Why Offering Criminals a Choice Between Jail and Attending Church Is a Horrible Idea

On the heels of our recent discussion about a decision by a small town in Alabama to offer criminals a choice between a short prison sentence and attending church, I want to offer the following considerations:

1. Such a decision violates the US Constitution and its guarantee of separation between church and state in an egregious way.

2. It sets a dangerous precedent of the government relegating its functions to private individuals and organizations. From there to vigilante justice, there is a very short distance.

3. If the government starts relegating its functions to private individuals, we will soon lose any vestige of the separation between the public and the private spheres. When the functions that belong strictly to the government are not well-defined and limited in nature, there is nothing to stop the government from invading every aspect of our personal lives.

4. The goal of incarceration is, first and foremost, to impose punishment for a crime. Equating church attendance with punishment is offensive to the religious people.

The very reason this country came into existence was the need to separate the church and the state. I can imagine nothing more un-American can opposition to this separation. A society where there is absolutely any overlap between religion and government is not a civilized one. The separation of church and state is one of the greatest inventions of humanity on the road to progress. Any violation of this great principle will lead to horrible results.

8 thoughts on “Why Offering Criminals a Choice Between Jail and Attending Church Is a Horrible Idea”

  1. 1) I respectively disagree. The separation of church and state applies to a State religion; recognizing that faith organizations have a valuable role to play in society and engaging them from a state level is not promoting a ‘correct’ religion.

    2) I fail to see the logical connection to what is effectively an outreach or halfway house program (which have existed for decades) and vigilantism.

    3) The ‘thin edge of the wedge’ argument. Certainly a valid concern.

    4) If we, as a society, determine that the judicial system is primarily for punishment, then we do ourselves a great disservice, and are ensuring a cycle of recidivism. Humans are social creatures by nature – engaging a convict in society through a church/community program (and I wouldn’t exclude community groups from participating in these type of programs) gives them an anchor, and a reason to behave by societies standards. It provides them with the experience that there is more benefit to being with society than against it.

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    1. “recognizing that faith organizations have a valuable role to play in society and engaging them from a state level is not promoting a ‘correct’ religion.”

      -Of course. Still, this imposes on religion duties and rights that it should never have. Religion is one of the many ways some people use to develop themselves. It is as valid as any other way. Would you agree to prison sentences being substituted with regular visits to atheist clubs? Or yoga lessons?

      “I fail to see the logical connection to what is effectively an outreach or halfway house program (which have existed for decades) and vigilantism.”

      -Halfway houses that belong to whom? Don’t they belong to the state?

      “If we, as a society, determine that the judicial system is primarily for punishment, then we do ourselves a great disservice,”

      -We have already determined that. I don’t think anybody can argue that jails have anything to do with rehabilitation. We should close down all jails if punishment is not an issue. Honestly, if you – God forbid – were to become a victim of violent crime, wouldn’t you expect the criminal to be punished? I was mugged once and the last thing I care about is whether the perpetrator gets rehabilitated. That’s his own personal issue. I want him to be punished for the crime.

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      1. Certainly, severity of crime and the risk to the general public must be considered. Prisons exist as much to keep the dangerous people away from “us” as it is to help them. There is absolutely a difference between a armed robbery and public urination. Both are crimes. I’ve had my car stolen in the past – and while I want the individual to have consequences, I don’t think punishment only is the answer. If that is your answer, then why the outrage of capital punishment? Is that not the ultimate form of retribution?

        The article referenced is entirely vague about the details of the program – and we all know the devil is in the details. There are certainly many points on which this could fail – constitutionally and judicially – but a knee jerk rejection belies the more important social questions.

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  2. No offense, Clarissa. But you are so “off” regarding the Constitution of the United States. Have you actually read it? The word separate is only included with regards to the 3 branches of power. It actually says, ” The government will not establish any religion, nor prohibit the free exercise thereof…” That’s the 1st Amendment. It sure does seem that things have gotten awfully twisted around…there seems to be a whole lot of “prohibiting going on, for a long time now. Again, this whole idea of “separation of church and state” is a contrived notion of the atheistic elitists who have taken over academia, the media, the law, and much of our government. The term, “wall of separation” was coined by Thomas Jefferson in a private letter to an Anglican minister. Jefferson was not a Christian. He was a deist and a hedonist. So was Benjamin Franklin. But even he knew religion was a requirement if this new freedom was to last. It is very unfortunate that many Americans do not know what the U.S. Constitution really says, and why. And they don’t look into the writings and transcripts of speeches to learn what the original intentions of the founders was. Too many get all their ideas from 30 second sound-bites. Let me put it into very simple terms: The founders recognized that freedom cannot long endure apart from a public morality (clear distinctions between right and wrong)…and public morality cannot exist without a public religion…and public religion cannot exist apart from freedom…get it now? According to the U.S. Constitution, and all 50 states’ constitutions, it is the duty of government to encourage and support religion whenever it can.

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    1. “Again, this whole idea of “separation of church and state” is a contrived notion of the atheistic elitists who have taken over academia, the media, the law, and much of our government. ”

      -No, this is actually an Enlightened ideal inherited by us from the XVIIIth century thinkers who created this country. I’m not an atheist and I deeply respect and celebrate the separation of church and state without which, I insist, no progress is possible.

      “And they don’t look into the writings and transcripts of speeches to learn what the original intentions of the founders was. Too many get all their ideas from 30 second sound-bites.”

      -believe me, my knowledge of the Enlightenment does not derive from any sound-bytes. I studied for many many years to arrive at my knowledge.

      “nd public morality cannot exist without a public religion”

      -Since when?? Are you saying that a religious person is somehow more moral than an atheist?? This is just wrong. Also, how do you think Jesus, who insisted on the separation of what belongs to God and what belongs to the rulers and abhorred public prayer would feel about your notion of “public religion”? What is more contrary to the spirit of Christianity than public religious manifestations?

      “According to the U.S. Constitution, and all 50 states’ constitutions, it is the duty of government to encourage and support religion whenever it can.”

      -You are mistaken. This is how things are in Iran and Saudi Arabia. This is the United States, a country where people are free to be religious or not.

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  3. A similar case, GRIFFIN v. COUGHLIN, already covered this, in relation to an inmate wanting visitation rights, but having them denied to him unless he attended AA meetings (You already know how I feel about AA’s religious side) GRIFFIN v. COUGHLIN will probably be cited when this inevitably goes to court.
    But as someone with several relatives in prison, I can already tell you that with prison chaplains and some rather predatory ministers already setting themselves into prisons with the purpose of helping inmates “see the light”, this doesn’t make much of a difference between the current situation. Christianity is still peddled to them, even after they say “no thank you” or belong to a non-Christian religion.

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    1. What can I say? This is all absolutely disgraceful. There is no justification for this. Putting people into a situation where they can’t freely choose whether they interested in a religion or not is beyond wrong.

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      1. It does more than just impact their personal rights related directly to religious freedom, it can also have a broader effect on the way they are treated in prison in terms of access to healthcare and family visits.
        To give an example, a friend of mine had a cousin in prison on minor drug offenses. Cousin was a Nakota traditionalist, and he became very sick in prison, to the point where he wished for his father (My friend’s uncle) to come in to perform a particular type of Nakota medicine on him, equivalent to a Catholic’s Last Rites. But the Warden of the prison and other authorities refused to recognize cousin’s desire for this rite, and tried to have the prison chaplain come in instead.
        Thankfully, his father muscled his way in, and the cousin recovered from his illness. But this is not uncommon, and I fear it has a lot to do with willful ignorance of non-Christian religious rites and how important they are to practitioners.

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