Oklahoma District Court Judge Mike Norman sentenced Tyler Alred, 17, a maximum 10-year deferred sentence after he pleaded guilty to first-degree manslaughter in August for killing friend and passenger John Luke Dum in a car crash.
Alred was 16 at the time of the crash that killed his friend and had been drinking prior to the deadly accident.
To avoid jail time, Alred must wear a drug and alcohol bracelet, graduate from high school, participate in counseling groups and attend a church of his choosing – weekly.
That’s right; Judge Norman sentenced an admitted killer to attend church.
However, Judge Mike Norman is not the only judge who sees the obvious connection between religion and rehabilitation.
Non-violent offenders in Bay Minette, Alabama now have a choice some would call simple: do time behind bars or work off the sentence in church.
As part of Operation Restore Our Community or "ROC" 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.
Bay Minette Police Chief Mike Rowland says the ROC program will be cost-effective and could change the lives of many people heading down the wrong path.
So far, 56 churches in North Baldwin County are participating in ROC.
But programs mixing religion and rehabilitation don’t pass muster with liberals.
Randall Coyne, a professor of law at the University of Oklahoma, said the church-attendance condition probably wouldn't withstand a legal challenge but that someone would have to file such a challenge.
"It raises legal issues because of (the separation of) church and state," he said.
Coyne said defense lawyers in other cases have successfully challenged orders that their clients attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings because of AA's spiritual component.
Liberal DC law professor Professor Jonathan Turley also has expressed opposition to “creative” sentencing that involves religion, criticizing a Kentucky judge who offered similar church attendance versus drug counseling sentences.
The problem is that, as Prison Fellowship’s Pat Nolan put it, "At its root, crime is a moral problem."
Unfortunately, traditional prison and probation programs fail to address the moral aspects behind the crime. Without religion or some other means of establishing a “moral compass” in those convicted of crime, the state has little or no basis upon which to teach morality to those it incarcerates or whose behavior it is attempting to monitor and modify through probation.
This is in stark contrast to Christian-based programs with a spiritual and moral formation part of the program based on the life and teaching of Jesus Christ. A study of such a program, Prison Fellowship's Christian-based program in Texas, found that only 8 percent of graduates were reincarcerated after two years – a remarkable success rate compared to the national reincarceration rate.
Liberals can’t have it both ways – if they want a judicial system focused on rehabilitation, instead of a prison system focused on punishment, then re-establishing a “moral compass” in those convicted of crime ought to be their highest priority, and where better is there to do that than at church?