Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Jail or Jesus

The choice is yours, Dear Reader: in states such as Alabama, Virginia, Idaho and others, many courts offer offenders the choice between doing hard time or spending that time attending "treatment programs" that involve attending services and meetings of a specific faith, and often require active participation.

We've known for a while that Christianity has at least a few fingers in the pocket of the Supreme Court. After all, while we're all still waiting eagerly for a National Day of Common Sense or even a National Day of Friendship, repeated attempts to repeal the congressionally-mandated National Day of Prayer have all failed. Multiple federal appeals courts have favored the federally-approved funding of religious schools and programs, and while courts do still occasionally rule in favor of secular organizations, the ominous trend continues.

But what is truly disturbing is the growing popularity of district courts to allow minor offenders an alternative to jail time: In some cases, instant parole is offered in exchange for only a year of attending heavily Pentecostal services with mandatory participation. Disregarding the massive religious bias and possible violation of prisoner's right to freedom of religion (the same right you and I have), the stupidity connected with allowing just-convicted criminals instant parole with only a minimal weekly time obligation is immense. While violent offenders in Idaho are not offered the ability to participate in one program, arsonists and serial burglars can be. Inmates in Alabama have a slightly better deal: they are encouraged to participate in the services of a church of their choice for a year by the court, and police are on board because it saves them money.When police and courts see forcing criminals to embrace a particular faith as not only cost-effective but a good idea, something is very wrong.
Can You Spot the 10 Armed Ex-Cons in This Picture?
States' favors to religious organizations go beyond the courtroom; in even liberal states like California and Colorado, the non-theism of the classroom is at risk. Multiple court rulings in favor of the taxpayer-funded support of Christian schools in Colorado and courts ruling in favor of the ability of a teacher to post Bible passages in his classroom in California, as well as at the collegiate level there, where Orange County Community College continues to include prayers at school events despite protest, illustrate courts' willingness to ignore these problems. There is progress, but the ability of the judicial system to skirt its own rules when dealing with the separation of church and state is alarming.

All hope is not lost, however: there are wonderful organizations like Americans United and, of course, the ACLU. While I hope that groups such as AU have their way and manage to close religion-advocating court programs, I believe it to be ultimately unlikely. In communities where the majority of the population is of a certain faith, it may seem reasonable to offer what seems an easy choice to a convict of the same faith, especially when prison is the alternative, First Amendment be damned. Perhaps, given enough time, these programs will destroy themselves; I highly doubt convicts will be as humbled by spending a year getting close to Jesus as they would wallowing behind bars for a few months. But until that happens, Dear Reader, try not to get arrested.

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