Would you rather sit on a pew or sit in jail?
That's the choice being offered in the town of Bay Minette, Alabama for those accused of non-violent misdemeanors (let's forget, for a minute, the absurdity of putting someone convicted of a non-violent misdemeanor in jail). In exchange for attending church on a weekly basis, a defendant can have his or her case dismissed.
I thought Judge Clinton here in Houston had a goofy idea when he offered to reduce community service hours in exchange for reading a Christian how-to book. That was nothing.
The police chief sees nothing odd about the program. He doesn't think it violates the First Amendment because no one is forcing folks to take part and participants can pick the church of their choice. He thinks it's a good idea. And it saves the city the $75 it would cost to house an inmate per day.
I'm all for alternative methods of sentencing and rehabilitating folks. Just locking them up in the county jail (or the state pen) ain't working. Giving someone an alternative to their destructive behavior can't help being a step in the right direction.
But church? Religion has been used for centuries as a tool of manipulating the masses. Tell people that their lives aren't going well because God isn't happy is a masterful way to getting them to tune out the inequities in our daily lives and not question authority. Religion has been used to justify murder, homophobia and sexual abuse.
The charlatans who parade in front of the television cameras live high on the hog as they press their congregants to give up more and more of their hard-earned income because "God will give it back ten-fold!" Just look who's living in the McMansion an driving the Mercedes.
And what about that whole First Amendment thing? You know, the little provision that Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of a religion. The Fourteenth Amendment applied those prohibitions to the states.
Offering to dismiss a case if a person attends church every week for a year discriminates against non-Christians and athiests. It violates the very spirit of equal protection under the law. Enacting such a policy confers additional benefits on those who share the religious belief of the judge.
Is the city getting a cut of the tithes?