The announcement of a new program in Bay Minette, Alabama has garnered nationwide attention due to the questions it poses regarding the separation of church and state. Bay Minette’s non-violent misdemeanor offenders will now get a choice: jail time or regular attendance at a local church.
“Operation ROC resulted from meetings with church leaders,” Bay Minette Police Chief Mike Rowland said. “It was agreed by all the pastors that at the core of the crime problem was the erosion of family values and morals. We have children raising children and parents not instilling values in young people.” Rowland said the idea was simple: get people who are not yet hardened criminals to become involved in positive programs — hundreds of free resources offered by some 104 churches in the region with 56 agreeing to help monitor first-time, nonviolent offenders. Under the program, pastors would report weekly to the chief and offenders in the program would bring a signed sheet to prove they attended church. They would also have to answer some questions about the services, Rowland said. And the offenders who voluntarily choose church over jail get to pick the churches they attend. If they complete a year’s attendance, Rowland said, their criminal case would be dismissed.
“Some critics say the program definitely crosses the line between church and state, with some minority religious groups shut out of participation because few mosques or synagogues exist in the area. And atheists would have no option, Rowland said, but to pick another alternative sentencing program.”
In short, the choice isn’t “church or jail,” the choice is “Christian church or jail.” Could any Jew, Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, atheist or Pagan truly submit themselves to Christian pastoral oversight for a full year, with mandatory church attendance and quizzes on the sermons? If they did, wouldn’t conversion be an implied requirement? Your soul seems a high price to pay to avoid jail-time if you get busted smoking pot (or any other non-violent misdemeanor). Your only hope for getting a non-Christian option may be if you’re from out of town and you get busted, but I’m assuming the judge would have to approve the venue. Would a coven count? If not, then this program isn’t constitutional, and saying its “optional” isn’t really true. When given the option between jail and church, who wouldn’t prefer freedom? Expect a legal showdown very soon.