In a breathtaking assault on the First Amendment, The town of Bay Minette, Alabama has decided to give non-violent offenders a “choice”: jail time or a year of attending church.
Operation Restore Our Community or “ROC”…begins next week. The city judge will either let misdemenor offenders work off their sentences in jail and pay a fine or go to church every Sunday for a year.
If offenders elect church, they’re allowed to pick the place of worship, but must check in weekly with the pastor and the police department. If the one-year church attendance program is completed successfully, the offender’s case will be dismissed.
Make no mistake about it. This is a test case to bring before the Supreme Court. The goal here is not to “change the lives of many people heading down the wrong path” as Bay Minette Police Chief Mike Rowland claims. The goal is to circumvent the First Amendment entirely.
According to Chief Rowland:
…the program is legal and doesn’t violate separation of church and state issues because it allows the offender to choose church or jail…and the church of their choice.
If you’ve been following me for a while, this highly dubious line of reasoning should sound disturbingly familiar. I covered this exact legal chicanery back in July:
The Establishment Clause forbids government money to be used to by an organization to evangelize as part of the disbursement of those funds. In other words, if you take government money to feed the hungry, you cannot promote your religion while doing so. Also, under no circumstances, can you withhold services based on your religious beliefs.
Vouchers, on the other hand, eliminate this prickly proselytization problem. The legal argument goes like this: Since the money is not coming directly from the government, all bets are off. By giving the voucher to the “consumer,” the choice of where to spend that money is solely up to them. The Establishment Clause does not apply.
By making it a “choice” the powers that be in this town are looking to set a precedent that would have far reaching ramifications. Much like the repeated attempts of Creationists to force religion into schools, so, too, would this force religion into the courtroom. No doubt the more conservatively religious the judge the more stark the choice will become. Six weeks in jail or one year of church for littering. A $10,000 fine or two years of church for jaywalking. The opportunity for abuse and proselytization become limited only by the fanaticism of the judiciary in a given area.
If you doubt this, ask yourself this: What are the chances a Christian judge would offer the condemned the opportunity to serve their sentence at a Mosque? Yeah, that’s what I thought…