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Perspectives, Worship in the News

A Violation of the Separation of Church and State?…A different spin on 52 Weeks of Worship

So…if you commit a non-violent crime in this Alabama town, you can go to jail, or agree to attend church every Sunday for a year in order to “do your time.” Curious. Check out the following story, reported by CNN’s Belief Blog.

If you’re charged with a nonviolent crime in one Alabama town, you might just have the chance to pray it all away.

Starting this week, under a new program called Operation ROC (Restore Our Community), local judges in Bay Minette, Alabama, will give those found guilty of misdemeanors the choice of serving out their time in jail, paying a fine or attending church each 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.

Police Chief Mike Rowland said the measure is one that would help save money and help direct people down the right path. Rowland told WKRG it costs $75 a day to house each inmate.

“Longevity is the key,” he told WKRG.

He said he believes 30-day drug programs don’t have the long-term capabilities to heal someone in the ways the ROC program might.

Police in the town said they think it is a simple choice, but others think it’s a choice that shouldn’t even be offered.

The ACLU in Alabama said the idea is “blatantly unconstitutional,” according to the Alabama Press-Register.

“It violates one basic tenet of the Constitution, namely that government can’t force participation in religious activity,” Olivia Turner, executive director for the ACLU of Alabama told the paper.

Rowland acknowledged there were concerns about separation of church and state complaints but said he didn’t see it as too big of a problem because offenders weren’t being forced to attend church, they are just being given the option.

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.

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