than
    prison

    I suspect that this is part of the judge’s reasoning — that forcing this guy to get up bright and early to be in church on Sunday morning will make it significantly more difficult for him to be out late getting drunk on Saturday night.

    Unfortunately, I also suspect that this is a minor factor, and that what’s really going on is that the judge is conflating form and function. While it is generally a true statement that good Christians go to church, it is emphatically not true that going to church will make you a good Christian. Formal logic doesn’t work that way, and neither does reality.

  • EllieMurasaki

    I suspect that this is part of the judge’s reasoning — that forcing this guy to get up bright and early to be in church on Sunday morning will make it significantly more difficult for him to be out late getting drunk on Saturday night.

    Yeeeaaaah…no. All that means is he’ll be tired and hungover in church Sunday morning. Assuming he doesn’t do church Saturday evening and then go get drunk. Does the church he’s mandated to attend do Saturday evening services? Catholic churches do.

  • http://heathencritique.wordpress.com/ Ruby_Tea

    I’m reminded of the bit in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, where it is observed that people who attended the earlier Mass got more credit than the people who attended the later Mass…except the earlier attendees were the ones who had stayed up all night already, drinking and partying, so just stayed up and got Mass over with, then went to bed all day.

  • arcseconds

    That reminds me of an anecdote about some famous scholar (whom I’m sure was Scottish, possibly 18th-century, and maybe Thomas Reid), who attained some chair of something-or-other at a university.

    When informed that church attendance on Sunday morning was a requirement of the position, his response was “aye, I’m sure I can stay up that late”.

  • arcseconds

    While it is generally a true statement that good Christians go to church, it is emphatically not true that going to church will make you a good Christian.

    I suspect the first only true if we read ‘good’ as a modifier to ‘Christian’, in the same way as we would normally read ‘a good knife’, i.e. something that fulfills all the requirements of being a knife (or a Christian) well.

    In that case it probably ends up being a tautology, because church attendance is expected of Christians, so someone who meets the expectations of being a Christian will by definition attend church.

    If it’s short-hand for “someone who is both (morally) good and a Christian” I doubt it’s very true at all.   There’s plenty of people who identify themselves as Christian, are fairly good people, but don’t attend church very regularly, if at all.

    Anyway, I don’t think affirming the consequent or confusing material implication (or correlation (*)) and causality is really what’s going on here.  It seems far more likely to me that the judge has thought church is good for people all his adult life — he doesn’t need to get there by a faulty reasoning process.


    (*) you say formal logic, but interestingly conflating correlation with causation would have a similar argument.

  • stardreamer42

     I approach it as formal logic because that’s where I learned about this particular fallacy. The Reader’s Digest version, for those who might be unfamiliar:

    If you have two propositions, A and B, there are 4 possible ways for them to be related by implication:
    1) A implies B (statement)
    2) B implies A (converse)
    3) Not-A implies not-B (inverse)
    4) Not-B implies not-A (contrapositive)

    A statement and its contrapositive are logically equivalent; the converse and inverse of a statement are logically equivalent to each other, but not to the statement. In this particular instance, proposition A is “good people” and proposition B is “go to church”, and I think you can fill in the rest from there.

  • EllieMurasaki

    proposition A is “good people” and proposition B is “go to church”
    Which is logic fail in any event. Not all good people go to church; some go to synagogue, some to mosque, some to temple of one flavor or another, some–crap, brainfart, what’s the word for the meeting place of a neopagan group assembling for religious purposes? And some of course are atheist, agnostic, otherwise nonreligious, don’t do the group worship thing, and/or simply have other things to do during designated religious assembly time.

  • arcseconds

    “good people” and “goes to church” aren’t propositions, though.  They’re predicates (well was ‘”is a good person” is)  You need ‘c is a good person’ and ‘c goes to church’  (where ‘c’ is a proper name, picking out a single individual, I choose ‘c’ because you’ve already used A and B, and conventionally proper names are drawn from the beginning of the alphabet) to make this work as a case of propositional logic.

    Well, sort-of work.

    The problem is that, under the usual reading of ‘implies’ in propositional logic,

    ‘c is a good person implies c goes to church’

    is true so long as c goes to church.  So, for example, to a logician:

    Tony Perkins is a good person implies Tony Perkins goes to church

    is true, despite the fact that Tony Perkins is not a good person.

    if ‘c is a good person implies c goes to church’ is false, then the only way that can be the case is if c in fact doesn’t go to church but is a good person, so we might fill in AnonymousSam(*) for that:

    AnonymousSam is a good person implies AnonymousSam goes to church.

    Here, the converse (did you mean to say ‘converse’, by the way? it’s not surprising that the contrapositive isn’t true if the statement itself isn’t true)  is indeed true in real life:

    AnonymousSam goes to church implies AnonymousSam is  a good person.

    for the same reason the Tony Perkins example is true.

     To anyone who thinks this is odd, well, you’re not alone, and there’s a complex reason for this, which basically boils down to anything else would be too complicated. 

    A better formulation of this would be to deploy the more powerful (and hence more complicated) predicate logic:

    ∀x(x goes to church ⊃ x is a good person)  ‘all people who go to church are good people’

    put like that it’s obviously false: we only need one counter-example to show that, and Tony Perkins will do.
     
    If you like naming all these logical relation thingies, Tony Perkins is an example of the contradictory of the above statement:

    ∃x(x goes to church & x is not a good person) ‘there is a person who goes to church and isn’t good’.


    (*) he doesn’t think of himself as a good person, but he’s just wrong about that. I am making an assumption that he doesn’t go to church, though.

  • arcseconds

     Hmm, might have got sidetracked there to a certain extent.

    Anyway, I think the fallacy you are accusing Norman of is ‘affirming the consequent’, that is,  concluding from

    A implies B

    to

    B implies A

    In other words, he believes something like

    If Tyler goes to church then Tyler is a good person

    (maybe it would be better as ‘If Tyler would only go to church, then he will become a good person’ )

    and concludes:

    If Tyler is a good person, then Tyler goes to church

    (Or maybe ‘If Tyler is to become a good person then he will go to church’)

    Does that sound right? if not, I’ll have to get you to be more explicit about exactly what logical fallacy you think Norman is committing.

    While that is indeed fallacious reasoning, the premise is also questionable, as maybe Tyler isn’t already or won’t become a good person, whether or not he goes to church.

    However, I doubt Normal would agree to any of this.  He probably would agree there’s a chance that church won’t work for Tyler, so his argument probably has a statement like:

    (j) If Tyler goes to church, then he will probably become a better person.

    in it.   And he probably thinks this is causal, i.e. that going to church brings about the betterment. 

    Propositional logic can’t really deal with probabilities, and causality has always been a thorny, thorny issue to even reason about, let alone formalise.   So I don’t think this is really a logical fallacy, properly speaking.   He’s probably got to (j) from something like

    (i)  ∀x(if x goes to church then x will probably become a better person)

    And the step from (i) to (j) looks OK to me – it looks like an instance of universal instantiation.

    If we want to critique this reasoning, then, it’s the reasoning that leads to (i) that’s the problem.

    If there is any reasoning, which I doubt, as I said.  I think he’s probably believed (i) all his life, and is emotionally invested in it, and never really thought about it.  He may well give some kind of reasoning if challenged, but it’ll be post-factum rationalization.

    Assuming he has reasoned about it, then the kinds of mistakes to look for would be confirmation bias and maybe confusing correlation with causation.   Does he actually know sufficiently enough about what happens to people who don’t go to church?  Maybe where he lives only social outcasts don’t go to church, in which case the causality might be both working in the wrong direction and proceeding from a common cause.

    But who knows. Maybe Norman is an excellent epistemic agent and hasn’t made any mistakes at all, he’s just working with data that really does suggest (i).   Moreover,  (i) could actually be true.  Does anyone have any empirical data on this?

  • http://profiles.google.com/marc.k.mielke Marc Mielke

    That is sort of how I see court-mandated 12-step programs. If you’re being forced to go, it’s not likely to benefit you in the slightest. What makes matters worse is that in some cases they tell you exactly which meetings to go to, which allows the overseer to be a complete ass — my sister had to attend meetings for a bit and was told to go to ones clear across the island, because the ones in the church next door weren’t good enough. They also often require attending so many meetings I don’t see how you can be expected to do much else. 

  • http://danel4d.livejournal.com/ Danel

    The mandatory church thing reminds me of a vaguely similar recent case here in the UK – a judge ordered a young burglar to do a number of things including community service, so naturally the papers focused on the part about doing his chores and listening to his mother. The general reaction was outrage at this out-of-touch unelected liberal judge who doesn’t understand that the pain suffered by his victims means he should be locked up for a long, long time.

    I can’t help but wonder if the whole religion aspect of your case will almost serve to short-circuit that aspect; if the right will be so busy focusing on their fight for the right to theocracy that they’ll overlook the part where the kid avoided jail. I mean, the impression I get of the American justice system from this side of the pond was that you imprisoned everyone, for everything. 

    But the church-state thing seems to be coming to a climactic point in the UK at the moment as well, what with the whole woman bishops kerfuffle.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    The thing that boggles MY mind is that I think the kid goes to church ANYWAY, so why is he being sentenced to do what he… already does? (<_<)

  • Lori

     

    The thing that boggles MY mind is that I think the kid goes to church
    ANYWAY, so why is he being sentenced to do what he… already does?
    (<_<)   

    Lots of kids go to church while they live at home because it’s one of those “as long as you’re under my roof” rules, but then stop the minute they get out on their own. I assume that the reasoning is that this guy now doesn’t have that option.

  • Christine

     Actually if he goes to church anyway then the sentence makes sense. “I need you to keep structure and community in your life”, rather than “go to church and you’ll magically become a better person”.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Which invites the question of why was the mandate for going church,
    instead of mandated weekly structured communal activity to be approved
    by the court, choices including but not limited to church and the
    library’s teen book club.

  • PurpleGirl

    I once worked for an educational organization that recruited, trained, and supervised volunteers working with students in the NYC public schools. One year a Civil Court judge got the idea that it would be a good idea to use volunteering in a school as a community service activity. It took some work on our part to convince the judge to not do this. Our point was that we wanted and needed volunteers who desired to help students and who would be doing this activity on an open ended time basis. As a community service activity, the “volunteer” would be present for a limited time and probably not really interested in helping.

  • http://twitter.com/EyeEdinburgh EdinburghEye

    I dunno, Fred: I hate to disagree with you, but I read the judge’s reasoning.  The young man in question got stinking drunk, got into a car, drove into a tree, and killed the person sitting in the passenger seat. That’s manslaughter – homicide by car.

    I can believe that the young man feels absolutely terrible about it right now. I suspect, however, with the passage of time, he will begin to feel less and less terrible about it, unless he has a long-standing reminder of what  he did.

    Nonetheless, I don’t see that sending him to jail for ten years is really going to help anyone.

    I don’t really care if sending him to church makes him hate church or hate religion. I’m an atheist. I don’t really care if he hates spending Sundays in church. If he disagrees with the ideology or religion of every church within walking distance. If having to sit in church every Sunday for ten years makes him loathe the very thought of religion and resolve that when his ten years are up he’s never going to go to church again.

    He killed someone. He did it accidentally but the accident was entirely his fault: he shouldn’t have been driving drunk.  I’m just fine with the idea that he has to go to church for ten years if that’ll make him remember and feel bad about what he did for at least that length of time.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    Would you have felt any different if it had been “electronic monitoring for 10 years”?

    This kind of sentencing is exactly the kind of soft-headed out of touch thing right-wingers always trash judges for when it’s a non-religious method of making amends that doesn’t involve jail time.

  • Carstonio

    Not at all, because these folks likely view church as another stern authority. Many of them probably assume that hellfire-and-damnation ranting will scare the drink out of the kid.

  • Carstonio

    That wrongly assumes that prison was the only alternative to church. Judge Norman would have been justified in sentencing the kid to a secular program for rehabilitation.  The judge could be one of those self-righteous folks who insist that unchurched people  end up living lives of depravity.

  • Lori

     

    I’m just fine with the idea that he has to go to church for ten years if
    that’ll make him remember and feel bad about what he did for at least
    that length of time. 

    It might have that effect but if, as you suppose, the passage of time will make him less aware of his crime then it’s equally or more possible that Fred in correct and all 10 years in church is going to do is make him hate church.  It’s also possible that after many years of mandatory pew-filling he’ll start to see himself as hard done by and actually resent the dead friend more than he feels guilty about him. People can be funny that way when you do something stupid to them.

  • Mrs Grimble

    I’m just fine with the idea that he has to go to church for ten years if
    that’ll make him remember and feel bad about what he did for at least
    that length of time.

    If that’s the purpose of the sentence, then any sort of mandatory activity will do – spending an hour every Sunday copying out, by hand,  500 words from Origin of Species for instance. 
    That sort of sentence would be easy to verify, too – just present the hand-written copy on Monday morning.  How do you check that somebody is attending church every Sunday for 10 years?

  • Lori

     

    How do you check that somebody is attending church every Sunday for 10 years?   

    Require written confirmation from the pastor or some other authority figure in the church. Mega churches get all the press, but most churches are small enough that the minister would know if the guy was there or not.

  • http://heathencritique.wordpress.com/ Ruby_Tea

    I wonder if they’re supposed to confirm in writing that he hasn’t been listening to his iPod during the entire service.

  • Lori

    I wonder if they’re supposed to confirm in writing that he hasn’t been listening to his iPod during the entire service.  

    I wonder if he could get away plugging in an tuning out, even without it being a formal part of the sentence (which seems unlikely) ? People in whatever congregation he attends are going to know why he’s there. I suspect he’ll be subject to a great deal of informal monitoring and social pressure to at least appear to be engaged with the service. 

  • http://heathencritique.wordpress.com/ Ruby_Tea

    I imagine the young man is already getting some practice in religion, and has uttered the following words many, many times:

    “Thank God I’m white.”

  • Lori

    Knowing nothing more about him than his age, state of residence and the fact that his family agreed that 10 years of church was an acceptable sentence I’d say that he has never uttered those words even once. Not because they aren’t true, but because he’s so steeped in the privilege that goes with his skin color that it doesn’t even occur to him to be grateful for it.

  • http://kivikettu.blogspot.fi/ Rakka

    So he changed the world for the worse for himself and the victim’s family. How is his mandatory church attendance going to change the world for the better? It’s not going to help anyone. And that’s not even touching the issue of freedom of religion.

  • aunursa

    For anyone interested in a conservative perspective on this story…

    Sentenced to ten years. In church.
    Leaving aside for the moment the question of whether or not this is fair “punishment” for the crime in question, does the order to attend church each week have the potential to do anything positive, either for the convict or society at large? And is this even constitutional?

    From the comments…

    Faith, devotion and worship should not be a form of punishment.
    Cindy Mumford on November 24, 2012 at 7:13 PM

  • http://loosviews.livejournal.com BringTheNoise

    Your Constitutional rights are made forfeit once you’ve been found guilty of a crime.

    “StoicPatriot”, from the same link. Cherrypicking doesn’t prove a damn thing.

  • AnonaMiss

     Be nice. He doesn’t appear to be trying to prove anything, and he’s at least giving some context for his linkdrops now.

    I’m reading through the comments there myself and they’re mostly sane and reasonable – but pretty much the same as what Fred’s already said and what I’d expect to see here, with different cultural references of course.

  • AnonaMiss

    …I submitted that right before coming to a 20+ comment block of crazy. Thanks for demonstrating me wrong, Hot Air commentariat.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Patrick-McGraw/100001988854074 Patrick McGraw

    Your Constitutional rights are made forfeit once you’ve been found guilty of a crime.

    “StoicPatriot”, from the same link.

    Head, meet desk.

  • Tricksterson

    Not as far off as you think.  He’s probably referencing Section 1 of the 13th Amendment:

    Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted

    Probably subsequent cases have nuamced that though.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Does the Eighth Amendment not exist anymore? Because it is plausible that all the other constitutional rights go poof upon conviction (it is blatantly false and the very thought is abhorrent, but it is plausible), but the Eighth Amendment talks about fines and punishments, which means that amendment (the bits that aren’t about bail, anyway) cannot come into play until after conviction.

  • Carstonio

    The constitutional questions raised by the sentencing are more important. Shaw pays lip service to them but still wrongly treats Christianity as normative. He doesn’t ask whether an order to attend a synagogue or mosque or stupa would have the potential to do anything positive. A truly honest attempt at nonsectarianism might involve the judge drawing a name of a local house of worship at random, and that still might conflict with the defendant’s own beliefs. 

  • Albanaeon

    Hmm…  Given the statistics, it might be more productive to read ‘Origin of Species” and Dawkins “God is Not Great” and all sorts of other atheistic things.  We’re less likely to be in prison and other bad things. 

    Of course this is as ridiculous as the judges original sentence, but at least has some statistics behind it…

  • Deborah Moore

    This isn’t as far from the norm as you might think.  Marc talks about mandated attendance at 12 step programs, which is bad enough.   Another alternative is mandated  residential treatment.  Some residential treatment centers, like Salvation Army, are sectarian and make church attendance a condition of residence.  So judges do order people to attend sectarian treatment that includes sectarian services, or face jail.  (No first hand experience, but some pretty close second hand).

  • Kubricks_Rube

    Anyone else thinking of A Clockwork Orange?

    “We are not concerned with motives, with the higher ethics. We are concerned only with cutting down crime and with relieving the ghastly congestion in our prisons. He will be your true Christian, ready to turn the other cheek, ready to be crucified rather than crucify, sick to the heart at the thought of killing a fly. Reclamation! Joy before the angels of God! The point is that it works.”

  • Wingedwyrm

     Actually, what I think is happening here goes too far in the other direction.  The particulars of this case give the hallmarks of someone who is unlikely to repeat the offense.  Or, at least the judge and the victim’s family believes that to be the case.

    This puts them in the unique position of having a convicted offender of whom they do not have to worry about producing behavioral changes.  So, they’re trying to make him a better person with the notion that religious observation (no doubt with the unstated assumption that we’re talking about the “right kind of religion”) grafts morality onto souls.

    It’s worth noting that, at least in the movie, Alex DeLarge has no possibility of being made into a better soul by religion.  He is the textbook sexual sadist psychopath, deriving pleasure from causing pain and having absolutely no empathy or conscience to spur him to regulate his own behavior.  The priest to whom your quote responds didn’t do anything that would have made DeLarge a better person, but only gave him an easily manipulated system

    And, I think that is where the error lies, both in terms of the sentence and the Kentucky law.  They aren’t making anybody any better, but they are presenting a system that can be manipulated in order to convince a subset of people that they, the offender and the Kentucky, are better through religion.  That the subset of those fooled into believing in this religion caused improvement can include the people of Kentucky and the young offender themselves is part of the problem.

  • Lori

      The particulars of this case give the hallmarks of someone who is
    unlikely to repeat the offense.  Or, at least the judge and the victim’s
    family believes that to be the case.  

    DUI actually has a pretty high recidivism rate and having killed someone in an accident doesn’t by any means automatically stop someone from doing it again. Not even when that someone was quite dear to the drunk driver. 

    I obviously don’t know how engrained the guy’s drinking behavior is. His age certainly doesn’t mean that he doesn’t have a drinking problem and a well-entrenched habit of driving drunk. My point being that he may actually be in need of behavior change. Change that is generally quite difficult. If he does need to change his drinking behavior simply going to church is not likely to produce good results.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    The biggest problem I have with sentences like this is that killing someone with a car should be treated exactly like killing someone with a gun.

    If this kid had drunkenly waved a gun around and then blasted it off and killed someone, chances are he’d have been bunged in Supermax on a manslaughter conviction and then had extra added on for unlawful discharge of a firearm and careless use thereof, plus maybe even further restrictions if the gun wasn’t his to begin with.

    Judges are still treating motor vehicle-caused deaths too lightly. I always darkly remark that if I ever wanted to get away with murder I would get blind drunk, and have a confederate tell me when to race my car down an alley at my intended target, and end up probably walking due to diminished capacity.

  • http://lliira.dreamwidth.org/ Lliira

    I don’t think killing someone with a car should be treated exactly like killing someone with a gun. People do have accidents — tires go flat, the roads are slippery, people just plain make mistakes. And often the person who makes the bigger mistake is the one who dies. 

    A couple years back, a woman in my neighborhood hit and killed a child on a bike. The child zoomed his bike out from between parked SUVs into the middle of an extremely busy street where the speed limit is 45 mph. There is no way the woman could have prevented that accident. Some assholes were calling for her to be sentenced to life or punished in some other terrible way — until the parents of the child took the media by the throat and screamed, repeatedly, that it was not the woman’s fault. 

    Drinking and driving is a different matter and should most definitely carry far stiffer penalties than it does. 

  • Andrew

     “The biggest problem I have with sentences like this is that killing
    someone with a car should be treated exactly like killing someone with a
    gun.”

    That’s the way it once was, according to this historian

    http://www.theatlanticcities.com/commute/2012/04/invention-jaywalking/1837/

    “But at the beginning of the 20th century, traffic deaths – particularly the deaths of children – drew enormous attention.

    “If a child is struck and killed by a car in 2012, it is treated as a
    private loss, to be grieved privately by the family,” Norton says.
    “Before, this stuff was treated as a public loss – much like the death
    of soldiers.” Mayors dedicated monuments to the victims of traffic
    crimes, accompanied by marching bands and children dressed in white,
    carrying flowers.

    “We’re talking less about laws than we are about norms,” says Norton. He cites a 1923 editorial from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch
    – a solidly mainstream institution, as he points out. The paper opined
    that even in the case of a child darting out into traffic, a driver who
    disclaimed responsibility was committing “the perjury of a murderer.”

    Norton explains that in the automobile’s earliest years, the principles
    of common law applied to crashes. In the case of a collision, the
    larger, heavier vehicle was deemed to be at fault. The responsibility
    for crashes always lay with the driver.”

  • http://lliira.dreamwidth.org/ Lliira

    You’re an atheist and you want the church and state to be so intimately tied that the church can be used as a proxy for prison. 

    I am an atheist. What you said is one of the most ignorant things I’ve ever seen. Congratulations, you’ve shocked me. 

    ETA: This is in reply to EdinburghEye. I have to wonder from the name if the commenter knows what the climate is like in the U.S. regarding religion. I have to think not.

  • mud man

    I’m in favor of sending evildoers up in front of the judge, but I don’t exactly want them sent there for punishment. Grace is what we need, not Judgement.

    Either way, mandatory church attendance is unlikely to be effective. I’ve been thinking along these lines about the junior youth group. 

  • Münchner Kindl

    So one Judge violates his oath to uphold the constitution and nothing happens because everybody agrees; One unconstitutional law has been on the books for 6 years and not been struck down – tell me again how soldiers keep your freedom or how the 2nd amendment guns keep your democracy?
    Or, more serious, why are not more people worried about this? Why does there have to be “legal standing” to challenge an unconstitutional law, instead of “every concerned citizen”?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Patrick-McGraw/100001988854074 Patrick McGraw

    Or, more serious, why are not more people worried about this?

    Because to many people in the US, including some of my relatives, this is what “religious freedom” means. Their freedom to imposed their religion on others.

    Why does
    there have to be “legal standing” to challenge an unconstitutional law,
    instead of “every concerned citizen”?

    Interesting question. The need to have someone violate an unjust law to bring it before the court system is a pretty significant limitation. What other processes are available that you consider effective?

  • Münchner Kindl

     Like I said, any “concerned citizen” or, if you think that would result in too many nonsense appeals, limit it to groups like the ACLU and political parties.

  • Dan Audy

    Many (most?) countries don’t have the same exacting standards regarding standing that the US does.  Instead of having to prove that you’ve already been harmed by a law most countries allow that someone in your position could potentially be impacted by it to allow a challenge.  Which avoids the stupidity of being unable to challenge to stop the government from illegally spying on you because you can’t prove that it is illegally spying on you.

  • Lori

    Why does there have to be “legal standing” to challenge an unconstitutional law, instead of “every concerned citizen”?  

    Does your country have a system where anyone can bring a court case just because they’re concerned about something? I’m guessing that you don’t because the burden on the court system would be unsupportable.

    I realize that you have very strong beliefs in the near-magical qualities of “how it obviously ought to be”, but sometimes things actually have to be hashed out.

  • Münchner Kindl

     I wasn’t talking about court cases in general, but in the special case of Constitutional Court and laws that are unconstitutional. And yes, political parties for example (usually the opposition) can take laws to the Constitution, because it’s one of the things that was fixed from the earlier version where people had Constitutional rights but no way to pursue them in courts, and thus no actual way to get their rights recognized.

    I realize that you have very strong beliefs in the near-magical
    qualities of “how it obviously ought to be”, but sometimes things
    actually have to be hashed out.

    No, I don’t believe in magic. I believe however, in looking at how other countries are doing it, asking if this makes more sense or is better, and if yes, then implementing it. That’s because I don’t believe that magically the US constitution is the bestest ever because the Founding Fathers had magic powers. I also don’t magically believe that the US is the only home of freedom and real democracy in this world (because every other country is socalist and not-democratic or whatever) and thus the only lightbringer to bring these goods to other countries by sending soldiers.


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