Jail or Jesus

See this story on CNN.

The basic jist of it is, for non-violent misdemeanor convictions, the convictee is given a choice: Jail, Fine, or Church. You can do your 30 days (or whatever), or pony up your $500 (or whatever) or attend church every Sunday for a year.

“The goal of the program is to help steer those who are not yet hardened criminals the chance to turn their lives around. Those who choose to go to church (there are no mosques or synagogues in the area) will have to check in with a pastor and the police department each week, CNN affiliate WKRG reported. Once you attend church every week for a year the case would be dismissed.”

The debate: How the fuck does this pass constitutional muster?

‘Oh, well you’re just given the *option *of Church …’ yeah, as an alternative to losing your freedom, or your money. I suppose I could choose not to give a mugger my wallet as long as I can live him shooting me as an alternative option.

And what about those moral young Christians who already attend church every Sunday, before they’re convicted of a crime? Get out of jail free card?
This ought to be shot down faster than you can say “American Civil Liberties Union” … followed by the inevitible whining about God being removed from the public sphere.

Well, first, define “attend”. How long would I have to stay at the church? Ten minutes? Twenty? I would make a point of determining the absolute rock-bottom minimum of my participation. Then I’d spend that time in the back pew, playing games on my cellphone.

Part of me wants this stopped in its tracks, but my malicious, snarky side wants to watch the fun when they try to implement this. Can you elect to go to a synagogue? A mosque? Suppose you choose to attend the Episcopalian Church in a gated community? Maybe the ACLU can be bribed to hold off for about six months or so.

You know what they say, an Episcopalian is a Methodist with money, and a Methodist is a Baptist with shoes…

What synagogue? What mosque? There are none in the area, per the article. Chrissakes, this is Alabama we’re talking about. This is prix fixe, not a buffet.

And what gets my goat the most is this shit about, “we want to give them the opportunity of turning their lives around by going to church.” Good idea. Nobody who goes to church ever commits crimes.

So, I can skip jail/fine by napping for sixty minutes each Sunday morning? Halleluiah!!!

Well, the pastor you’d be required to report to might have something to say about your participation levels, I imagine.

I honestly don’t know whether or not this is constitutional, but I feel it necessary to buck the trend here: I’d gladly pay (say) a $300 fine rather than have to drag myself to church every week for a year. The calculus changes for a $3,000 fine …

I’m actually a little skivvy on the jail or fine choice too. Doesn’t really seem fair that you can buy your way out of prison.

(what I’d do is go rob a house before my trial. If they didn’t catch me, I could use the proceeds to pay my fine for the first crime. If they did catch me, I would go rob a bigger house to pay the fines for both crimes. If I was caught for this third crime, I’d go rob an even bigger house…etc. Eventually I presumably would get good enough at burglary to not get caught.)

I don’t think that it possibly can.

And my feelings about the value of church are probably well-known enough here to discount any possibility that my opinion arises from dislike of the plan. I think it would probably have more good effect than bad.

But it’s totally unconstitutional.

Alabama is full of crackers, true, and they are not as sophisticated as the peckerwoods I grew up with. But still, we had several Jews in Waco, TX! Though mostly they were in Temple…

There’s no way it’s constitutional, because it would amount to the (state) government mandating not only religion, but a particular type of religion (Christianity, as there mosques and synagogues are geographically excluded).

So even if the state constitution would allow it (which I doubt, even though I’m unfamiliar with Alabama’s constitution), the US Constitution would forbid it under the first amendment.

But like elucidator, part of me wants the state to try and enforce it. Legal hilarity would ensue and make the morons who started this idiocy look all the more foolish.

On the other hand, the whole thing’s been postponed.

I love this quote though:

Sure, it’s legal. Redneck fuckwad.

In fact, that bastion of liberalism the Mississippi Supreme Court (warning: PDF) not only stated that a judge’s requiring church attendance as a condition of bail was improper, but reprimanded the judge that did so and suspended her for thirty days (other misconduct also contributed to this sanction, but the practice of requiring church attendance was specifically mentioned as one of the aspects of her wilful misconduct.)

Here’s what I’d like to see:

Since most religious people count atheism as a religion (though most atheists would not), I would want to be allowed to attend an atheist “church”. And since, I’d probably be the only atheist around, I would declare my own home to be an atheist church, and myself to be the pastor. Therefore, I could stay at home every Sunday as long as I checked in with myself.

Well, here comes ol’ Buzzkill Bricker, with his bucket of cold water again!

Actually, your “only” option is not “Church or Jail.” You have a third option: Don’t Commit Crimes!

In this case, we’re dealing solely with people who’ve committed misdemeanors. If a first time offender commits a minor crime (vandalism, drunk driving, criminal mischief, whatever), is it so outlandish that a judge might want to offer alteratives to jail time?

If the ONLY alternative to jail is going to a PARTICULAR church, I have a big problem with that. On the other hand, if there are several different options (“You can go to an approved house of worship for a year OR spend 100 hours peeling potatoes at a local soup kitchen OR spend 100 hours emptying bedpans at a public hospital OR spend 100 hours picking up trash by the side of the road…”), I don’t see the harm.

Well, what if it was a non-religious church. Scientology, maybe? Anyone who agrees can either raise his hand or jump up and down on a couch.

I see what you did there.

I kinda doubt Scientology is interested in just having people attend. If the judge extended the penalty to having to pay for auditing, maybe…

It’s not outlandish the judge would offer alternatives to jail time, but the offer of attending any house of worship should violate the separation of church and state, and more specifically the first amendment against establishing a religion.

Simply put, a member of the government of the United States (local, state or federal) has no right to enforce religion into people’s lives. It’s simply unconstitutional and morally wrong.

I agree. Do you use the same analysis with offers of avoiding jail time in return for AA attendance?

Now one further step away, what about using attendance to prison chapel as an indication that parole should be offered? Or conversion to Christianity as a mitigating factor in death penalty cases?

My personal view is the AA one is also unconstitutional, the parole one troubling and unconstitutional under my analysis but not under SCOTUS’s current view (how dare they disagree with me!), and the death penalty one is constitutional (though troubles me a little, but more because it shows the mindset of jurors).