Your Choice in Alabama Town: Jail ... or Church

BAY MINETTE, Ala.—The top cop says it costs $75 a day to keep a prisoner in jail in this city of about 8,000 just northeast of Mobile—so why not violate the Constitution if it'll save a couple of bucks?

October 3 will be the kickoff date for Operation Restore Our Community ("ROC"), a new initiative that partners local police and courts with local Christian churches—and anyone convicted of a non-violent misdemeanor can get the "benefit" of it.

While it's unclear whether the city council had anything to do with ROC, some sources are reporting that the program is the brainchild of Muncipal Judge Bayless E. Biles. Under the program, misdemeanants—mostly traffic offenders, according to the city clerk—will get a choice: Jail time, which likely would be 30 days, plus pay a fine ... or attend one of Baldwin County's 56 Christian churches every Sunday for a year.

If the offender goes with "Option B," he/she will have to check in with both the church's pastor and the local police each week, and if he/she fulfills the 52-Sunday requirement, the offense will be wiped from the official record.

"Longevity is the key," said Bay Minette Police Chief Michael Rowland. "A 30-day drug program doesn't work. A 30-day alcohol program does not work. But long-term programs do work, and we believe that's what'll happen here. ... It's an opportunity for people who have made some mistakes, that can really transform their lives."

Interestingly, though, it'll be the U.S. Supreme Court's most conservative justice who'll likely do this program in.

"Thus, while I have no quarrel with the Court's general proposition that the Establishment Clause 'guarantees that government may not coerce anyone to support or participate in religion or its exercise'," Justice Scalia wrote in his dissent to Lee v. Weisman, in which Scalia denied that official prayers at public school graduations coerced some studients to participate, "I see no warrant for expanding the concept of coercion beyond acts backed by threat of penalty—a brand of coercion that, happily, is readily discernible to those of us who have made a career of reading the disciples of Blackstone rather than of Freud."

That would be "threat of penalty" as in "either go to church or go to jail."

What's more, the program even violates Alabama's own Constitution, which states, in Article I, Sec. 3, that "no one shall be compelled by law to attend any place of worship."

And the fact that the program requires attendance at Christian churches, deliberately excluding synagogues and mosques, is just another nail in its coffin.

Or as attorney and constitutional scholar Jonathan Turley put it, "It will be interesting how much of that $75 per day savings will be spent on the litigation over this unconstitutional program."

Of course, local clergy are happy about the program.

"You show me someone who falls in love with Jesus," said Bay Minette pastor Robert Gates, "and I’ll show you a person who won’t be a problem to society, but that will be a help and an influence to those around them."

Yeah, ya gotta love faith like that, don't'cha?