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Jail or Church? Between a ROC and a Hard Place

Daniel Bullard-Bates,
ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief
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September 26, 2011

When the ACLU calls for alternatives to incarceration, this isn’t what we have in mind. A new program in Bay Minette, Alabama, offers an unconstitutional choice for non-violent offenders. Operation Restore Our Community, or “ROC,” will give misdemeanor offenders a choice. They can both pay a fine and go to jail, or they can have their charges dismissed entirely if they go to church for a year.

To have their cases dismissed, participating offenders must attend a church of their choosing every week for a year. They must also check in weekly both with the pastor of the church and the police department and answer questions about the services they attend.

The government has no business promoting church attendance, let alone requiring it. Operation ROC violates the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and Section 3 of the Alabama Constitution, which states that “no one shall be compelled by law to attend any place of worship.”

The ACLU supports alternatives to imprisonment, but they still have to be constitutional. There’s no get-out-of-jail-free card for that. The ACLU sent a letter to the City of Bay Minette today, demanding an immediate end to Operation ROC.

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