To quote the philosopher John William “Will” Ferrell, “Doesn’t anybody notice this? I feel like I’m taking crazy pills! I invented the piano key necktie, I invented it! What have you done, Derek?” Cover politics long enough, and you’re almost certain to have the same sort of blowout that Ferrell, playing fashion mogul Mugatu in Zoolander, had. Stretch that coverage into the South, especially the parts where they’re still pissed about the Civil War and slavery, and you have invited yourself into the theatre of the absurd.
And that is precisely where I find myself today, staring face-first at a story that reads as if it comes directly from The Onion or some other satirical publication. But no, my sources insist the story is true…and perhaps the most ridiculous overreach of the religious establishment in this country since, well, since the last time some imbeciles decided to merge Christianity and politics.
According to a new program laid out by the city, non-violent offenders in Bay Minette, Alabama, will be allowed to choose between two options for their sentence. Choice A is time in jail plus fines. Choice B is…church, every week, for one year.
If offenders choose church, they have to check in with their pastor and with the police department, to verify that they’ve actually attended. Once the one-year program is completed, the offender’s record is wiped clean.
The program, known as Operation Restore Our Community, or ROC (they can’t even do acronyms right in hillbilly land) will save the city money, as inmates cost the police department of Bay Minette about $75 per inmate per day.
To date, 56 churches have signed up for the program. Bay Minette Police Chief Mike Rowland says the program is legal and doesn’t violate the First Amendment to the Constitution because offenders have a choice between prison or church. Everyone else says Rowland is crazy.
For starters, whatever happened to the separation of State and Superstition? The government cannot compel citizens to attend religious institutions or face prison. What is this, the Redneck version of the Spanish Inquisition? I have to imagine Susan Herman, President of the American Civil Liberties Union, will have something to say about this (other than her initial ‘WTF? Oh, Alabama…”)
Secondly, who gets to decide what does and does not constitute a church? When I was in college, some friends of mine and I got ordained as ministers online. Does this mean, were I to move into that godforsaken town, criminals could congregate at my house on Sunday? We could pray to Matthew Stafford, drink beer and watch football games. What about Satanists? Can they sit in church backward? Do they get to go to the services of their choice? Or Atheists? Can they just sit in the corner once a week for an hour and be quiet?
Third, doesn’t this program ENCOURAGE church-going teens to go ahead and get into legal trouble? If you’re already being dragged to Jesus Brainwashing Camp once a week by your parents, why not drink all you want and not worry about getting caught? Your punishment would be something you already do.
Good God, Alabama.
— John Thorpe
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