Officials in Bay Minette, Alabama delayed a new program that would allow some nonviolent offenders to choose church over jail after a civil liberties group objected.
The “Operation Restore Our Community” initiative was slated to begin this week, but the southwest Alabama city’s legal team will take another look after the American Civil Liberties Union sent a cease-and-desist letter Monday.
What were they thinking? The officials in Bay Minette, I mean.
I saw a small article about this tucked into a corner of an issue of the NY Daily News a few days ago and decided to look up more information about it online. The Daily article didn’t mention anything about the ACLU or a protest; it was just all glowing and positive, and I couldn’t help but wonder if the reporter had suddenly forgotten about the separation of church and state provision in the US Constitution.
Reading the Daily article, I was mentally transported back to a time (a.k.a. the Dark Ages) when the Church presided over the sentencing and punishment/rehabilitation of criminals. I thought we’d covered this ground already and gotten past it with that whole Enlightenment thing that happened in Europe. The founding fathers of this country didn’t introduce the separation of church and state into the Constitution on a whim.
The officials mentioned in the article are trying to hide the obvious, that this is a drive to get criminals on the ‘right path’ by converting them to Christianity through extended exposure. They’re instead claiming the weekly ‘check-ins’ are just for the purpose of accountability, and to access community based resources to help them fix their lives.
I wonder if such a thinly veiled excuse to get people into local churches will stand up in court? I wouldn’t be surprised, since people can win lawsuits over spilled hot coffee, but I can’t believe that anyone would have thought that this would be OK, or that it would be true to the principles that this country stands for. I’m not against churches. I’m not against Christians practicing religion, but when you give someone an option of going to jail or going to church for a year, it’s not really a choice at all. It’s more like a European telling natives in a newly ‘discovered’ land that they can either convert or be sold into slavery, or perhaps killed. Freedom under a new religion will be preferable to a loss of liberty for most people.
There are reasons why church and state are separated in this country. The US is diverse. There are people of all faiths here and people who choose not to have any faith at all. It’s one of our freedoms, and we should never be forced to choose between going to church or going to jail, even if the person in question is guilty of a crime. A secular law system requires secular consequences.