Short-Sighted Sentence: Okla. Judge's Church-Attendance Mandate Is Wrong
Rob Boston printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Mon Nov 26, 2012 at 12:43:38 PM EST

On Dec. 4, 2011, Tyler Alred, an Oklahoma teenager who had been drinking, ran a truck into a tree. His passenger and friend, 16-year-old John Dum, was killed.

That's tragic. I doubt anyone would argue that Alred doesn't deserve to be punished. But an Oklahoma judge's response to the matter has been curious, to say the least: District Judge Mike Norman has sentenced Alred to attend church weekly for the next 10 years.

Religion News Service (RNS) reported that the church attendance requirement is one of several conditions that Norman imposed on Alred. The judge also ordered him to finish high school and complete welding school.

Norman admits that the sentence doesn't pass constitutional muster, but he doesn't seem to care.

"Both families were satisfied with the decision," Norman said. "I talked to the district attorney before I passed sentence. I did what I felt like I needed to do."

Worse yet, Norman has admitted he has imposed church attendance requirements in the past, although not in criminal cases.

Attorneys with Americans United are looking into the matter, and the Oklahoma branch of the American Civil Liberties Union is investigating as well. The ACLU has announced that it will file a complaint against Norman with the Oklahoma Council on Judicial Complaints.

Simply rushing into court to sue over the sentence isn't likely to work. To sue over a matter like this, an individual must prove that he or she is being harmed by the government's action. The only person who probably meets this standard is Alred.

Not surprisingly, Alred is apparently uninterested. I have no idea what his beliefs about religion are, but my guess is that he sees a requirement to attend church as a better deal than going to prison. Indeed, RNS reported that both Alred and Dum's family agreed to the terms of the sentence.

But that doesn't make the sentence right. Aside from the constitutional issues, this sentence raises a host of other problems. Primarily, it treats church attendance as a type of punishment. I don't think most pastors want their services to be viewed this way.

Also, who is going to enforce this requirement? Does Alred have to get a note signed by the minister every weekend? Does it matter what church he attends? Can he shop around to different congregations? What if he misses a week? (By the way, it's pretty clear that Alred might want to steer clear of the mosques and synagogues, Norman told The New York Times, "I think Jesus can help anybody. I know I need help from him every day.")

The Rev. Bruce Prescott, an Americans United activist in Oklahoma and head of Mainstream Oklahoma Baptists, told Religion News Service that the requirement is a bad idea.

"I'm a minister," Prescott said. "I want people to go to church, but it's not helpful for a judge to sentence someone to church. What will the judge do if the young man changes his affiliation in the next few years? Will he be allowed to switch to a mosque or become an atheist? Religion is not a tool of the state, and it's certainly not for the state to use as a tool of rehabilitation."

Prescott is exactly right. People should attend houses of worship because they want to - not because they are compelled to be there. Norman's sentence is short-sighed and plainly unconstitutional. All legal avenues should be explored to nullify it.




Display:
I wonder if the pastor at a church where Alred would attend would have standing in court, arguing that the congregation s/he heads is harmed by having someone in their midst who is compelled to be there rather than freely accepting their doctrine and style of worship.

by MLouise on Mon Nov 26, 2012 at 04:48:34 PM EST
I don't think that any of the dominionist churches, or even the conservative ones, would complain.  They're used to people being coerced into coming to their services, and at least for the churches we had "experiences" with, thought anything was fair in trying to convert people.  Using poverty and economics to pressure people is (in my worldview) just as bad as using the law and threat of punishment.

I think going after the judge himself for imposing sentences like this may be the only way to deal with it, unless Alred were to attend a sympathetic liberal church... and since they'd oppose the judge sentencing him to church attendance, he probably will avoid churches like that.

(I'm trying to remember, but I believe some of the Florida judges do the same - at least at the civil level.  I think I remember cases where it was mentioned as part of the "deal".)


by ArchaeoBob on Mon Nov 26, 2012 at 05:34:34 PM EST
Parent



said that Alred attends a church with his family, so the order to attend a weekly church service is no imposition on him. I don't think the denomination of his church was in the story, but I know it was not stipulated by the judge. Still, I had the same reaction as you did, Rob, when I read about it. I'm a Baha'i. If I found myself in Alred's place in this court, where might I be sentenced? Somebody needs to bring the law down on this character.

by eeyore on Mon Nov 26, 2012 at 09:37:10 PM EST

Did the judge include substance abuse counseling for this young man?   I would hope that getting him into an alcohol abuse counseling program should be part of his sentence rather than just making him pray.  The finishing high school and completing welding school is actually a very positive sentence that will hopefully help him turn his life around, the whole church-attendance thing doesn't sit well with me.  I know that judges can be imperious jerks, but the violation of church and state issue here really bothers me -- and it still would, even if I wasn't a Pagan/Wiccan.

by coralsea on Mon Nov 26, 2012 at 11:41:01 PM EST

Constable from the next county bragged to me he sentenced youth to attend church.  He told me he checked this out with the local D.A. who assured him he violated no statues in doing so. Local church now gets federal funds to feed children before getting them into indoctrination sessions.

by wilkyjr on Tue Nov 27, 2012 at 09:25:55 AM EST

I am an Eastern Orthodox Christan.  I would love it if people were sentenced to attend my church. they would be amazed, but confused if they were used to evangelical services.

by rdrjames on Mon Dec 03, 2012 at 12:38:52 AM EST


WWW Talk To Action


An Opus Focus on SCOTUS? (Part 1)
Re "A Sharp Turn for the Supreme Court on Abortion" : I am a rheumatologist caring for a patient whose lupus nephritis is flaring.......
By Frank Cocozzelli (4 comments)
An Opus Focus on SCOTUS? (Part 2)
The following is the second installment of a three part sub-series regarding the influence of non-mainstream, ultra-traditional Catholics now sitting on the US Supreme......
By Frank Cocozzelli (4 comments)
An Opus Focus on SCOTUS? (Part 3)
"The reaction of people of faith to this tendency of democracy to obscure the divine authority behind government should not be resignation to it,......
By Frank Cocozzelli (8 comments)
Access Denied: The Religious Right Opens Up A New Front On Its War Against Birth Control
Some commentators continue to insist that the U.S. Supreme Court's recent decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores was no big deal. It's a......
By Rob Boston (0 comments)
William Barber Takes Us to Church at Netroots Nation
Rev. Dr. William Barber II, the leader of the Moral Mondays movement in North Carolina gave a rousing, perhaps historic keynote speech at Netroots......
By Frederick Clarkson (0 comments)
Hobby Lobby Case Linked To Secretive National Prayer Breakfast Group, "The Family"
As I introduce my new Center Against Religious Extremism report Hobby Lobby Case Linked To Secretive National Prayer Breakfast Group, "The Family"), In 2010......
By Bruce Wilson (2 comments)
Lessons in Taking the Long View in the Long Form
Historian Leo P. Ribuffo recently published a wise and erudite essay at History News Network. In it he discusses trends among historians regarding how......
By Frederick Clarkson (0 comments)
Missing Pieces of the Story of Sun Myung Moon
The recent coverage of the life and death of Richard Mellon Scaife, a transformational figure in recent American history, was pretty underwhelming. (Fortunately, our......
By Frederick Clarkson (5 comments)
When I Won One Over My Old (Former) Friend Jerry Falwell
July 13th was the anniversary of our friend Jerry Sloan's confrontation on live television with Moral Majority founder, the late Reverend Jerry Falwell. This......
By JerrySloan (1 comment)
Vatican Defrocks A Bishop Over Sexual Abuse - But Not Finn.
Pope Francis recently indicated he is serious about ending child sex abuse and cover-ups by Catholic prelates by defrocking a former apostolic nuncio (a......
By Frank Cocozzelli (2 comments)
Bob Jones University and the Real Roots of the Religious Right
Historian Randall Balmer notes writing in Christian Ethics Today, that the real beginnings of the Religious Right lies not in 1973 Roe v. Wade,......
By wilkyjr (2 comments)
Becket Or Wreck It?: Little-Known Religious Right Group At Heart Of Hobby Lobby Case
The Supreme Court's recent (and horrendous) ruling in the Hobby Lobby case dealing with workers' access to contraceptives has turned the spotlight on the......
By Rob Boston (0 comments)
Bishop DiMarzio's Stilted Hobby Lobby Analogy
Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio, the overseer of the Diocese of Brooklyn-Queens New York, recently weighed in on the recent US Supreme Court decision in Burwell......
By Frank Cocozzelli (1 comment)
The Creeping Risk of Theocratic Violence
Imagine if you will, that some of those who once thought America could be restored to the bright, shining Christian Nation they believe had......
By Frederick Clarkson (4 comments)
Matt Staver Warns Pastors, Silence is Not an Option
Liberty Universities' Matt Staver, apparent new spokesman for Jerry Falwell's University, mailed out a DVD to encourage "pastors & patriots."  Matt is head of......
By wilkyjr (2 comments)

Republican infighting in Mississippi
After a bruising GOP runoff election for U.S. Senator, current MS Senator Thad Cochran has retained his position and will face Travis Childers (Democrat) in the next senate election. The MS GOP is fractured......
COinMS (1 comment)
America's Most Convenient Bank® refuses to serve Christians
Representatives of a well known faith-based charitable organization were refused a New Jersey bank’s notarization service by an atheist employee. After inquiring about the nature of the non-profit organization and the documents requiring......
Jody Lane (3 comments)
John Benefiel takes credit for GOP takeover of Oklahoma
Many of you know that Oklahoma has turned an unrecognizable shade of red in recent years.  Yesterday, one of the leading members of the New Apostolic Reformation all but declared that he was responsible......
Christian Dem in NC (2 comments)
John Benefiel thinks America is under curse because Egyptians dedicated North America to Baal
You may remember that Rick Perry put together his "Response" prayer rallies with the help of a slew of NAR figures.  One of them was John Benefiel, an Oklahoma City-based "apostle."  He heads up......
Christian Dem in NC (2 comments)
Mississippi Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
Yes, that's right. We have totally lost our religious freedom in Mississippi and it must be restored by our legislators. ......
COinMS (1 comment)
Bill Gothard accused of harassing women and failing to report child abuse
Surprised no one's mentioned this, but one of the longest-standing leaders of the religious right is in a world of trouble.  Bill Gothard has been active in the fundie movement for over half......
Christian Dem in NC (1 comment)
Eugene Delgaudio may lose his day job as Virginia county supervisor
Surprised no one's noticed this, but one of the nation's most virulent homophobes is in a fight to keep his day job.  Eugene Delgaudio is best known as the head of Public Advocate......
Christian Dem in NC (0 comments)
Starkville Becomes First City in Mississippi to Pass Resolution Recognizing LGBT Residents
This caught me by surprise. I guess times are a changin in Dixieland. ------------------------------------- Cross posted from the HRC blog. Starkville Becomes First City in Mississippi to Pass Resolution Recognizing LGBT Residents January 21,......
COinMS (0 comments)
Robert Knight: Running against evolution could potentially be a winner for the GOP
In one of the starkest instances yet of how far gone the religious right is, one of its leading activists thinks that he's found another potential wedge issue that could drive more people into......
Christian Dem in NC (2 comments)
First Catholic official convicted in child sex abuse scandal has conviction overturned
Last year, Monsignor William Lynn, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia's secretary for clergy, was convicted of reassigning a priest whom he knew had molested a young boy to a parish that had a school attached......
Christian Dem in NC (0 comments)
Quotes From Sarah Palin 'War on Christmas" Book v. Quotes From 1920s Anti-Jewish Propaganda
The point of this comparison is not to cast Sarah Palin as a Nazi. Rather, my intent is to underline uncomfortable similarities between contemporary "war on Christmas" talking points propagated by elements of the......
Bruce Wilson (0 comments)
Francis sets up commission on how to deal with pedophile priests
Late yesterday Pope Francis announced--apparently after some prodding--that he will set up a panel to advise him on how to deal with child abuse by priests. The announcement was a forthright acknowledgment by the......
Christian Dem in NC (0 comments)
John Hagee: Jews will make deal with Antichrist before End Times
When John Hagee opens his mouth, you expect to hear lunacy.  An appearance earlier this month on TBN was no different.  On Friday, People for the American Way stumbled on a special prophecy-focused edition......
Christian Dem in NC (0 comments)
Doug Phillips Resigns From Vision Forum over "Inappropriate Relationship"
Doug Phillips resigned as president of Vision Forum earlier this week, citing an "inappropriate relationship."   Phillips posted an announcement on the Vision Forum website, stating, There has been serious sin in my life......
Rachel Tabachnick (2 comments)
A Wiccan Witch In Salem
Since it's only two weeks from Halloween, I made my usual foray into Christian Right Country to find out what their plans are for this Halloween. I don't know where to be sad or......
irishwitch (0 comments)

More Diaries...




All trademarks and copyrights on this page are owned by their respective companies. Comments, posts, stories, and all other content are owned by the authors. Everything else 2005 Talk to Action, LLC.